We'll get to the alleged train-running in Minnesota--Tim Brewster, mahalo to you!--in a minute. First, however, we would like to do something we don't do enough around here: say something positive about ESPN.
The new ombudsperson-lady, Lee Anne Schreiber, a former sports editor at the New York Times, actually responded to our emails regarding ESPN Radio personality Colin Cowherd's deliberate "blowing-up" of TheBigLead.com on Thursday. (It's back up, btw, and looking for new hosting. Go easy on it.)
Responsiveness is good, even if it is an intern pumping out pat responses or whatever. Schreiber gets another point for actually serving notice to Cowherd in her Sunday column entitled (clearly enough) "Cowherd's 'attack' on blog: 'Zero tolerance'." In fact, judging from the column, the whole thing was a special bit just on Cowherd's behavior, since she mentions at the end of the column that her regular stuff won't come out 'til Thursday.
More on Cowherd getting his dumb on...again.
The more relevant snippets:
Some of the politer terms my correspondents used to describe Cowherd's behavior were immature, irresponsible, arrogant, malicious, destructive and dumb. I agree....
The official response from ESPN's communication department was: "Our airwaves should not be used for this purpose. We apologize." It is the kind of bland public statement that does little to assuage the anger and distrust of ESPN's audience over an episode like this.
Keller responded immediately to my request for an on-the-record statement. "We talked to Colin Cowherd, and we talked to all our radio talent, making it clear that you cannot do this," Keller said Friday. "Our airwaves are a trust, and not to be used to hurt anyone's business. Such attacks are off limits. Zero tolerance. I can't say it any stronger."
Nicely done, ombudsperson-lady. The downside--and there's always, always a downside--is that ESPN personnel of any sort will be wary of mentioning anything blog-related now for fear of violating policy. That's what a strongly worded rebuke containing the words "zero tolerance" is supposed to do.
It also reinforces ESPN's content silo, though, raising the fence between the rest of the internet and ESPN.com even higher than it was before. And with few ESPN bloggers allowed to link offsite to begin with, that's an extremely high wall at this point. With the diminishing profile of ESPN.com's presence among internet sports news consumers, this seems counterproductive, like paying Scoop Jackson a dollar to write anything but a resignation letter or hiring The Cheat to redo Page 2's design.