Veteran ESPN ombudsmen are weighing in on ESPN baseball analyst Curt Schilling's "hurtful" comments comparing Muslims to Nazis, including one who labeled him a "right-wing dummy." They're also urging the sprawling sports media empire to bring back the ombudsman position that has not been filled since late 2014.
"I think an internal critic is really, really healthy," said George Solomon, who was named the first ESPN ombudsman in 2005 and served for 21 months. "Having someone in that role is a good thing and I would hope they would reinstitute it. I think they should have kept the position, it's good to have an internal critic."
Schilling kicked off a controversy this week after a Twitter post in which he compared Muslims to Nazis, a move that caused ESPN to pull him from its Little League World Series coverage and this week's edition of Sunday Night Baseball. After ESPN announced disciplinary measures, Schilling tweeted, "I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part."
But the offending tweet wasn't a momentary lapse in judgment. Schilling has a history of posting and sharing incendiary material on social media, including suggesting Hillary Clinton is a drunk murderer, defending the confederate flag, and criticizing civil rights leaders.
Josh Krulewitz, ESPN vice president of communications, declined to say if more discipline would occur.
The incident took place at a time when ESPN has been without an ombudsman for more than eight months, having failed to replace Robert Lipsyte when his term ended in December 2014.
Lipsyte was one of three former ESPN ombudsmen who spoke to Media Matters Wednesday about Schilling, calling him a "right-wing dummy" and saying his views hurt his image on the network.
"My feeling is that if Curt Schilling can make the kind of comments that he does outside the white lines then I don't trust anything he has to say about anything," Lipsyte said. "He's obviously a right-wing dummy."
He later added, "Everybody in journalism these days is under pressure to be on social media, which also reflects on your employer. There are no personal tweets. You are reflecting whoever you represent and Curt Schilling is representing ESPN."
George Solomon, the first ESPN ombudsman hired in 2005 for 21 months, said the Muslim/Nazi comparison "can be quite hurtful to a number of people."
He added, "ESPN gives its employees, particularly its commentators, a lot of leeway and it seems sometimes that causes a problem and in Schilling's case it seems to be a problem that ESPN will have to deal with, looking at his whole body of work ... ESPN will have to decide, 'Do we want Mr. Schilling to represent us with these comments?' Coming from an era where Twitter was not a factor and social media was not part of my life that can be difficult because people who represent ESPN or other networks will put things on Twitter and other social media outlets that they would not say that can be a problem."
Asked what he would do if he was still the ombudsman, Solomon said, "I would probably comment on the remarks. To compare the Muslims with the Nazis is a stretch."
The network had employed an ombudsman regularly since 2005, with five people holding the job through the years. But the position has been empty since Lipsyte left.
Krulewitz said the network has not ruled out bringing the position back, but stopped short of offering any firm plans: "We're in the process of determining our plans for our next ombudsman. We're exploring what our options are ... we're in the midst of the process now."
Asked if the latest Schilling situation would change the plans to expedite the ombudsman, he said, "no."
"The ombudsman is an independent, someone we hire independently to review and discuss her or his viewpoint of ESPN," Krulewitz said. "We're going to go through the process and we obviously want to do the process the right way."
But the former ombudsmen who spoke to Media Matters said the position is needed, perhaps now more than ever given the recent Schilling situation.
"I can't understand what's taking them so long, with all the things," said Lipsyte. "When I left ESPN, my exit interview, the takeaway was 'why should we pay for criticism when we get so much for free.' That doesn't sound to me like an organization that really wants independent oversight. Everybody needs an ombudsman."
Solomon agreed: "I've said that from the start. Taking myself out of the mix, the ombudsmen they've had have been really valuable and informative and really good."
He also added, "I think ESPN was sensitive to what the ombudsmen, including myself, had to say. They listened, they paid attention, they were very responsive when I did the reporting for my column."
Le Anne Schreiber, another ESPN ombudsman who served from 2007-2009, urged the position's return, saying they helped many of the network's journalists who conduct in-depth reporting.
"Some of the employees are very, very serious journalists," she said. "The ombudsmen have always had their backs. Many of them said to me how much moral support they felt in their place in the institution by the presence of the ombudsman, if only for that reason. Just being a watchdog and just being a voice raised the traditional journalist values. It gave a lot of aid comfort and support to the serious journalists who are there and who deserved it."
She also said the network needs specific policies about what is allowed and what the punishment will be for these type of actions.
"ESPN needs to have a very clarified policy about what is acceptable and what is not on their airwaves and ESPN.com," Schreiber said. "ESPN should stop dealing with these ad hoc, making them up in response to public heat of the moment; make a very clear policy. It really is about a consistency of policy."
Right-wing media slammed ESPN for suspending baseball analyst Curt Schilling over his tweet comparing Muslims to Nazis, calling Schilling's suspension "outrageous" and a "disgrace."
ESPN is apologizing for a tweet by ESPN baseball analyst and former pitcher Curt Schilling comparing Muslims to Nazis, calling it "completely unacceptable." A Media Matters scan of Schilling's Facebook page found ESPN has a bigger problem than one tweet: Schilling has repeatedly demonized Muslims as killers, shared a picture calling Hillary Clinton a drunk murderer, and suggested civil rights leaders like Rep. John Lewis aren't patriotic.
In a since-deleted tweet, Schilling posted the following image comparing Muslims to Nazis.
ESPN public relations responded to the Schilling tweet by writing: "Curt's tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company's perspective. We made that point very strongly to Curt and have removed him from his current Little League assignment pending further consideration."
Schilling's tweet is hardly an aberration. He regularly posts incendiary material on his Facebook page, which he has linked to from his verified Twitter account. Schilling also posted a similar image on his Facebook page in October 2014 to the Hitler tweet he deleted.
Here are some lowlights:
*This post has been updated with additional content from Schilling's Facebook page.
From the April 3 edition of ESPN's Pardon the Interuption:
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ESPN announcers recently used a cold spell to mock global warming in their live commentary, mainstreaming the conservative myth that cold weather disproves global warming. But during coverage of the Australian Open, which saw dangerous, record-breaking heat, commentators remained silent on the issue -- a trend more akin to Fox News.
During an Arctic chill on January 7, ESPN commentators Jimmy Dykes and Brad Nessler interjected their sports coverage with climate denial. Dykes mentioned that he had watched a national television debate over "whether or not global warming was still taking place," saying he "listened to about 30 seconds of it, but the guy saying no it has not, I think he won the debate." Nessler laughed in agreement, adding, "It's about 50 below wind chill [in Minnesota] so there's no global warming in that part of the country." In response to criticism, Dykes tweeted, "God is in control of our climate. He does not make mistakes. Plus it's 3 degrees where I stand right now : )"
However, as Melbourne experiences record-breaking heat during the Australian Open -- including the worst heat wave Melbourne has suffered since 1908 -- ESPN commentators have been mum on climate change one way or the other. Instead, they have opted to make light of the dangerous temperatures; after one tennis player hallucinated that he saw Snoopy before fainting, a commentator joked, "I wonder if Snoopy had a racket."
ESPN announcers Brad Nessler and Jimmy Dykes mainstreamed the right-wing myth that cold weather in January disproves man-made climate change.
During the first half of a January 7 game, Dykes discussed a pattern of cold weather blanketing much of the United States and said he had observed a national television debate earlier over "whether or not global warming was still taking place." While laughing Dykes said, "I listened to about 30 seconds of it, but the guy saying no it has not, I think he won the debate." Nessler laughed in response.
Regardless of whether Dykes and Nessler agree with the 97 percent of climate scientists who say that climate change is real and presents an immediate threat, or with climate deniers like Donald Trump, it's troubling that they would use their national platform to peddle right-wing myths.
On Sunday, CBS's flagship news magazine, 60 Minutes, aired a controversial and sloppy report that completely ignored the pressing threat of climate change while downplaying the need to invest in clean energy. CBS defended its reporting, including the decision not to mention climate change, by citing what it referred to as the show's "rich history" of reporting on the topic.
ESPN's broadcast of climate denialism only underscores the need for legitimate media organizations to treat the issue of global warming seriously and to make sure that it's part of the conversation.
As a network devoted to sports, ESPN has a unique responsibility to treat climate change seriously. An August 2013 Scientific American article made clear that climate change can have a direct impact on athletes:
"The climate's getting warmer so players are exposed to higher temperatures," said Andrew Grundstein, a climatologist at the University of Georgia and a co-author of a 2012 study of heat related deaths in high schools nationwide. Across the country, deaths of high school football players due to heat nearly tripled from 1994 to 2009 compared to the previous 15 years, according to Grundstein's study. Heat illnesses in football players have multiple causes, experts say, but as the climate heats up, practices in Georgia - and around the country - are getting watered down just to be safe.
A CNBC reporter is under fire for using the phrase "chink in the armor" during a Tuesday discussion of Wendi Deng's pending divorce from News Corp and 21st Century Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch.
The comments by CNBC's Robert Frank drew a critical response from the Asian American Journalists Association, which condemned the statements as "offensive" and "inappropriate."
Discussing whether Deng's new lawyer might be able to gain her a share of the Murdoch family trusts during the divorce case, Frank stated on CNBC's Power Lunch: "I wonder, you know, Peter, what do you think the chink in the armor here might be? That's what [Deng's lawyer] is so good at, is finding a chink in the pre-nups and all these trusts. What do you think they may be looking for to get more out of this divorce?"
Deng is a Chinese-born American citizen. She and Rubert Murdoch married in 1999 and have two children together. In June, Rupert Murdoch filed for divorce.
Contacted by Media Matters, Bobby Caina Calvan, media watch chair for the Asian American Journalists Association, said after reviewing the video that Frank used "an unfortunate phrasing and people should know better in this day and age that a phrase like that, that I'm not going to repeat, is offensive to many of us."
Acknowledging that the statement may have been "spoken innocently" and could have been part of an "off-the-cuff question," Calvan nonetheless added that "we would like CNBC and Mr. Frank to realize that the words uttered on air today about an Asian-American in the news were inappropriate in any context." He further stated that the "phrase shouldn't have been used, it is a no-brainer."
Reached for comment, a CNBC spokesman said any offensive connotation was "totally unintentional," declining to offer any additional explanation.
Calvan said AAJA has reached out to CNBC and was willing to help the network identify "words that many of us feel are offensive."
The dream of wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T -- or any company, really -- is to be able to charge twice for providing the same service. In working towards that goal they're getting a big assist from ESPN and tearing down net neutrality in the process.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that ESPN is in talks with "at least one" major U.S. wireless internet provider to "subsidize wireless connectivity on behalf of its users." This means that they're willing to pay a wireless carrier like AT&T a significant chunk of change to enable ESPN viewers to stream unlimited sports programming to their mobile devices without having to worry about exceeding the carrier's monthly data caps. So wireless subscribers would pay AT&T for access to the internet, and ESPN would pay AT&T for access to the customer. One service, two charges.
And if AT&T does end up pairing with ESPN on this scheme, that wouldn't be surprising given that AT&T has been trying to work out ways to double-charge for their services for quite some time. Last February the Journal reported that the wireless carrier was scheming out a way to charge developers of data-intensive mobile apps for the traffic AT&T subscribers incurred while using their products, and on May 15 AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told investors that he expects those plans to be in effect soon. They also tried to double-charge customers for the privilege of using Apple's FaceTime videochat app -- a potential violation of the almost-impossible-to-violate Open Internet rules. They eventually made FaceTime available to all subscribers except those who still have unlimited data plans grandfathered in from before AT&T switched over to tiered plans with data caps.
That should give you an idea how much wireless carriers love data caps and how central they are to their future business models. It's a lucrative proposition for them: set up the cap, charge customers who go over it, and charge companies who can afford to pay to get around it. And that's where the net neutrality concern comes in: wireless carriers who allow companies to circumvent their data limits are, in effect, prioritizing the content of those companies and disincentivizing subscribers from seeking out content from companies who haven't paid for the exemption. As Public Knowledge put it: "Imposing data caps on consumers and then allowing wealthy content holders to buy their way around them is a recipe for stagnation online."
From the April 7 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Following the lead of an ESPNOutdoors.com opinion writer, conservatives have in recent days advanced the outlandish charge that Obama "wants to ban sport fishing." The ESPNOutdoors.com writer provided no evidence for his claim that a federal strategy "could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing," and the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force's interim report on coastal and marine planning has proposed nothing of the sort.
Today, ESPNOutdoors.com Executive Editor Steve Bowman acknowledged that "we made several errors in the editing and presentation of this installment. Though our series has included numerous news stories on the topic, this was not one of those -- it was an opinion piece, and should clearly have been labeled as commentary." Bowman added that "this particular column was not properly balanced and failed to represent contrary points of view." From Bowman's piece:
ESPNOutdoors.com inadvertently contributed to a flare-up Tuesday when we posted the latest piece in a series of stories on President Barack Obama's newly created Ocean Policy Task Force, a column written by Robert Montgomery, a conservation writer for BASS since 1985. Regrettably, we made several errors in the editing and presentation of this installment. Though our series has included numerous news stories on the topic, this was not one of those -- it was an opinion piece, and should clearly have been labeled as commentary.
And while our series overall has examined several sides of this topic, this particular column was not properly balanced and failed to represent contrary points of view. We have reached out to people on every side of the issue and reported their points of view -- if they chose to respond -- throughout the series, but failed to do so in this specific column.
This series started in October and has included several updates on how the creation of that task force and its actions could impact recreational anglers. ESPNOutdoors.com should have made it clear to all readers that this was part of a larger series, and -- even though this was Montgomery's opinion, and those of the sources quoted in the column -- we should have taken more care to fairly represent opposing arguments.
We do feel it is our duty to cover issues surrounding outdoor sports to the best of our abilities, and given the nature of this task force and the potential impact on all fisherman, this was an appropriate topic to address for our audience. We take seriously the tenets of journalism that require we take an unbiased approach, and when we make mistakes in the presentation of a story or a column, it is our responsibility to admit them.
Any confusion on that part rests entirely on my shoulders as the executive editor of this site.
We have appended the original column to note that it was in fact a commentary, and we will institute more rigorous editing safeguards in order to prevent such issues in the future.
Following the lead of an ESPNOutdoors.com opinion writer, who provided no evidence for his claim that a federal strategy "could prohibit U.S. citizens from fishing," right-wing blogs have advanced the outlandish charge that Obama "wants to ban sport fishing." These media outlets cited the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force's interim report on coastal and marine planning, but the task force has proposed nothing of the sort.
From the October 6 edition of ESPN's Pardon The Interruption:
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