THE BLOG

Media Owning Sports Teams: Bad Mix

05/21/2008 04:22 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When Jon Stewart was interviewed by Larry King on CNN this past February, King asked Stewart, "What do you think about the candidates?" Stewart, ever funny and ever truthful with his comedic ability to expose the man behind the curtain, at one point asked the rhetorical question "is the country ready for a female or black president." Stewart's reply implied that the question was irrelevant because nobody asked the question eight years ago if the country was "ready for a moron."

Now, visualize Larry King interviewing a sports reporter from Newsday, the Long Island newspaper recently purchased by Cablevision, which is controlled by the Dolan family. Cablevision owns Madison Square Garden (MSG), the Knicks basketball team, and the Rangers hockey team. Jim Dolan is the son of Cablevision founder Charles Dolan and runs MSG, the Knicks, and Rangers because he is a charter member of the media Lucky Sperm Club; not because he's competent. How would a Newsday sports reporter respond to the question from Larry King, "What do you think about Jim Dolan?" Can you imagine the sports reporter exposing the man behind the curtain, telling the truth, and saying, "He's a moron."

On May 13, the wry and wise former Newsday media critic Marvin Kittman wrote on The Huffington Post:

Nobody has ever accused father Dolan of being stupid. The same thing cannot be said about his son, James.Perhaps the most important reason for buying Newsday is to get the paper to stop all the criticism on the sports pages about the way Jim has been running the Knicks into the ground. Not to mention the Rangers and Madison Square Garden...

...With the Cablevision purchase of Newsday, it's one less newspaper to harp on all the mistakes Jim Dolan has made in mismanagement, misfeasance and malfeasance in running the New York market's beloved franchises.

Kittman clearly points out the problem with media companies owning sports franchises.

Chicago Tribune Public Editor, Timothy McNulty, wrote on May 16:

This is an old sportswriters rule: No cheering in the press box.

Expect to see that rule broken whenever Tribune Co. sells the Chicago Cubs.

Ever since the parent company of the Chicago Tribune bought the ball team in 1981, Tribune journalists have lived with the suspicion of bias, favoritism and conflict of interest in covering professional baseball in Chicago...

...Tribune Co.'s ownership of the Cubs has been a bane not only to those who write and edit sports pages, but to business and metro reporters as well. I hear about it constantly. The Cubs are more than a sports franchise in terms of news coverage. Decisions about zoning regulations and parking in the neighborhood, about renovations to the treasured stadium and the sale itself are issues that have the potential to raise ethical questions.

The Yankees control the YES cable network - the Yankees don't actually own YES outright, but, in reality, control it through a complex ownership agreement - otherwise it wouldn't be named the Yankees Entertainment and Sports network. So, knowing what control freaks the Steinbrenners are, it is not surprising that former Yankees manager Joe Torre cancelled a YES network contract that paid him a tidy sum to do post-game interviews because he was uncomfortable answering questions that were being sent by top-level team executives (quite possibly on directives from Steinbrenner) to the on-field reporter, Kimball Jones.

Furthermore, in 2003, former Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer said some negative stuff in the media about Steinbrenner. In response, "The Boss" was rumored to have ordered YES not to show Zimmer on camera during its Yankee cablecasts.

When sports teams own or control the broadcast and cablecast rights to games, the announcers are either hired by or approved by the teams. Thus, what you get are non-critical homers who may be knowledgeable (YES announcers Ken Singleton, John Flaherty, and David Cone, and Paul O'Neill, e.g.), but they aren't going to call ownership morons "morons."

Journalistic integrity and honest, candid reporting is compromised when media companies own sports teams or control the coverage by reporters (print, radio, television, or bloggers). What can be done about the problem? Because it's a bad idea for the government to get involved in sports team ownership issues, the sports leagues are going to have regulate themselves, and I would hope that leagues would not approve any media ownership of sports franchises. Fans should be aware that coverage controlled by teams and their owners will never do like Toto did and pull back the curtain and reveal who is pulling the levers or call a moron a moron.

The best sports reporting is currently being done by ESPN.com, ESPN Radio, and local sports radio stations that don't broadcast a team's games, and by bloggers. Even though ESPN owns a piece of the Arena Football League, I don't feel it affects its coverage, and the columnists on ESPN.com and in ESPN the Magazine are quite good - none better than Peter Gammons on baseball. Of course, no one owns or controls independent sports bloggers, who exist to give their opinions, such as Seth Mnookin's Feeding the Monster. If you read a cross section of sports blogs, you'll get to know the man behind the curtain very well and get a good fix on who all the morons are.