When critics accuse journalists of “being in bed” with some of their sources, I don’t think they mean it literally. But occasionally it happens. And in the “real world,” it can be the stuff of major scandal.
Just two years ago, Mirthala Salinas, an anchor for the Spanish-language network Telemundo, became the source of national headlines when her affair with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa became public. Salinas was suspended without pay and subsequently reassigned (banished, really) by Telemundo and her once-rising star has been shot down. Her crime — covering the mayor while she was romantically involved with him — is considered a clear conflict of interest by the news industry and the public at large.
Which begs the question: Is sports no longer part of the real world? Where I live, in Seattle, Wash., sports reporter Lisa Gangel of KING-TV is engaged to Patrick Kerney, a defensive end for the NFL’s Seahawks. I’d really not thought a lot about that until, channel surfing last Sunday, I happened across a Seahawks post-game show on KING and there was Gangel on the broadcast. Interesting — Salinas covers her love interest and gets drummed into obscurity; Gangel covers hers and is named recently by SeattlePI.com sports columnist Jim Moore, (in the interest of full disclosure, a friend of mine), the sexiest female sports personality in Seattle.
I covered the NBA and other sports for 17 years at The Seattle Times before embarking on a career, also in sports media, on the Internet, so I know how cozy one can get with subjects covered on a daily basis. I trust this also happens in other parts of the news world. I am reading “The Clinton Tapes” by Taylor Branch, a Pultizer Prize-winning author whose friendship with Bill Clinton earned him extraordinary access to the President. Branch was not covering President Clinton for any media organization and wrote a book, post-presidency, in first person, that explains a process and doesn’t attempt to overtly advance any agenda. That, to me, is worth a pass.
Trust in the media continues to plunge, according to a Pew Center survey, and there even are suggestions that the press cover entities such as Fox News as the equivalent of opposition parties. Clearly, the comingling of subject matter and self-interest is something with which the public is not comfortable. After all, how can anyone trust news from a given media source when the motivations of that source are simultaneously in doubt?
At ESPN HoopGurlz, which I head, everyone on staff has divested her- or himself of any association that might convey even the appearance of a conflict. So while almost everyone on staff has coaching experience, none is presently coaching. Nor does anyone run programs or operate events. None of us is sponsored by a sneaker company. Moreover, we make a particular effort to cover events across sponsorship lines and devote precious resources to do so.
Sometimes coziness supplies perspective not otherwise obtained, but there has to be a line and sharing a bed seems to be a pretty clear one. But in sports, in Seattle, at least, that line has become blurred. To wit, the Seattle Times’ Jerry Brewer, in a column on the Erin Andrews peep-hole video incident, acknowledged that journalists might debate the ethics of the Gangel-Kerney relationship, but he ain’t one of them.
“I’m not here to judge, especially since Gangel and Kerney are among the best and most likable people on the Seattle sports scene,” Brewer wrote.
OK, I don’t think I get it. If you’re likeable, attractive and give good quote or sound bite, it’s a pass? Couldn’t that have been said of Salinas and Villaraigosa? The only way this makes sense is if the line that truly is blurred is the one between sportswriter and cheerleader. As one of the former, I’d like to hope that really isn’t true.
Gangel photo credit: Bernzilla