ESPN has announced that it is eliminating its public editor/ombudsman position after the last person to hold that position, Jim Brady, published a column noting that ESPN’s future has never been less certain.
On May 9, the network announced that it was firing its public editor calling the position “outdated.”
“In recent years, both the Washington Post and the New York Times eliminated their Ombudsman role in recognition that the position had outlived its usefulness, largely because of the rise of real-time feedback of all kinds,” the network said in its press release.
That same day, in his last piece as the network’s conscience, Brady drily talked of “taking on the oh-so-simple subject of ESPN’s future.” He also remarked on a long list of the network’s troubles, including recent mass layoffs and its problems with left-wing politics intruding into its coverage of sports news.
Brady mostly did his best to shore up the reputation of the cable network even as he called its current status “weakened.” But, one of those self-inflicted problems weakening the network is the ongoing collision of liberal politics and its coverage of sports.
Of that problem, Brady admits that many former ESPN fans have likely dumped the network because they are tired of politics being ladled on top of sports coverage.
Brady admits that ESPN simply won’t listen to fans and “stick to sports.” He added, “I see no need for it to force its way into politics when the connection is not direct. Additionally, ESPN needs to do better at reflecting points of view from across the political spectrum.” Brady also admitted, “there are surely people who have canceled ESPN because they think it has chosen a political side.”
Brady is surely right about the loss. After all, ESPN just lost another 500,000 subscribers in April alone. And the additional half million lost fans are only a small part of the 14 million customers lost in the last seven years.
This is not the first time Brady scolded ESPN for injecting too much liberalism into its product. As far back as 2016 Brady took time to look inward at the network’s coverage and found that there was probably too much liberal content. He also noted then that the network needed to do a better job of offering a balanced set of political views so as not to alienate fans.
In his 2016 article, Brady went on to press the point that the network does have a problem with politics even if employees refuse to accept the claim.
“One notion that virtually everyone I spoke to at ESPN dismisses is what some have perceived as unequal treatment of conservatives who make controversial statements vs. liberals who do the same,” he wrote.
ESPN is far from immune from the political fever that has afflicted so much of the country over the past year. Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers — both liberal and conservative — that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing product. Consumers have sensed that same leftward movement, alienating some…. For most of its history, ESPN was viewed relatively apolitically. Its core focus was — and remains today, of course — sports. Although the nature of sports meant an occasional detour into politics and culture was inevitable, there wasn’t much chatter about an overall perceived political bias. If there was any tension internally, it didn’t manifest itself publicly.
Sadly, network brass did not listen to his warnings.
Even when he was issuing his 2016 warning, then ESPN chief John Skipper was heard insisting that the network’s extreme liberalism is a proud “principle.” Then, after Skipper resigned because of his drug abuse problems, his replacement, James Pitaro, doubled down on the network’s claims that it has no political bias.
Ultimately it is interesting that ESPN has eliminated its public editor position after he has spent several columns warning of the problem the network has with left-wing politics intruding in on its sports coverage. It is almost as if the bosses just didn’t want to hear it anymore.
As OutKick the Coverage’s Clay Travis noted, it is awfully curious that ESPN has dumped its public editor position after he has several times criticized the network for too often indulging its liberal politics.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.