On Tuesday morning, ESPN – which has been in a losing battle to keep its subscribers – issued a new set of guidelines “recognize[ing] connection between sports, politics.” ESPN public editor Jim Brady acknowledged the oddity of releasing guidelines after a presidential election, but said, “we are living in unique political times…which explains the revised guidelines for discussion of political and social issues.” According to ESPN vice president Craig Bengtson said that Trump’s election was the essential factor behind the new guidelines.
The first part of the guideline is a recommitment to “objective” journalism: “our audiences should be confident our original reporting of news is not influenced by political pressures or personal agendas.” Of course, that’s not going to help much: CNN believes the same, and their reporting is slanted heavily to the left. The left’s version of objectivity states that a story, once decided upon, must not be overtly political; this ignores selection bias, which decides which stories are important to cover. ESPN’s heavy focus on Caitlyn Jenner, for example, pushes a political agenda through selection bias.
ESPN does make two more important changes to their policy: first, they say that hard news reporters and editors at the company should not make any public statements in any forum that would reveal their political biases. That’s absurd, and doesn’t solve the problem of political bias in reporting itself.
But the most important change is the encouragement of more political talk from commentators:
Outside of ‘hard’ news reporting, commentary related to political or social issues, candidates or office holders is appropriate on ESPN platforms consistent with these guidelines….The presentation should be thoughtful and respectful. We should offer balance or recognize opposing views, as warranted. We should avoid personal attacks and inflammatory rhetoric.
In other words, talk politics, so long as it’s leftist. Mike Ditka lost his job for speaking up in favor of Donald Trump and against Barack Obama on NFL Countdown; Curt Schilling was ousted for the great sin of comparing radical Islam to Nazism; Chris Broussard was slammed by management for expressing his religious view of homosexuality. Brady himself has stated in the past, “Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers -- both liberal and conservative -- that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing product. Consumers have sensed that same leftward movement, alienating some.”
ESPN's far-leftism has certainly alienated me. I used to watch ESPN religiously. Now I can't even bear to watch it for more than 15 minutes, since it's impossible to escape the leftist propagandizing.
That’s not going to change under the new rules. Let’s see ESPN hire some conservatives and let them talk, rather than ousting them the moment they disagree with the prevailing leftist orthodoxy. Then we can talk about a freer discourse. Until then, ESPN should shut up about politics altogether, or risk watching its ratings continue to tank and subscribers continue to cut the cord.