“Every employee must be accountable to ESPN and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards. We have worked hard to ensure that our recent NFL coverage has met that criteria. Bill Simmons did not meet those obligations in a recent podcast, and as a result we have suspended him for three weeks.”
Did Bill Simmons’s rant about Roger Goodell’s duplicity in the Ray Rice case (update: ESPN has cowardly deleted the podcast in question) violate ESPN’s standards because it contained strong (bleeped-out) language? Or because it suggested that he believes the chief executive of the NFL, a partner to whom ESPN is hitched until 2021 for a cool $15B and who provides ESPN with its highest-rated programming, is a liar?
For me, the key phrase in the ESPN statement is “journalistic standards.” I’m not sure giving hot sports-opinion takes on a podcast is necessarily journalism, but let’s let that pass. What’s really clear is that ESPN’s not concerned with “journalistic standards” of any kind. Let this dispell any remaining doubt that what ESPN does should not be called journalism. ESPN is a house organ for its sports-league partners, and its business would be at serious risk if the NFL were to decide that ESPN was a poor partner and take its business elsewhere.
Bill Simmons’s error wasn’t in stating the obvious, that Roger Goodell and other NFL executives were almost certainly lying about the Ray Rice case in the hopes it would blow over. Simmons’s error was in thinking he could get away with going off ESPN’s script, which has been carefully crafted to appear journalistic and serious without jeopardizing the relationship with the source of their highest-rated programming.
I’m looking forward to Roger Goodell presents Grantland, though. That’ll be great.