ESPN Pretty Much Making Its Policies Up As It Goes Along

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Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly.
Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

If you rely on ESPN for your sports news, as lots of people do, it’s entirely possible that you hadn’t heard the story about Brett Favre maybe sort-of sharing information about the Packers with the Lions’ Matt Millen until Wednesday, even though Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported it over the weekend. Why? Officially, according an internal ESPN memo headlined “DO NOT REPORT” no fewer than four times, it’s because they said it simply wasn’t true, based on information from their “reliable sources.” Yes, Favre himself had texted a denial to SI’s Peter King, calling the story “total bs.” (King, presumably, took a break from tapping out his next column on his BlackBerry to read the message.) But there's no denying the report was still newsworthy, right?

Well, ESPN did deny it, until they absolutely couldn't anymore. (Favre himself admitted at his weekly press conference that many aspects of the report were actually true.) Could this have something to do with the fact that the story was broken by Glazer, a non-ESPN reporter, who for the record, has been dead-on with plenty of breaking stories this year? Or is it made worse by the fact that they were scooped on a story about a man they’d spent the better part of the summer stalking — er, professionally and thoroughly covering?

But rules are rules in Bristol. Here’s another: You can’t just interview a presidential candidate whenever you'd like. Or at least, that’s what they told Bill Simmons earlier this year when he wanted to interview Barack Obama on a podcast during the Democratic primary. Yet in Rick Reilly’s column this week, there was Obama, drafting a fantasy football team with Reilly. (For the record, he did ask McCain to draft a team too, and he declined. Though that might be for the best: If you were waiting to compare each man’s fantasy-football-drafting skills before casting a vote, you might want to sit this election out.)

Give Reilly a break, though: It's gotta be tough knowing he's no longer the only reporter on the college-football-player-who-had-his-finger-amputated beat, as he found out last week when both his column and the back-page one in SI — the space he used to occupy — were on Mesa State’s Trevor Wikre, who, yes, had his pinkie amputated after an injury so he could get back to playing almost immediately.

This whole Obama/Reilly/Simmons business brings up the question, again, of who the top dog is over there. Simmons is easily the site’s most popular columnist, but Reilly is the “name” to people who watch a LOT of golf on television, and those are the people who bring the advertisers. (And Reilly’s salary.) And considering how dismissive Reilly has been in the past toward Simmons and “other bloggers,” one wonders if, at some point, a blowup will have to come.

Meanwhile, it was a great week for the Times’ Richard Sandomir, who pretty much had a compelling story a day, concluding with a truly depressing account of Shea Stadium’s plodding destruction. And his account of a day on the ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown set summed up pretty much exactly why intelligent fans can no longer watch that show ... and why so many others do.