July 22, 2010
ESPN's ombudsman despised the network's 60-minute LeBron James free-agency special as much as everyone else.
In a blistering, 4,600-word column posted Wednesday night on the network's website, Don Ohlmeyer ripped ESPN for airing LeBron's free-agency special and writes that it violated the implicit trust between the network and its viewers. The television producer, who serves as ESPN's independent journalism watchdog, criticized nearly every facet of the now-infamous program, writing that it "pandered to a superstar" and gave in to a "celebration of greed, ego and excess."
[Photos: More images of LeBron James]
"The Decision" earned rebukes for its massive build-up, misleading viewers and blurring the lines between journalism and entertainment, or pretty much the same stuff that outside critics wrote in the wake of the program, which aired two weeks ago.
But Ohlmeyer saved most of his venom for what he perceived to be the biggest of ESPN's violations: paying for a news story. Though money didn't technically change hands between the network and LeBron (proceeds went to charity), Ohlmeyer believes that allowing LeBron and his team to sell an hour's worth of advertising was essentially the same thing. By doing so, ESPN compromised the trust of its viewing audience.
"ESPN should never have traded inventory for access or allowed a subject to select his inquisitor," he writes, "and if that meant losing the exclusive, so be it."
Ohlmeyer didn't blame everyone at the network for the fiasco. He mentions the dichotomy between the newsgathering side of ESPN and the one more focused on entertainment, and scolds the latter for compromising the integrity of the former. Letting LeBron and his team take over the network for 60 minutes was "editorial acquiescence, not an editorial decision."
If anything, Ohlmeyer may have pulled his punches. There was plenty more to criticize about "The Decision," from Michael Wilbon's sycophantic interview with LeBron (which Ohlymeyer backhandedly complimented as "straightforward") to the use of children as props during the program. To Ohlmeyer, though, such matters must have seemed trivial compared to ESPN doing its best impression of The National Enquirer and paying for a scoop.
After the column appeared on ESPN.com, the network released a statement saying "it aggressively seeks and embraces feedback of all kinds."