On Tuesday, Variety posted an interview with ESPN's new president, Jimmy Pitaro. The former Disney executive who recently replaced John Skipper was not in for an afternoon of softball questions, though, because interviewer Brian Steinberg hurled difficult questions his way. Pitaro bobbed and weaved those questions and portrayed ESPN as an amazing organization that is serving its fans exceedingly well.
The most poignant question of the interview came when Steinberg questioned Pitaro about the distractions posed to the network by the social media outbursts of ESPN personalities. (None more so than Jemele Hill's fall 2017 tweet calling President Trump a "white supremacist). "There’s a new social-media policy in place, but how do you feel about your anchors weighing in on the many parts of daily life upon which sports touches, like race, politics and culture? Steinberg asked."
Pitaro said, "We are not a political organization. We are a sports-media company. And our focus is on serving the sports fans. There will always be intersections between sports and politics. When that news happens, we are going to cover it." And he said:
"I will tell you, regarding our employees specifically, we provided them with guidelines. There is general understanding and alignment in terms of what our best path forward is within the company. … I’m a big believer in the value of social media, and we need to engage with our fans through social media in a thoughtful way, and we are doing that. We have taken and will continue to take a very open approach, and what I mean by that is we are going to make sure we are present everywhere our fans are."
If ESPN isn't a political organization, it is every bit a liberally biased network in regard to its treatment of political figures and social issues. It's a gender-bending, race-baiting, left-wingers-are-us network, for sure! Criticism of the network and its customer drain reflect the views of people who recently said the politicization of sports is alienating them. 75 percent of the people polled by McLaughlin and Associates Media Research Center said that when they watch sports and entertainment they do not want to be bombarded with partisan political messages. Of which ESPN is especially adept at doing!
Steinberg inquired about the controversy and the dismal performance of the 6 p.m. broadcast of SportsCenter, until recently co-hosted by angry, outspoken social justice warriors Hill and Michael Smith. Pitaro did the duck-and-cover on this question as well:
"We are very pleased with the success of 'SportsCenter.' We have made some changes, as you know, and that’s OK. … [We will] make changes based on what we think is best for the business going forward, and that will continue as part of 'SportsCenter.' And that will be relevant to every part of our business."
Making changes is a dishonest way of saying a salvage operation is needed for the wreckage of SC6.
Pitaro speaks much like former ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady with his ability to portray problems as so-called successes. When asked about Skipper's focus on billion-dollar broadcasting rights and testing new properties like Five Thirty Eight, the failed Grantland site and 30 for 30, Pitaro raved about the state of journalism at ESPN:
"Quality journalism and storytelling are vital to our brand and will continue to be a core business proposition for us going forward. Our focus is on covering sports in an exemplary fashion, and that’s not going to change. We all see the importance of honest, objective, well-reported journalism in sports, and this is what our fans expect from us."
That brand of "quality journalism" leaves much to be desired and has driven away many ESPN customers in recent years.
Sports Illustrated's Jimmy Traina defended ESPN in his "Extra Mustard: Where Culture Meets Sports" column. The liberal Traina called it a "mostly a ho-hum, cookie-cutter interview with lots of corporate speak," but he also launched into the critics of ESPN and railed that "sports and politics mix ALL THE TIME."
No shrinking violet, Traina complained about Colin Kaepernick being blackballed, the president being "unhinged" and wrote those "are all legitimate stories for ESPN to cover." Traina asked, "Is an anchor not allowed to share an opinion on gun control on Twitter? Again, not realistic."
Here's another thing that's totally unrealistic. It's the notion that ESPN talkers and writers could ever offer some balance, some fairness, with those opinions. Under Pitaro's leadership, ESPN will most likely continue to be the Worldwide Leader in (Liberal) Sports.