The ESPN Ombudsman Column On Bruce Feldman Is Here, And It…Just Is
As soon as ESPN's non-suspension-according-to-them of college football writer Bruce Feldman blew up into the sports media story of the moment, the countdown to the next column from the Poynter Institute, ESPN's ombudsman, was on. Last night, the wait ended...but questions about the situation remain.
Poynter and Kelly McBride, who penned the piece, were in a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don't situation: the sooner they got the piece out, the less comprehensive it was likely to be. The later they got it out, the more the radio silence would be interpreted as "THE ESPN BEHEMOTH IS ACCOUNTABLE TO NO ONE GAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" So we're left with a column that got up relatively quickly (Don Ohlmeyer's The Decision column went up nearly two weeks after the program aired), but perhaps due in part to that, one that doesn't contain the perspective of all involved - rather, the only quotes in the column belong to ESPN staffers (none of whom are named Bruce Feldman).
And while that wasn't for lack of trying (McBride said attempts to get comments from Feldman, as well as SPORTSbyBROOKS' Brooks Melchior, who first reported on the story, were unsuccessful), it still didn't sit well with some - especially not Ben Koo at Awful Announcing. Koo penned a highly critical column this morning (with the rather extreme title of "We've Lost The Ombudsman"), in which he took McBride to task for getting the story out too quickly, before she could further push for additional comments, and essentially winding up with a piece of ESPN PR.
For the record, McBride did chide ESPN for leaving too much gray area in terms of Feldman's participation in former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach's book Swing Your Sword (at the root of the controversy), and for not making an effort to clear the air with him as the situation between Leach and the network became increasingly toxic. But it's easy to see why Koo had such an issue with the presentation of McBride's column: she never mentioned the other complicating factor in the saga, which is the role of ESPN college football analyst Craig James. James and his son, Adam, of course, alleged that Leach mistreated Adam James as Texas Tech coach - which in turn led to Leach's termination. McBride said this omission was by design:
I deliberately stayed away from the Craig James controversy in this column. I'll probably take that on in the future.
In our opinion, this was a mistake. Feldman's role in Leach's book and James' role in Leach's firing - tied together by ESPN's employment of both Feldman and James - are completely intertwined in this story. The outpouring of support for Feldman when he was non-suspended-according-to-ESPN was directly related to the fact that nothing at all happened to James. You can't fully tell one story without the other, and McBride should have found some way to include it in her column from last night.
We also agreed with some of Koo's more minor quibbles (for example, referring to SPORTSbyBROOKS as a "sports gossip blog" seemed like a way to put those silly bloggers in their place without directly doing it), and at times, even saw McBride's point. While Koo took issue with her characterizing the report of a Feldman suspension as "erroneous," perhaps there is something to McBride's claim that whether or not it can be termed a suspension is "more than just semantics." (Of course, so much as a single tweet from Feldman could clear all this up, and his continued silence adds more fuel to the fire of the likes of Koo.)
The biggest issue we have, though, is the omission of the Craig James problem. The man was employing a PR firm to make Leach look bad while covering Leach's sport on ESPN (and as his network covered Leach's team). Feldman, meanwhile, collaborated with Leach on a book that fired back at James and the network - a book he received permission to work on, and all but completely hid his involvement with once Leach-ESPN relations turned for the worse. This is all part of the same issue. McBride says she'll "probably" cover the Craig James problem "in the future," but in this case, it's not enough. It's pertinent now, it should have been covered now, and without an examination of one of the most contentious aspects of this complex issue, the column is incomplete.
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