Sports Media Musings: Labor Day Labor Issues for ESPN, Bruce Feldman

Lots happening on the national and local scene lately. This is part one of the special Labor Day Media Musings Extravaganzzzzzzaaa. Part 2 coming Saturday. Have a great long weekend!

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ESPN is Cuttt, and IT’SSSS A BADDD CUTT

Bruce Feldman  officially went to CBS Sports after an acrimonious departure from ESPN. A quick, and I mean really quick, recap for those out of the loop of the story is as follows:

*ESPN gives Feldman, a college football writer, permission to write a book with the former head coach of Texas Tech, Mike Leach.

*Leach gets fired from Texas Tech after some contreversial spew involving a concussion and segregating the player in a dark room. The spew was exacerbated when it came out that Leach was messing with receiver Adam James. Who is Adam James? He is the son of ABC/ESPN anaylst, Craig James.

*ESPN botches the coverage of the firing, and is blasted by the Internets.

*Leach, pertrubed at the biased coverage, decides to sue the world-wide leader.

*Remember that guy Feldman? Excepts from his book start coming out slamming ESPN.

*This is where it gets dicey. And also juicy. ESPN says they never suspended Feldman. After all, he did have persmission to write the book. Feldman says otherwise (we’ll get to this in a second)

*A #FreeBruce hash-tag is popularized by Twitter. This reinforces the troops of the blogosphere to, “Take it to The MAANNN!!!” Led, most notably, by the guys from Sports By Brooks (who I eventually decided to unfollow). And to those not familiar to Twitter — the power of a popular hashtag is comparable to the power of moving federal interest rate in social media terms.

*Eerily Feldman stops tweeting for a couple months, and is not really seen anywhere. He’s quite possibly dead.

(Not really, but work with me — I’m trying to explain a story ABOUT a writer who writes CFB content during a great playoff race between the Sox/Yanks — in a Boston market.)

*At the end of his contract, he is let go by ESPN and scooped up by CBS. And that would be the end of the story, except Feldman came out of silence and goes on a press tour that rivals Bono visiting the Pope and the United Nations….combined.

*He has interviews with Richard Deitsch, the Wall Street Journal, and went on Dan Patrick’s radio show. He slammed the network in magazine, newspaper, and radio. If he did something for television, he would have hit for the “Media-Whore Cycle.” Again this is a guy who is still doing his dream job, and still has a HUGE platform. The reaction reminds me of the Conan/Leno contreversy. Conan still got paid by NBC AND he has his own gig on TBS.

*He claims ESPN told him not to blog, tweet, and denied access to events he normally would cover. But then he said something rather nebulous:

“What is unfortunate with all this is there was all this talk on whether I was suspended or not  — and ESPN spent so much effort to try to downplay that story — but what is at the root of this is I was given permission to work with Mike Leach on the book.”

Hmm. So what do I think? I think he WAS NOT officially suspended. I think maybe for all intent and purposes ESPN blacklisted him. However, I don’t think ESPN actually suspended him. There are a couple of key issues at play here that need to be addressed at the outset.

1.) Feldman says he was offerred a raise and three year extension on his contract that just ran out by ESPN BEFORE the incident.

2.) Feldman claims this offer was rescinded once the issue arose. Instead ESPN offered him a one year deal with no raise.

3.) Feldman says ESPN questioned his “credibility”

The last of those issues was most stirring to me personally. After reading the quote, I found myself thinking, “How could ESPN tout some guy for 16+ years then question that same talent’s credentials?”

What do they really think of Chris Berman then?

Then I thought about what the word ‘credibility’ meant. If your an arduous and dilligent journalist, you try to place emphasis on having an objective viewpoint that can’t be breached by conflict of interest. You are here to report and write the news.

(And, yes, this is coming from me — who shoots from the hip every other sentence according to some people)

But.

There are conflicts of interest by nature in this business. You think Fox News or MSNBC reports the news without slant? Oh then you must, obviously, believe in those werewolves Scott Zolak and Randy Cross were raving about in the first preseason game this year, right?

And Feldman has to know this. He has to give ESPN some heads up that, “Hey guys this book is coming out — I got permission — but I got to let you know there’s some legit stuff in here that is pretty damaging.”

That is where the word ‘credibility’ enters the fold. ESPN was not questioning his credibility as a writer, but his credibility in judgement.

For the record, I don’t really have an opinion in the matter. Feldman says one thing, ESPN says another. Feldman claims he gave the company an abundance of notice that they were being ripped. ESPN says no way. At the end of the day, I had never heard of Feldman before this incident. His profile was helped by an Internet movement that gained steam much like it did when Chaz Sheen started #winning. And, on top of that, he still gets paid to write for a different outlet — where I probably won’t read him either.

Feldman says he lost trust in his bosses — a crappy feeling as I’m sure many will attest — and jettisoned. That is where the issue lies, in my opinion — ESPN and how they handle talent.

If what Feldman is saying is true then, yes, ESPN shot themselves in the foot with their own conflict of interest (James covering a guy he clearly has an agenda against). Futhermore, ESPN dismissed Feldman as a harbinger who was trying to elucidate the ramifications of Leach’s damaging quotes.

If what ESPN is saying is true then, yes, ESPN STILL mangled the coverage of the initial Leach firing. On the other hand, Feldman has to be cognizant while Leach is ripping the Four Letter Network, and maybe think that his loyalty should adhere with the company that has employed him for over a decade.

And that’s where the blogosphere’s reaction to EVERY ESPN eff-up kills me. I wrote this about Grantland, and I’ll reiterate it here: If ESPN offers anyone of these clowns a column or blog on ANY one of their 1,487 media outlets — they’d flip in .023 seconds. And if you don’t believe that then we’ll talk more about those werewolves.

So put your pitchforks down, realize that there was defiinitely foul play here, but incidents happen. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet for pointing out when the Big Bad Wolf waivers in good news judgement just like I love the Internet for funny YouTube videos. When something is corrborated so poorly and heavily relient on “He said this” or “She offered that” — I tend to take a step back and think, “You got paid. ESPN is moving on after a black eye. And I still don’t care about college football.”

 

  • Classless

    I don't anyone in New England cares about Bruce Feldman or this story.

  • Rick

    Wow, reading that just gave me a popsicle headache. My head is spinning.

    • objectivebruce

      Mr. Feldman is in desperate need of an editor.

  • latetodinner

    Ryan:

    I am trying to figure out why you wasted several hours of your own time and 5 minutes of my time trying to come down right smack dab in the middle of the Feldman/ESPN/Leach/James mess. Aside from the fact that no one cares about college football in NE, and that we care even less about full time college football reporters as best as I can tell you missed the simplest explanation for the whole mess…Feldman was disloyal. The rest is filler. If I was his boss he would have been fired for two reasons…1) He did not distance himself from Leach's comments immediately…which makes him complicit. 2) He criticized his employer directly in print…permission or not…they write the checks as such they can and should demand some sort of loyalty. He could have stopped taking the checks if he believed in the moral position he had carved out…but he didn't. He is CBS' problem now and no one on god's green earth cares.

  • Ryan Hadfield

    Fair Enough LTD, but let me ask you something: What if this was Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston? Would we care? I think it is an interesting precedent even if we are in NE.

    I wrote about it because it was an interesting case where he was GIVEN permission to write about something (with assumed autonomy), and then was suspended? Or maybe not.

    I mention his loyalty issues when I said "he has to be cognizant" — which is at the heart of the matter. Feldman claims he warned ESPN months in advance (read the linked SI article).

    Obviously there is he said/she said aspects to this, which makes the story interesting. Alas, there will be more of a local flavor tomorrow — and I'm sorry for the lack of relevance.

    • latetodinner

      Ryan:
      Are you suggesting that ESPN is setting a bad precedent because it gave one of its employees permission to work with someone on a book, then when the employee who they still pay writes something critical of ESPN in that book, they disciplined the employee? There is no bad precedent, there is just a stupid, arrogant employee who made a mistake. He had a choice, if he morally felt that ESPN was wrong in its support of Craig James and his son, he could have quit then published the story. Instead he chose to stay employed, take checks yet he still published something that made his employer look bad. Maybe it is because I own my own business but I hate employees who think they are entitled to a job regardless of actions.

      As for apologizing for relevance…no need…I was just picking on you because you wrote about college football media people. In the Boston market other than NASCAR I can't think of something that has a national audience that people here care less about. Your piece, long as it was, kept me reading to the point I commented. If I did not respect your opinion I would not have taken the time.

      • mandb97

        Late I am going to disagree and agree with you. I am going to disagree with you on how Feldman handled the situation. I feel he was very careful in dealing with Leach and his superiors. He continually informed his superiors of the status of Leach's book. Feldman was the one who actually told his superiors that Leach was going to sue and that ESPN was not going to look good. His superiors could have immediately said get away from the project, but they did not. They only had a problem when the book was released.

        Where I do agree with you is ESPN inexplicably keeping Craig James employed. James was right smack in the middle of the situation. He was feeding the dreadful Joe Schaad the story about his son. Schaad never did talk to Leach who has a completely different story and it looks like Leach has proof. Schaad and James' story lead to Leach being fired and in turn being sued. ESPN told Feldman he has a credibility issue yet they still allow Craig James to do games. It is mind boggling.

        • latetodinner

          Mandb….As far as I can tell Feldman did not tell ESPN he was going to agree with Leach in the criticisms with ESPN. He certainly told them it was coming but that is different that saying “hey boss you are about to get slammed and I agree with the slamming”. This all becomes moot if he quit then published.I want to be clear because honestly I really don't care too much about this story. The issue I had with Ryan was that he straddled the fence and that he wrote about college football media. My issue with Feldman is he kept taking the checks. My issue with ESPN is they keep paying Craig James. My issue with Craig James is it appears that he used his media position and celebrity to get his son some sort of special treatment. My problem with Leach is he was caught being a major college football coach….although he may eventually be vindicated I doubt he is innocent.

        • mandb97

          Late remember it is not Feldman's book. It is Leach's. Feldman helped write it. When Feldman realized what was being said about ESPN by Leach and not himself, he immediately went to his supervisors and told them what was going on. At that point, you would think his supervisors would have said to leave the project immediately. They did not and in fact ESPN wanted Feldman to help set up an interview with Leach. As far as Feldman continuing to be paid, there was no reason for him not to take the checks. Nobody told him he was doing wrong.

        • Offended

          How dare you write about college football Ryan, it offends LTD

  • mandb97

    Ryan, I know I am in the minority but I am huge college football game. I have found the Bruce Feldman case pretty intriguing. I appreciate your critical thinking on the issue. What I liked the best are the ESPN stone throwers. There are sites like Deadspin who feel they have been wronged by ESPN. In the case of Deadspin, I believe it was over four years ago. They simply can't let it go.

    That being said, if everything we know about Feldman is true, then Bruce Feldman was hosed. It seems like Feldman has crossed his T's and dotted his I's in his dealing with his superiors on the Leach book. He told his superiors everything he could think of, including the fact Leach was going to sue ESPN and that a lot of the stuff was not flattering. His superiors did not tell him stop. ESPN only had a problem when the book was released. Suddenly Feldman can't tweet, write, go on shows or go to the SEC media day.

    ESPN has since refuted two items in an article by the Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride. John Skipper told McBride that he never told Feldman he could not talk to the Poynter Institute. But he did say that if Feldman did talk he needed to be careful. If your Feldman you have to walk on eggshells and you cannot say what you feel so what's the point. The second statement refuted by ESPN is that Feldman was not allowed to go to the SEC media day. Chad Millman who is the editor of ESPN the Magazine said that Feldman did not want to go to Alabama because of fear of being a story. Feldman has vehemently denied it and said that the SEC media day is one the most important days of the year. Feldman also said that Millman actually restricted him more. The one thing I am curious about is how much of this is in writing. It does seem that Feldman did keep a lot of information. McBride seems upset that Feldman would not talk more to her, but after the first Poynter article do you really blame him?

    Feldman's interview with Dan Patrick was pretty riveting. It seems like if you leave ESPN in not so good graces, the mothership looks for revenge. Dan Patrick told Feldman that this was not the end for him and that ESPN will do anything to destroy his career. Patrick said ESPN did everything they could ruin his show. Feldman's site on cbssports.com is called Free Bruce.

    Ryan why did you drop Sports by Brooks? He can be a little long winded but his investigations are very thorough.

    • Ryan Hadfield

      love SBB — but man, he was acting like a 7 year old on twitter back when this initially happened. I couldn't handle it. Clogging up my timeline with #freebruce nonsense. I'm following him again now. Mainly because I need to keep up his stuff for my media musings column. He's a player and established.

  • Ryan Hadfield

    No I am personally in favor of ESPN here – unlike most of the of blogs. I think the over-reaction is obnoxious which is why I made the Charlie Sheen comparison.

    I'm saying IF Feldman gave ESPN notice and told all the people he claimed to tell that this is coming out in advance — then maybe a different course of action could have been taken.

    Either way, you are right, Feldman should have realized while writing the book that the consequences would be dire. Regardless of James or ESPN's botched coverage of Leach's firing and how he felt about it, he should have removed himself from either ESPN or the book. He couldn't have his cake and it eat too here.

    Honestly, I was just showing both sides because I feel like ESPN's side has been largely ignored. And thanks for reading — I know it was rather verbose and lengthy compared to usual columns.

    • mandb97

      Since we have you here Ryan, I need to ask you about some media on media crime. What do you think of Charles Robinson's article on U of Miami and what do you think of Jason Whitlock trying to completely discredit it? Whitlock has offered Robinson a chance to talk about the article on his podcast at Foxsports.com but I think Robinson might be thinking why should he go and help Whitlock with page views on his site? What do you think?