The real reason ESPN spiked the LeBron James-Vegas story by ESPN reporter Arash Markazi had nothing to do with anything Markazi wrote about James last weekend.
(ESPN didn’t directly authenticate Jones video before airing it)
Last April, in a span of less than a week, ESPN repeatedly reported on two stories infinitely more embarrassing to high profile sports figures. But there’s one key difference between those two ESPN-aired stories and the LeBron-Vegas piece that was pulled. A difference which explains why ESPN was so quick to axe Markazi’s work.
One of those embarrassing stories ESPN was willing to cover involved a drunk Jerry Jones being secretly videotaped at a bar by a person who, to this day, was never identified. The other story involved private photos of Josh Hamilton taken at a bar that were never intended for media dissemination.
Those two stories originated as private moments recorded surreptitiously by anonymous sources. Markazi reported on a public event for which James was paid. An event that had been promoted for weeks and was extensively covered by all manner of main media. An event that included a red carpet and featured James posing for photos with cover charge-paying fans throughout the evening.
An event that was expressly designed to encourage media coverage of James.
Markazi did not report on anything that could be construed as a “private” moment involving James. Everything he noted was in full view of the public.
As for the quotes Markazi attributed to James during the evening, I invite you to read this ESPN.com accounting of the activities “behind-the-scenes” of the ESPYs two weeks ago by ESPN.com Page 2 Editor Lynn Hoppes.
Did all the celebrities being quoted in that piece know that their “behind-the-scenes” (private) remarks to other celebrities were going to be recorded in a story for ESPN.com?
Of course not.
Did Hoppes, who had private access to celebrities that evening, confirm the quotes that he obtained in a stealth manner to those celebrities before they were published?
Of course not.
So with all of that, why on earth did ESPN spike Markazi’s story?
On April 15, 2010, ESPN Senior Vice President and Director of News Vince Doria appeared on Colin Cowherd’s ESPN radio show to explain why ESPN ran the secret cellphone video of a drunk Jerry Jones at a bar. Video that ESPN aired on multiple media platforms dozens of times over the period of a few days.
Excerpts from Doria’s remarks:
“This video was not obtained in a manner we would typically do, sending a reporter in surreptitiously with a cellphone, we don’t endorse that method of gathering news.
Once it’s gathered and put out in the public discourse, now you’ve got to look at it and say ‘is it authentic and if it’s authentic, is it newsworthy?’”
Markazi’s LeBron-Vegas story was “put out in the public discourse” as well, and the full-time ESPN reporter has said on the record that he stands behind the facts of his reporting. ESPN.com Editor-in-Chief Rob King, in his public explanation for pulling Markazi’s story, also did not dispute the veracity of the facts reported by Markazi.
Even LeBron James and his entourage has never disputed the authenticity of Markazi’s report.
But what about the Jones video, how did Doria and ESPN know it was authentic?
Doria confirmed to Cowherd that when ESPN began airing the Jones video, ESPN had not authenticated that the unidentified person in the video was actually Jones:
“The widespread dissemination of this (Jones video), if in fact this wasn’t Jones, the Cowboys would’ve thrown a red flag a long time ago and they did not. And that gave us an assurance that it was him so we began airing it in morning SportsCenter.”
So ESPN spiked the Markazi story, which it doesn’t dispute as authentically representing the facts. Facts which portray James during a paid public appearance in a mildly unflattering light.
But ESPN was okay with running unauthenticated video of what it claimed was a drunk NFL owner - in private - completely embarrassing himself?
Doria’s admission about the Jones video confirms that ESPN is indeed willing to report on stories embarrassing to prominent sports figures so long as ESPN doesn’t originate such stories.
ESPN pulled Markazi’s piece because it could be directly attributed to ESPN. In the Hamilton and Jones stories, if the subjects or ESPN’s league partners were to complain or the stories ended up being wrong, ESPN could always claim it didn’t originate the story. It had an out.
But if James or the NBA or anyone was to complain about the LeBron-Vegas story, ESPN had nowhere to hide.
ESPN re-reports negative stories from outside outlets to give it the appearance of being willing to objectively report the news. But ESPN is very careful not to originate negative reporting on a subject - not already vulnerable, fashionable or politically correct - in order to maintain its cozy financial relationships with the leagues, teams, players and sponsors it covers.
So if you’re an ESPN reporter and want to avoid being thrown under the bus by your employer, do yourself a favor and send all those provocative stories you dig up yourself straight to my inbox from here on out.