Picked up the New York Times this morning, found my eyes darting for yet another excellent Richard Sandomir column—this one titled JAMES IS THE STORY, EVEN WHEN ESPN DOESN’T WANT IT. The piece concerns an ESPN.com article by Arash Markazi that appeared on the site a few days ago before—Whoooooosh!—mysteriously vanishing. Because Deadspin is Deadspin (and thank God for it, especially in this case), A.J. Daulerio found a copy of the mythical piece and ran it. To surmize: Markazi spent a few crazy hours with LeBron in Las Vegas, and it turns out—gasp!—he’s a self-centered anus who likes naked women and wearing sunglasses indoors.
Anyhow, there was much internet chatter on why the story was pulled. Many guessed that James’ people complained enough for ESPN—his new corporate pimp—to remove it. But that was just an educated stab.
Today, Sandomir tried getting to the bottom of things. He spoke with Rob King, the ESPN.com editor in chief, who—in no uncertain terms—sold his writer out and blamed him for everything. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Markazi, according to King, didn’t tell James or James’ people that they were being quoted. Markazi, according to King, didn’t even tell people he was a reporter. Markazi, according to King, never broke out a pen or notepad. Instead, he texted himself quotes and moments from the night’s activities.
Let’s be clear: It sounds like Arash Markazi did a ridiculously terrible job here, in that he pretended to be something (a regular party guest) that he wasn’t. Were he just observing, fine. But to quote people—probably not so cool.
That being said, Rob King is so wrong, it’s making my eyes burn and my head spin. You have a problem with Markazi’s reporting? You call the dude into your office (or use the phone, if it’s too far) and read him the riot act. You scream and curse and threaten. Hell, maybe you suspend him. Maybe you even fire him. All fine. What you don’t do—what you never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever do—is sell him out to the New York Times or any other media outlet. If Sandomir calls, you say, “Sorry, but we’re handling this one inside. No disrespect intended.” Case closed.
Whether it’s fun or terrible, deserved or unjustified, the great editors stand up for their writers. I’ve been blessed throughout my career to have some lions in my corner (specifically, Catherine Mayhew and Neal Scarbrough at The Tennessean and Bill Colson at SI) who didn’t cower at the threat of controversy; who didn’t instinctively rush to save their own skin at the hint of controversey.
Rob King is the head of ESPN.com. It is his ship. He is the captain, and when stuff like this happens, real captains take the blame. They accept responsibility and never name names.
Much like a baseball manager with too much loyalty to the team owner, I can assure you that, around ESPN.com’s newsroom, King’s reputation has taken a humongous hit.
He deserves it.