Miami Heat: ESPN's Coverage of LeBron James and Co. Bordering on Irresponsible

Alex McVeighSenior Analyst IOctober 27, 2010

Well, it's good to know the Heat won't be going 82-0
Well, it's good to know the Heat won't be going 82-0

Have you ever heard of the website Media Matters? They’re a watchdog group that dedicates themselves to hunting down conservative information and evidence of right-wing bias. I have always thought that a group like that often says a lot about its own biases by only searching for misinformation from one side. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit, I am not very fond of the Miami Heat

The coverage of the Miami Heat is bordering on journalistic irresponsibility. I won’t get into the whole Decision thing, that’s been covered ad nauseum and doesn’t have any relevance here. And don't forget the whole disaster when ESPN pulled a story about LeBron that painted him in a bad light a few months ago. 

And I’m not morally outraged by the whole “three stars teaming up” thing at all. LeBron James and Chris Bosh are free to do what they wish, and their teaming up is interesting for the sport of basketball. I’m curious as to what unfolds. 

I also happen to really dig the way ESPN covers basketball. The TrueHoop blog and the other blogs on the network are on my daily checklist for basketball info and opinion.

But, ESPN has managed to outdo themselves when it comes to the Heat. Of course there’s the usual “the Celtics beat the Heat, but the top story is LeBron’s 31 points and the Heat lose” shtick in full effect, but that’s old news by now. 

Not content with the TrueHoop Network blog and the sure-to-be over-saturated Heat coverage, ESPN started an entire website devoted to the Heat, akin to ESPN New York or ESPN Boston, called the Heat Index. An entire site devoted to one team, including at least three writers. 

Oh, they’re trying to preach some sort of moral high ground, saying that this unusual assembly of talent will give all of us new insights into race, culture and a myriad of other topics that go beyond the world of sports. I’ve checked it a few times, and I saw updates on Wade’s hamstring and a few other notes about how the Heat will address the point guard position, which are relevant. 

But there were just as many headlines about LeBron’s new shoe, and Wade’s custody hearings in Chicago, or about a witch doctor that a radio show host hired to curse LeBron. I’m so glad we have an entire site dedicated to the Heat, where we can stay up to date on Wade’s divorce and LeBron’s shoes. Thank goodness ESPN didn’t leave those non-stories to TMZ. 

But, here’s where ESPN sets a precedent that really hurts their journalistic integrity. When LeBron’s new Nike commercial came out (which was an awesome commercial, by the way), ESPN has started linking to it like it’s news. 

One look at the top ESPN videos reveals the experts’ World Series picks, the latest on Tony Romo (sigh) and LeBron’s Nike commercial, the headline, “LeBron Makes Statement in Nike Commercial.”

On what planet is this acceptable? They’re linking to it like it’s news, yet it’s a commercial designed to sell shoes, written by an ad team, professionally shot and produced, yet ESPN is basically saying, “Here’s the latest on LeBron.”

Here’s a question: how ecstatic is Nike that their commercial is getting free plays on ESPN? Or a scarier question: are they paying for it to be shown? If that’s the case, ESPN’s already shaky reputation is destroyed, it’s the ultimate sacrifice of journalistic ethics. 

The thing is, for a media outlet to openly tout their extensive coverage of a single team, there are a whole lot of questions that LeBron and co. aren’t getting asked, what happened in the Celtics-Cavs series chief among them. 

To me, it comes off as a case of not upsetting the golden goose. How can ESPN be expected to get all the access to LeBron and co. if they’re asking him tough questions, as any good reporter should?

These are interesting questions, and as ESPN grows in scope, hiring great beat writers away from newspapers for their localized sites, their way of presenting the news is getting more biased than ever, and it shows no sign of improving. 

ESPN isn’t alone in this. Just the other day I became aware of Fox Sports’ “Heat or 3Peat” blog, in which they will devote coverage entirely to the Heat and the Lakers. Because, you know, they’re the only teams that are interesting.

But, FoxSports lacks the complete media presence ESPN does, and while one blog is annoying, ESPN is able to saturate us with coverage from a variety of media. With the advent of blogs, good blogs, this is less of an issue that it would have been, say, five years ago.

But, it’s still a bit disturbing that the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” seems more interested in pushing the teams and players they want than becoming a go-to place for top-notch sports journalism. 


UPDATE: On the ESPN recap for the Cavs-Celtics game, LeBron is mentioned no less than three times before any other player, Cav or Celtic, is.