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

Bruce Feldman Left ESPN for CBS After 16 Years

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? Excerpts 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.”

About Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is the author of the weekly Sports Media Musings column at Sports Of Boston. Hadfield is known as one of the top sports media critics in Boston. He also contributes to Boston Sports Media Watch. In November 2011, Hadfield helped launch the new SoB Point Taken blog featuring his podcasts & musings on sports, media and culture. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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