Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bruce Feldman Mess Won't Go Away

Hope you're staying cool through this northern Minnesota heat wave. We get one of these virtually every year, it seems, but this one is especially notable because of the humidity involved.

Anyway, I've been largely silent on the blog (but not Twitter) regarding the issue with ESPN and journalist Bruce Feldman. While I popped off on Twitter and was unabashed in my support of Feldman, I didn't feel comfortable writing a blog and making him an even bigger issue.

However, recent events have compelled me to lay all this out for you, in case you weren't aware of what's going on.

It started Thursday night, when I saw tweets from Sports by Brooks indicating Feldman had been suspended indefinitely by ESPN. Feldman was called on the carpet he helped with Mike Leach's book, "Swing Your Sword," which includes a number of accusations regarding ESPN's behavior and "reporting" when Leach was fired at Texas Tech.

Oh, and Feldman had permission from ESPN to participate in the project.

SbB has led the reporting on this story, and naturally ESPN has tried to deny everything he has reported. However, Brooks is steadfast in what he is saying, and he isn't backing down.

ESPN tried to fight back, using its ombudsman.

Brooks Melchior first posted the erroneous news of Feldman's suspension on his blog Sports by Brooks, Thursday afternoon, just hours after ESPN brass, prompted by the book's publication, met by conference call with Feldman to discuss his involvement. For the past decade, Melchior has been the primary writer and editor on the site, which is now part of the Yardbarker network now owned by Fox Sports.

ESPN pointed out the error almost 24 hours later in a news release, igniting further argument over the difference between being suspended and merely being asked to take a break. This is more than just semantics. A suspension is a disciplinary action involving human resources, a record in your file and not being allowed onto the company premises for a period of time. Several people on that phone call reported to us that Feldman specifically asked whether he was being suspended and that he was told no.

Lying low and staying out of the public eye is different than being forced to stay home from work.

Feldman did not respond to several emails, text messages and phones calls from us. He has not tweeted or published any stories or appeared on the air, fueling rumors that ESPN is lying and that he really is suspended.

At this point, Feldman's silence is self-imposed, according to Rob King, ESPN senior vice president of editorial for digital and print media, and Chad Millman, editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine.

"He's paralyzed," King said. "He doesn't want to go out to an event and become the subject of the story. But he doesn't know what to say or how to say it, in order to put the story to bed."

"He's pretty anxious about this whole thing," Millman concurred.

Melchior also refused to comment for this column when we reached him on the phone Sunday. He does not offer his readers any information about his source or how the source came by the knowledge. But ESPN sources said no one in the company got a call from Melchior asking to confirm Feldman's suspension. 

I don't doubt for one second that this could be true. I don't know the truth. Only ESPN and Bruce Feldman know the truth. One of them has no motivation to tell the truth if it's negative toward them. The other isn't talking at all.

Brooks has no motivation to lie. He already is one of the most prolific and intelligent independent reporters on the internet. Might he gain a few readers by making up or embellishing a story about ESPN suspending one of its online reporters? Sure, but it's not worth what will happen if/when his misdeed is exposed.

Brooks also was all over the Ohio State/Tressel story before anyone else in the mainstream, outside of Yahoo. He knows what he is doing. It's not a gossip or tabloid site. He's good at what he does.

To dismiss this story would be to dismiss the reporter doing the gruntwork, and I refuse to do that.

There is no doubt in my mind -- and there has been no doubt in my mind for a long time -- that ESPN badly mishandled the Leach case. That it involved an ESPN analyst -- Craig James -- made things extremely complicated for them, and the argument could be made from the start that James was behaving like a manipulative sports parent who needed to get his child a leg up.

Instead of reporting both sides of the story, ESPN chose not to. Now, they pay the price, because no one should simply take their side of the story and believe it. Until Feldman speaks, it's hard to believe anything.

And if you're buying what ESPN is selling, don't look for Feldman to talk anytime soon.

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