03.31.06

Sandormir On Internal Debate At ESPN Over Bonds Series

Posted in Baseball, Sports Journalism, Sports TV at 12:56 am by

Along with an item in today’s New York Times by Murray Chass pointing out the possible conflicts of interests facing former Sen. George Mitchell in his investigation of the Sultan of Surly (ie. he’s on the Red Sox board of directors and is a major Walt Disney Co. sharehoder), Richard Sandomir sheds light on unease at ESPN over the network’s mooted Barry Bonds reality show.

The emotional, sometimes angry debate within ESPN centers in part on whether it has put itself in an untenable journalistic position by aggressively reporting on Bonds’s pursuit of Hank Aaron’s career home run record while simultaneously carrying, at least through midseason, a series that provides Bonds editorial control of its content.

Other serious concerns are whether ESPN is paying for access to Bonds, who is difficult to cover, and giving him hours of time to rehabilitate his image.

“This has conflicts that need to be resolved,” said Jeff Brantley, an ESPN analyst who played with Bonds on the Giants in 1993. “Take this one: Pedro Gomez is covering Bonds on a daily basis, and if he asks tough questions, will Barry be allowed to go back at Pedro on his show?”

Vince Doria, ESPN’s news director, who admitted to having early reservations about carrying the series, said yesterday that Bonds would be “ill-served” if he uses the series to “belittle some of our people.”

Gomez, who was among those who objected most pointedly during the meeting, declined to discuss what he said. Others who cover baseball for ESPN were also said to be among the harshest critics of the series.

Doria said the reactions among the ESPN reporters, analysts, anchors and production workers included those who “felt it was a deal that we shouldn’t have made, some felt it was fine, some felt in between.”

Brantley said he was satisfied with the responses of ESPN management, but is still concerned how the series will look and if it will make the network seem, as he put it, “stupid.” He wondered if the series would stay on the air if it was substandard.

An interesting question. How long has “Cold Pizza” been on, anyway?

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