This is why Keith Olbermann is the best.
Olbermann, who is literally brilliant, and whose new show, Olbermann, debuted on ESPN 2 last night, used his first 13 or so minutes to shred a New York Daily news reporter, Manish Mehta, who tweeted and wrote that Rex Ryan should be fired for putting Mark Sanchez in at the end of a preseason game this weekend, a decision that resulted in Sanchez hurting his shoulder.
Olbermann’s critique – and Chris Christie’s – was that Mehta created a story based on nothing other than his own opinion. That sort of thing is acceptable, maybe, for columnists, bloggers and pundits, but not for the automaton assigned to cover the team. Just the facts, dammit. Worse is that, a few days earlier, Mehta wrote that Sanchez shouldn’t be the Jets’ starter, an opinion which contradicted with him proclaiming that Ryan should be fired for using Sanchez, the guy who shouldn’t be the starter, late in a preseason game.
Olbermann’s rant was brilliant – spectacular, even – and if this is the sort of thing he produces on a nightly basis, his show is going to be a hit. He’s that good.
But, of course, the usual anti-ESPN folks, who are often right to criticize the World Wide Leader, lined up to take easy pot shots and call out the hypocrisy that was Olbermann, on ESPN, criticizing someone for making up a story when, just days earlier, ESPN did the same when Ron Jaworski said that Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, a proclamation that turned into a lead story on SportsCenter.
Olbermann is not Ron Jaworski. And he’s not a SportsCenter producer choosing easy fodder over actual news. He’s Keith Olbermann, doing what Keith Olbermann does. And Mehta wasn’t merely stating a controversial opinion on a highly subjective topic… he said that the football coach he covers could lose his job, without citing any sources on the matter.
Those things are very different.
But still, that didn’t stop everyone from lining up to point out the hypocrisy.
It might not seem this way to Olbermann, but all that ESPN money and freedom come with a price, as it does for all personalities at the mammoth network. You are the establishment. And even though Olbermann obviously doesn’t want to be roped in with some of the channel’s more unsavory characters — watching him openly recoil when Mark Cuban greeted him with “Welcome to the network of Skip Bayless!” was a highlight of the hour — well, sorry man, but this is the world you’ve chosen and now inhabit. It was impossible not to watch the Mehta monologue — criticizing the Daily News for inventing a story and then building reporting off their invented story — and not to think of John Koblin’s terrific detailing of ESPN doing that exact thing just last week, and in far more brutally efficient fashion.
Again, Ron Jaworski subjectively analyzing Colin Kaepernick is a far cry from a Jets writer claiming that Rex Ryan could lose his job. Those things aren’t even in the same ballpark. And even if they were, it doesn’t mean that Olbermann, or anyone else for that matter, can’t criticize others for doing the same thing.
Leitch also had a problem with Olbermann using his bully pulpit to slam Mehta:
When Olbermann was lobbing rhetorical bombs at President Bush from the MSNBC chair, well, this was a guy on a then-fledgling basic cable network screaming into the void at the leader of the free world. But last night, when Olbermann began his show with a shockingly long, 20-minute screed against New York Daily News Jets beat reporter Manish Mehta, it felt less like a justified takedown and more like institutional bullying. Olbermann wasn’t necessarily wrong about Mehta’s (and the New York media’s in general) ridiculousness about Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez, but to rain that much thunder on a beat guy? To have Jason Whitlock come in and talk about how “incapable” Mehta was? For 20 minutes of airtime on a signature ESPN station? It was using the world engine to squash an ant.
This coming from the guy who founded Deadspin, a site built on calling out bad sports reporting. I love what they do, obviously, but isn’t it just a tad hypocritical to complain that Olbermann’s stage was too big from which to rip a sports writer? What, exactly, is the right size then? Something bigger than a Gawker website, but smaller than ESPN? FOX Sports 1, perhaps? Leitch has spent years and made a career out of keeping people honest and holding them accountable… yet he argued that ESPN is too big of a stage on which to do that, citing the presumption that Olbermann won’t be able to criticize ESPN– the mothership, deserving of the most criticism. Silly. Leitch should applaud Olbermann for taking this sort of thing mainstream. And there are plenty of things in sports to take aim at besides ESPN, and perhaps Olbermann could next set his sights on Comcast-NBC, his former network.
Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing did the same thing as Leitch:
As far as the content goes, there were a few points made that could raise questions. Olbermann calling out New York Daily News reporter Manish Mehta for fabricating a controversy of Rex Ryan was ironic considering what his new employer was able to create out of nothing regarding “Colin Kaepernick: BEST QB EVER?!” Additionally, the first show was very New York centric (after all, it’s located in Times Square) and leading with the Jets for the opening essay felt like I was watching every other ESPN show from the previous 15 hours. For Olbermann’s ESPN2 show to truly carve that unique space, it’s going to have to live outside the ESPN echo chamber and tackle topics beyond the I-95 corridor. (Something Fox Sports Live has thankfully brought to the table.) As for Jason Whitlock’s appearance, let’s just appreciate denim’s remarkable comeback and leave it at that.
So did Jimmy Traina of SI.com:
And yet — It’s ESPN, so there’s always an “and yet” — one of the reporters pushing Ryan’s buttons in a press conference clip Olbermann mocked was none other than Rich Cimini, employed by (yep, you guessed it) ESPN. ESPN’s news operation has played along with the invented story, devoting plenty of time to it onSportsCenter on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and publishing Cimini’s column headlined, “Only Jets could butt-fumble QB battle.”
What’s worse, this past Friday Deadspin — ESPN’s eternal antagonist (and [disclosure!] my former employer), which was praised by Whitlock during his visit as the best force for holding the sports media accountable — showed, with exacting video precision, how ESPN does the same thing. That post, concerning an endlessly discussed Ron Jaworski SportsCenter soundbite, has over 300,000 page views. I’ll bet anything that at least two of them came from Olbermann and Whitlock, who are both committed readers of the site. If either one saw the irony, neither mentioned it.
Steve Lepore of SB Nation, however, had a much more reasoned take with which I agree:
A lot of people have wondered whether or not it’s right for Keith to carve up the media without going after ESPN. Probably not, but for television purposes, it’s most likely better that he doesn’t. While there are certainly a number of ESPN-affiliated media members worthy of scorn from time to time, this show will become unwatchable and uncomfortable if it just becomes Keith vs. [ESPN person]. For better or worse, the monologue portion of the show is Keith vs. The Media, with ESPN sitting in the corner as a conscientious objector.
And so did Timothy Burke of Deadspin:
The show opened with a lengthy discussion of Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, and ridiculous claims that the Jets coach ought to be fired. The conversation continued with guest (and fellow ESPN re-hire) Jason Whitlock, in case anyone watching had a shred of reality-disconnect remaining. Their debate over the practice of media members creating, rather than reporting, stories led many observers to point out hypocrisy in light of ESPN itself doing exactly that. But we read it differently; are we really to expect notorious curmudgeons like Olbermann and Whitlock to not notice the irony? The entire conversation, to us, seemed a commentary on ESPN journalism practices, even if they couldn’t actually say that.
I usually agree with the opinions of Leitch, Yoder, Traina and Dickey – I enjoy all of their work – but it feels like they’re being way too critical of Olbermann’s refusal to explicitly bash ESPN on his first show. It’s almost as if certain people in sports media that cover sports media have become too concerned with every little thing ESPN does while forgetting that, hey, this should be fun.
That said, those guys went on to mostly applaud the show for being smart and different, which it is. Go watch it.