Over a month ago, I told Buck Sexton on his TV/digital show, Hold the Line, that blue-chip media outlets have graduated from spinning to lying. While I was referring to how politics have been covered over the past four years, the same concept applies to other areas too, such as sports media. In fact, when The Washington Post applies its agenda to a sports media column, it is arguably more impactful as it then influences a small group of industry decision-makers.
On Monday, The Washington Post published a story about ESPN's Bomani Jones entitled, "Bomani Jones thrives where race and sports collide. Can he be a star at ESPN?" The headline that begins with a statement then a question leads into perhaps the most disingenuous puff piece yet written on a sports media talent.
The thesis of the column is that Jones should be a network star, that ESPN has undervalued him, that he took a pay cut, and that he would have options on the open market. It's unclear if Jones or his agent pitched this story idea, but either way, it’s the kind of drivel that industry experts laugh about and call "an attempt to drive up leverage."
Before I get into facts and break down this piece, I want to provide some insight into the sports media beat. I've recently begun to cover the news media side more extensively, but I've spent nearly every day over the past few years writing about, reporting on, or talking about sports media. It has been my job. I can't speak for every beat, but the sports media beat is restricted by unwritten rules that say there are select talents whom you cover positively and others you cover negatively. The idea is that those on-air sports talents with acceptable opinions and active social media accounts — Dan Le Batard, Mina Kimes, Katie Nolan, and Bomani Jones — have the power to enhance or ruin the public profiles of writers. A like or retweet from one of these folks will lead to social media approval and more positive public exposure. A rebuke can mean career suicide.
Those in sports media who voice dissenting opinions, however, do not enjoy the same level of protection from the social media guard. Such figures include Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, and Stephen A. Smith, all of whom are too big to care or respond; Dave Portnoy, who controls his own path; Will Cain because he is conservative; and OutKick founder Clay Travis who is deemed a problem. Some writers then take aim at these unprotected media figures in order to burnish their media credentials
Not every writer follows these rules, of course. And once this piece is published, it will probably be considered “picking on Bomani” because the Twitter mob won’t like what I have to say. (Maybe I’ll be censored?)
Hopefully, this explains the reason behind the coverage in The Washington Post. Now, to the piece itself.
The Washington Post asks in the headline if Bomani Jones can be a star. This bizarre question first caught my attention. The Washington Post asks this like they have an innovative new idea that ESPN should try. In reality, ESPN has spent years, money, and time trying to do that very thing: make Jones a star.
In 2013, ESPN named Jones the full-time co-host of Highly Questionable, a show that eventually moved to 4:30 ET on ESPN before PTI and Around the Horn, two of the most popular programs on the network. ESPN only took Jones off the show to give him his own show as the lead, High Noon, which would be broadcast from a brand new New York studio shared with Get Up. ESPN made these overtures to elevate Jones to "star" status, where TheWashington Post says he belongs.
For High Noon, ESPN gave Jones a contract that paid him more money than several big-name ESPN draws. The report accurately says Jones and Pablo Torre were paid more than $3 million combined per year for the show, yet it left out a majority of it went to Jones.
Such moves always come with a price, and The Washington Post omits what ESPN sacrificed to make Jones and High Noon happen. ESPN had to do away with the noon SportsCenter, which was rating well. High Noon then drew abysmal ratings in the time slot, so ESPN had to bring SportsCenter back a few months later and move High Noon up in the lineup. For failing to draw an audience, ESPN put High Noon in an afternoon time slot leading into HQ, Around the Horn, and PTI. To make room for it, ESPN had to cancel the popular SportsNation. This was an unequivocal mistake. SportsNation had been valuable to ESPN's younger reach, thus its return this month.
The Washington Post failed to point out that those decisions were made after Jones lost over 90 affiliates on radio.
ESPN has since moved on, trying to make Maria Taylor, Laura Rutledge, Mina Kimes, Dan Orlovsky, Malika Andrews, and Marcus Spears stars, but none have received the attention and support that was given to Jones. Furthermore, ESPN still rewarded Jones with a new contract and promotion on First Take, Get Up, and again Highly Questionable.
The Washington Post ignored these factors and reports only that Jones took a pay cut when he re-signed with ESPN last year. The idea here is to make ESPN look bad. Here is the truth: several ESPN personalities took a pay cut. What's more, Jones was no longer hosting a daily show because it got canceled.
The piece wraps up with a quote from Jones saying that Stephen A. Smith once failed and has since rebounded to be the face of the industry. Jones indicates he could do the same as Stephen A.
"I used to host a TV show. Now I don’t host a TV show,” Jones said. “I ain’t the first person to be here. Stephen A. Smith has been in this position, before his return to the top.”
I have no problem with Jones thinking that. I don't agree with it, but I respect his confidence.
I also don't blame Jones for his promotion at ESPN. He has taken what ESPN has given him. Jones is talented enough to have a place at ESPN. His podcast has shown some growth. The Washington Post is the fool here.
"Bomani Jones thrives where race and sports collide. Can he be a star at ESPN?" is not a profile, a news piece, or an inside look into Bomani Jones. It is a puff piece full of disingenuous quotes and lies in an attempt to ... what? Get Jones another daily TV show? Get him Stephen A. Smith money?
If The Washington Post had wanted to write an honest piece it would have rightly begun thusly, “ESPN gave Bomani Jones millions of dollars a year, a national radio show, and a national TV show. All without having ever proven an ability to deliver an audience. The radio show and the TV show both failed, in a massive way. Far from being unfair to Jones, ESPN has given him more opportunities than his career success merits.” But that story is the honest one. Instead of telling us the honest story, The Washington Post chose to make Jones a victim and treated its readers as simpletons unworthy of the truth. Which, sadly, is all too common in today’s media, sports or otherwise.