In a recent company meeting, ESPN’s new President James Pitaro said that he does not believe that the sports cable network is a “political organization,” and that their focus should be on the “sports fan.”
During the company meeting at ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut, headquarters; the former Disney consumer products chairman addressed the long-time accusation that the network is swathed in left-wing bias, ESPN’s Front Row reported.
With his comments, it appears that Pitaro is not overly concerned by the bias, but still wants employees to put sports first:
In response to an employee question regarding the perception of liberal bias at ESPN, Pitaro said, “I do not believe that we are a political organization. I know that a lot of conversation has happened within this company in the past year and I believe that we netted out in the right place, which is we are a sports media company. Of course, there is going to continue to be an intersection of between sports and politics and we’re going to continue to cover that. We’re going to cover it fairly and honestly. But we are focused on serving the sports fan.”
Pitaro’s comments seem little different from the pronouncements made by recently resigned ESPN boss, John Skipper, who only a few months ago hosted another company-wide meeting to reiterate the company’s social media policy forbidding overtly controversial political content.
Skipper gravely pointed out that the policy maintains that ESPN is about sports news, and “front facing” employees should “refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders.” The policy also instructs employees to comment on politics only when it pertains to a particular sports issue. Finally, the policy supposedly requires employees to check with senior management, editors, and producers before getting into politics.
While this multilayer approach to airing political commentary might seem comprehensive, the network has not much bothered to hold employees to the rules. For instance, nothing happened to ESPN’s Jemele Hill when she called Republicans and President Donald Trump, a bunch of “white supremacists.”
Despite a two-week suspension for urging a boycott of the Dallas Cowboys over her disagreement with owner Jerry Jones’s politics, Hill has continued spouting off on politics with abandon.
But with these new comments from yet another new head of ESPN, it doesn’t seem like anything has changed.
Pitaro has also been scrambling to address another crisis left behind by former ESPN chief Skipper as the once close relationship between the National Football League and ESPN has soured likely because the network has pursued stories that tend to damage the league.
Indeed, Piatro mentioned this issue during the company meeting, according to Awful Announcing.
Contrary to recent reports that the network is working to shore up its relationship with the NFL, Pitaro insisted that there are no real problems between the two sports powerhouses:
However, the fact that Pitaro has to address the issue at all is telling.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.