You can add ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer
to the list of people bashing the network's coverage of the LeBron
James free agency decision, which was announced on the network during a
July 8 special called, of course, "The Decision." The ensuing backlash centered on the network partnering with the athlete they were ostensibly supposed to be covering.
Granted, ombudsman are supposed to be critical of their employers, but Ohlmeyer performs the task with startling energy, posting a 4500-plus word rebuke of the network on ESPN.com. Starting by reprinting some of the harshest quotes from other critics ("The truth is, how does anyone believe anything else ESPN reports about James from this point forward?"), he moved on to call the network's missteps "a metaphor for what ails the media today." Some other brutal excerpts:
Beyond James, it's a cautionary tale for ESPN. If the network wants to be considered the true worldwide leader in sports, it must accept the responsibility that comes with it. As the biggest player in the space, ESPN can establish and give credibility to a story. With that clout, of course, comes the obligation to cover each story not just with journalistic integrity but with appropriate weight--or risk that very same credibility...
ESPN can brush off concerns raised about 'The Decision,' but it does so at its own peril. A major component of ESPN's appeal--a value the network has cultivated for three decades--is that the audience trusts what it's watching. Viewers want to believe the network is treating them respectfully, openly, fairly and honestly. If not, why should they bother watching?