ESPN Ombudsman Hammers the Leach/James ESPN Coverage From The Alamo Bowl

Bob StewartContributor IJanuary 21, 2010

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 19:  Head coach Mike Leach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during play against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

ESPN Ombudsman Hammers the Leach/James ESPN Coverage From The Alamo Bowl

Mr. Don Ohlmeyer, the public's representative to ESPN, does not tread softly with his critique of the unbalanced coverage of the Leach-James affair by ESPN during the telecast from the Alamo Bowl.

Three sides to every story | ESPN | January 21, 2010

Ohlmeyer's bio from ESPN:

Don Ohlmeyer is the public's representative to ESPN, offering independent examination and analysis of ESPN's media outlets. One of television's most successful innovators as a sports and entertainment producer, programmer and network president, the longtime NBC and ABC executive was honored with 16 Emmys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, and two Peabody Awards. He will critique decision-making, coverage and presentation of news, issues and events on ESPN's platforms. Ohlmeyer will have an 18-month tenure and succeeds ombudsmen George Solomon and Le Anne Schreiber.

Starting at paragraph five (5) he lays out the basic lead up and need to confront this head-on in his critique:

According to ESPN, the Leach story overall generated more complaints to the network than any other topic in the past year (nearly 1,700 calls or e-mails, although it's unclear how many of those might have been driven by organized online campaigns). For the ombudsman mailbag, the increase was sixfold over any other previous issue (nearly 3,000). Many of the comments were directed at ESPN's overall coverage of the Leach controversy, not just the telecast, and one network executive noted that the total number of complaints was minor in proportion to an audience of nearly 8 million for the Alamo Bowl broadcast.

Although that's accurate, the number of complaints is immaterial. The ombudsman's task -- and the point ESPN should be concerned about -- is to examine whether the network served its audience with a solid, professional broadcast of the game. I watched the Alamo Bowl live for pure pleasure, and had my own initial reaction as a viewer. After reading your e-mails, spending hours talking to various ESPN decision-makers, rescreening the game four times, analyzing transcripts, reading court affidavits and newspaper articles from across the country -- then spending countless hours trying to digest it all -- I drew some conclusions. Some disclosure: I have no dog in this fight. I have no relationship with Leach, the James family or anyone at Texas Tech. I have no relationship with ESPN's Rece Davis, Heather Cox or Bob Davie. I've spoken with network play-by-play announcer Mike Patrick a few times and have always respected his work. I would never condone abusing a player, and offer no opinion as to whether Leach should have been fired. This column is not meant to review the entire body of ESPN's weeklong coverage of the Leach controversy -- there's no way for me to have consumed it all. What's at issue here, simply, is whether ESPN offered a balanced presentation of a complex story in its coverage of the Alamo Bowl.

The critique is over 3500 words in length. I must allow you the reader to make your own decision on whether or not Mr. Ohlmeyer has taken a fair and independent look at ESPN's actions.

But I must personally point out that the following by Mr. Ohlmeyer really gets to the core of the matter when it comes to covering something as convoluted as this whole affair has become:

After the Leach controversy boiled over with his suspension the last week in December, ESPN took James off the telecast -- but not Patrick. ESPN's rationale was that Patrick is a professional and his season-long work with James did not represent a conflict. Patrick's professionalism notwithstanding, ESPN's decision put him in an untenable position. In media, perception is reality, and it was clear the relationship between the two commentators could -- perhaps should -- raise questions for the audience. Word choices, phrases, even inflections are subjective. Everything Patrick said could be filtered through the subtext of "Would he have said that if he hadn't been James' partner throughout the past season?"

The circumstances surrounding Leach dictated that Patrick would have to discuss a controversy that had sparked heated emotions among many in the audience. And he fueled the flames late in the first quarter when, after ESPN showed graphics with statements from the university on the firing and a snippet of a Leach interview on why he believed he was dismissed, Patrick said of the reserve receiver, "There is Adam James, who is the young man who was actually punished for having a concussion." That comment articulated ESPN's point of view for the audience: What happened? A player was punished. Who was the victim? Adam James. Who was the perpetrator? Mike Leach. What was the motivation? The player suffered a concussion. That thesis coincided with Texas Tech's position, not to mention that proffered by Craig James. Clearly, there were various versions of what happened between coach and player, but Patrick's statement offered no nuance. Opinion was stated as fact. James was "actually punished for having a concussion."


Yes sir! I totally agree from what I personally observed during the telecast of the game that unsubstantiated opinions were stated as fact during the telecast. Those opinions basically supported what I have observed as a poorly handled and poorly investigated claim on the part of the University administrators and representatives.


Here is the link again: Three sides to every story | January 21, 2010

If you wish to leave your opinion, let it be known but attempt to base them on the facts that have become available over the past few weeks.

Thanks in advance for reading my first post here at the Bleacher Report.


~Bob Stewart~