Ethical missteps were made with ESPN’s broadcast of LeBron James’ announcement of which basketball team he planned to join, according to a review by ESPN’s internal journalism watchdog, reports the Wall Street Journal. (A note to readers: the Journal is behind a pay wall and not all articles may be available to readers.)
ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer wrote a 4,600-word column on Wednesday dissecting ESPN’s decision to air the prime-time, hourlong program, which ceded the network’s advertising revenue to James, who then donated it to a charity. ESPN said in a statement that Ohlmeyer’s role is part of its effort to gather opinions about its coverage, the Journal’s story says.
"ESPN made some major mistakes handling the entire affair," Ohlmeyer writes. Later in the piece, he points out, "No matter how convoluted the intellectual gymnastics, ESPN "paid" for exclusive access to a news story. For the network, there is quantifiable revenue associated with the Thursday 9-10 p.m. programming hour. That revenue was forgone, yielded in exchange for the exclusive. Team LeBron sold those advertising units. The fact that it was in turn distributed to charity was immaterial, journalistically. James used ESPN’s commercial spots in an effort to enhance his image as a responsible, caring charitable guy — there’s direct value to James in doing so, and he did it courtesy of the network, and with the sponsor’s money."