Friday, April 6, 2007

New ESPN Ombudsman Offers Incompetence, Incoherence, Irregularity

ESPN must be thrilled with the first column of their new Ombudsman, Leigh Anne Schreiber. She certainly cuts an impressive figure as an Ombudsman. Well, from their point of view at least. From our point of view, not so much.

She immediately starts by telling us how clever we are so she’s sure we can look everything up about her on Google. Must have taught junior high schoolers once upon a time, the last age when that sort of introduction seems impressive. We’re adults; why don’t you start out by not patronizing us?

Then she tells us how unsuited she is for the role, telling us she doesn’t wear “a mighty mansuit.” I have no idea what that is; I suppose maybe it’s like those Superman pre-muscled torsos that you get for your kids. Or maybe it’s something you can buy in an adult bookstore; either way, she doesn’t wear one, which is probably a good thing.

She tells us (with too many parenthetical statements) how old she is via remembrance of things past, but assures us she was a tomboy in her youth. Ah, the sweet memories of a four-year-old. When she got to high school, she stopped being a tomboy and became a cultured adult, which she’s successfully been for the intervening 40+ years. I can’t help but think there’s a derogatory message in there for those of us who watch ESPN and care about sports.

All this is preparing her to tell us how these are strengths, not weaknesses. Seems clear to me: if you want someone to make intelligent comments that accurately reflect your audience’s concerns, then you’d certainly pick someone completely ignorant of the subject at hand who had little professed interest in it.

She’s thick-skinned, she says, because she got threatened when she became a female sports editor back in the seventies. Whenever someone trots out a canard like this, I get suspicious, but let’s assume that she really did get death threats once upon a time and take her word as true. But this seems extraneous to the job: it’s the Ombudsman’s job to give criticism, not to receive it. I don’t care if she has papyrus skin and habitually gets into flame wars with the neighbors over the height of their pool fence.

She’s careful to set expectations low: she doesn’t expect to be able to change ESPN, she doesn’t expect them to listen to her, and she doesn’t know the subject anyway. So what’s the point of having her again? Apparently she loves journalism, but not enough to feel that her ethics could be a fire against someone’s feet. More like a moonbeam, perhaps.

She ends by setting out what she hopes to accomplish, which can be summed up in the phrase “not more than one column a month”. And she’s sure to put on there an e-mail link to contact her so you can send her your concerns.

The link leads to a web page that says: “If you have comments or questions regarding ESPN's coverage of news, issues or events, please send them directly to Ombudsman George Solomon using the following form:”

From their point of view, ESPN has found the perfect Ombudsman.

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