Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ESPN punished Tony for being Tony –- what complete hypocrites

Okay, let’s start this morning with the disclaimer: Most people know that I like Tony Kornheiser and I don’t like ESPN. So, when I discuss Tony’s two week suspension from the network, specifically from Pardon The Interruption, I do so being fully aware of the biases I bring to the table.

Tony and I have been friends for 30 years. I began reading him while in college when he was still at The New York Times and thought he was about as good a writer as anyone going. When he came to The Washington Post we became friends quickly: both of us were (and are) wise-guy New Yorkers and Tony became someone I sought out when I needed advice or guidance. When the idea of trying to do a book on Bob Knight came to me in 1985, Tony was the very first person who said, “you should absolutely do this. It can be a great book.”

He was pretty close to a lone voice (there were a handful of others) because most of my friends and family thought I was crazy to take a leave of absence from The Post to do the book. Fortunately for me I followed my gut instinct and Tony’s advice.

We’ve been through lots of ups and downs. We’ve had periods where we didn’t speak to one another over fights I swear to God I can’t remember anymore. Tony can be an absolute pain-in-the-butt (as can I)—which may be one reason why we’re still friends. He’s lectured me on my behavior and decision-making at times and I’ve done the same to him.

Now, there are some people who love Tony’s work, in print and on-air and think he’s the funniest, smartest guy going. There are others who think he’s a whining curmudgeon and can’t understand why anyone would want to listen to him, much less hire him.

I can tell you one entity that loves Tony’s work: ESPN. That’s why the network bought his local radio show years ago and took it national. (For the record it was Tony who opted to go back to local radio because he got tired of having dull ex-jock, ESPN-talent shoved down his throat as guests). That’s why it built PTI around him and Mike Wilbon. That’s why it chose to put him on Monday Night Football, it’s FLAGSHIP property for three years. ESPN pays Tony a lot of money because it likes who he is on-air. YOU might hate him. ESPN loves him.

Part of what makes Tony Tony is the fact that he’s constantly making fun of people. God knows he makes fun of me all the time, whether about my clothes, my waist-size (still 36 but not with much margin these days) the stupid nickname he stuck on me when I was 23-years-old or my opinions, which often differ from his.

That’s Tony. It is who he is. When he trashed Marv Albert years ago during Albert’s troubles, I said to him, “how can you do that, you’ve been friends with him for years.” Tony shrugged and said, “it’s what I do. It’s my job.”

We disagreed on that one. We often disagree. He defended Mitch Albom when Mitch made up the column about the two Michigan State players at The Final Four five years ago. I thought it was a disgrace and that Mitch’s reaction to the whole thing was worse than that.

Part of what Tony does on the radio is sit and watch TV monitors during the show and make comments about what he’s seeing or sometimes hearing. He kills Ann Curry from The Today show regularly. A few weeks ago he talked about the fact that Jim Nantz had put on weight. Actually that’s not what he said. He said Nantz had gotten fat. It’s worth remembering that Tony refers to himself often as, “bald, fat and old.” The e-mail address for his show is: This Show Stinks. That’s Tony.

ESPN certainly didn’t mind Tony trashing Ann Curry or Jim Nantz or me. But criticizing ESPN is simply not allowed. Remember last summer when all ESPN affiliates were banned from discussing the networks’ unpardonable decision to not mention that Ben Roethlisberger was being sued in a civil suit for assault? The affiliates were told they could NOT bring up the case or ESPN’s decision not to report the law suit.

The last time anyone tried to exert control like this was the old Soviet Union. Misbehave at ESPN and they send you to the Gulag. That’s why I’m not on Sports Reporters anymore. I made a crack to a reporter about ESPN’s desire to own and operate all of sports—and the fact that it appeared to be succeeding. That was it, I was sent to The Gulag, where life has been fine actually. People ask me if I miss The Sports Reporters and my answer is this: I miss the people I worked with on the show. I do NOT miss dealing with ESPN even a little bit.

Tony’s been given a two week Gulag sentence—suspension—because he made a couple of wise cracks about Hannah Storm’s outfit on sportscenter last Thursday. Let’s not even get into the question of whether the outfit was or was not tasteful. It IS ridiculous that people constantly judge women on TV based on their looks and what they’re wearing. Tony does it but he also does it to guys. He’s not trying to be sexist, he’s trying to be funny.

So let’s say he swung and missed on this one. I didn’t see the outfit but even if I did, I’m willing to accept that the comment about looking as if she was “wrapped in a sausage,” was over the line. I’m not even entirely sure what that means.

When Tony started getting nailed on the internet for the line, ESPN, ever-vigilant, sprung into action. Tony instantly agreed to apologize to Storm and did—on the phone and on his show the next day. That should have been the end of it.

Look, I have some experience with this. When I uttered my infamous profanity during the Navy-Duke game five years ago, I apologized right away on the air after first offering to resign. The Navy people, specifically Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk and Eric Ruden, who oversees the radio network both said the same thing: “You made a mistake, you acknowledged the mistake, you apologized. We’re done. See you next week for the Air Force game.”

Most people took the same approach: apology accepted. To this day I still have clever people occasionally say to me, “think you can get through the broadcast without saying ----- today?” That’s the price you pay. Just as a guy came up to me at a basketball game last night and said, “Hey, how’s your pal Bobby Knight?”

To quote Tiger Woods and Peppermint Patty, I blame the media.

The TWO apologies should have been enough. But ESPN couldn’t resist the opportunity to try to let people know that it is America’s great defender of women. That’s because in the past it has been anything but that. So, after Tony apologized to Storm both privately and publicly, he was told he was going to be suspended. At first it was going to be three days but clearly someone up high decided this was a great time to REALLY jump on a high horse so the suspension became 10 days. Then there were predictable self-righteous statements from Bristol about how the network simply couldn’t allow this.

Oh please.

ESPN is, for the most part, a celebration of mediocrity. I was reminded of that this morning when I heard the various taped paeans from sports people to ‘Mike and Mike’s,’ 10th anniversary. (Question: Does Greenberg think that every single coach or manager alive is named, ‘coach or skip?’ Question: Is Golic capable of asking a single non-football question not written for him by a producer?)

There are exceptions to the mediocrity rule, some people who are very good and some shows (notably PTI) that are smart and funny. Actually, now that I think of it, PTI is the ONLY daily show on TV or radio (unless you are an insomniac and listen to Bob Valvano which I do when driving home very late at night) that is consistently smart and funny. Take Tony off the show and it becomes a less loud version of ‘Around The Horn.’ That show is occasionally saved by the presence of Bob Ryan (or at least made less unbearable) and Wilbon, when he isn’t sucking up to famous athletes, brings smarts and experience to PTI. But there’s no show without Tony.

So here’s what ESPN did: It subjected Tony to public humiliation so it could take a phony bow and claim to be a great defender of women. It did this to punish Tony for being Tony. The guy they hired because they liked who he was. What complete hypocrites.

Then again, this is about as surprising as Dick Vitale screaming or the NCAA making a grab for money. It is who ESPN is. And, no doubt, always will be.

40 comments:

bevo said...

I would not compare ESPN to the old Soviet Union because the former is a company and the latter was a country. A company cannot censor. A country (i.e., government) can censor.

ESPN behaves more like Apple Corp., which hunts down leak sources and fires them.

As to the Kornheiser comment, he should not have apologized. Hannah Storm's outfit was/is inappropriate for a woman her age. At 47, she is 27 years too old to wear that outfit. The fact that she does not know or refuses to accept that as a person enters adulthood, their clothes should change, is grounds for an apology from Storm, not Kornheiser.

The incident reflects a changed culture in this country. You can dress as sloppily, as slovenly, and as inappropriately as you want. So long as you do not criticize a woman who works in the sports industry on a local radio show, you are fine.

No one seems to mind when various media outlets such as Entertainment Weekly and E! unload on actresses walking down a carpet before an awards show.

In listening to Kornheiser recount the phone call with Storm, she comes off as a petty, weak, and vindicate. Her response and her employer's response amply state that women on sports shows but not actresses need protection from supposed bullies.

Storm's unwillingness to dress herself and inability to take criticism or at least mockery shows that the women's movement in sports has not advanced past 1952.

I hope for Storm's sake she never walks down a red carpet that is being shown on E!

And if outlets like this site, and Deadspin, and Big Lead want to show how dumb ESPN handled this issue, then they should dump on Storm's outfits until she learns to dress like an adult.

terry from binghamton said...

Great view, honest and accurate as always.

Gunnar said...

I like Hannah Storm, and her outfits always give me a chuckle. She is like that woman in your office, sometimes the outfit works, sometimes it doesn't, but you always notice.

I think Tony is great, it is an overreaction by ESPN. Most of their on-air talent is just unwatchable.

NBC is tape delaying the men's gold medal hockey game on the West coast for 3 hours. They are showing the men's bronze medal game live. Wow.

Ryan Parkhurst said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jamie said...

Great post, Junior.

Anonymous said...

Great column

Anonymous said...

You and Tony are perfect for each other: Two has-beens propping each other up.

That said, the suspension is ridiculous. You're right that making fun of people (and being a p**sy) is just what Tony does. But the old man doesn't have the juice anymore to pull it off - his radio audience is tiny, and PTI gets better ratings when he's not on it.

Ed O. said...

Great column John. I love Tony, I listen to his radio show every day from 1,000 miles away. I record PTI every day and watch when I get home. I have to say that while I have read all but 1 or 2 of your books, and frequent the blog, almost nothing is funnier than when Tony goes after you for something. Comedy gold. :)
All that said, this is ridiculous on ESPN's part. I could have stomached 2-3 days for appearances sake. But 2 weeks is a joke. I'm intrigued by a claim on one of the sports blogs from a source at ESPN that it was a subsequent joke about Chris Berman by Tony and Gary that triggered the massive suspension. That actually makes more sense, even though it is just as, if not more, ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is a way to the 'happy world' everyone so desires. If ESPN owns all of sports, and it doesn't allow its own to comment on its other talents, then its like the sports world will all be taking a happy pill!

At least ESPN doesn't even pretend to be journalism anymore. Its purely a marketing machine.

rashad said...

As I read your comments on YOUR site, it makes me wish Tony had his own forum where he could talk without suspension and hand slappings looming. I know he loves ESPN, but to be honest Tony will be just fine no matter what his platform is.

Michael said...

ESPN's decision is so completely bogus and self-serving. Tony's comments about Hannah Storm's outfit were no harsher than comments he's made about the Today Show hens and, more importantly, himself. Clearly, as long as Tony lobs his insults outside of the ESPN family - himself included, he's just Tony being Tony.

John Caccese said...

I thought Kornheiser's "Holden Caufield fantasy" quote was hilarious. I'm sure the ESPN decision-makers on the suspension needed to have it explained to them.

Although I agree with you on the points you raise in this column, you threw two cheap shots at Northwestern grads, which is a big no-no in my book.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Feinstein, thank you for having the onions to write the truth. ESPN is making a mockery of Tony's situation to combat all the issues they have had with employees in the past (usually related to sexual harassment claims).

The truth of the matter is that Storm is totally oblivious that she brings upon this criticism. Sometimes her outfits are wildly inappropriate or just plain outlandish for Sportscenter. This past Sunday she appeared on Sports Reporters in a thigh revealing red dress. Please. Why do you think the Fox News blondes receive so much flak? Because they are bringing sex into the equation when it is totally unnecessary and distracting.

Storm needs to wake up. She talked Tony down when he called to apologize. What a joke. And shame on ESPN here.

Thank you John for calling out Wilbon's brown-nosing of superstar athletes. It's disgusting (and this is coming from a huge fan of Wilbon in general).

Last comment: the florescent green on your site is a major eye sore. It really is distracting when trying to read your columns. I strongly encourage you to change the green to something less taxing on the eyes.

Keep up the great blog.

Anonymous said...

I agree with about ZERO you write especially your 'I know it all' comments regarding Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods need to be a 'step it and fetch it' PGA Tour Professional..yeah o.k John!!

In this case your spot on. ESPN is unwatchable, Hannah Storm makes watching the a.m. Sportscenter bearable. Other than Scotty Van Pelt.. you can have the rest. PTI is the best program on ESPN.

Tony was horrible on MNF.. but entertaining otherwise.. ESPN is full of itself and in decline!

cd1515 said...

Storm comes off as petty, I agree.

I have no doubt that ESPN came to her when this first broke to gauge her reaction.
she could've easily said, "he apologized, it's over, no big deal, let it go."
I doubt at that point ESPN would've pursued it further.

but judging by the 2-week suspension, she clearly DIDN'T say that.

and PS, her outfit WAS ridiculous for a woman pushing 50.
if he'd said the same thing about Pamela Anderson, ESPN would've loved it.

DW said...

I think ESPN is still smarting from the Erin Andrews situation last year (they didn't let anyone from ESPN talk about that either remember), and they overreacted. An apology on PTI should have been enough, if that.

Anonymous said...

This isn't about Storm.

This is about Tony making a fat joke at Chris Berman's expense.

Storm said "apology accepted" and moved along. Everything I've read about the behind-the-scenes stuff in Bristol says she wasn't looking for anything other than "I'm sorry."

But if you make fun of Berman (and your boss is one of his best friends), you pay the price.

Mr. X said...

"At first it was going to be three days but clearly someone up high decided this was a great time to REALLY jump on a high horse so the suspension became 10 days."

Gotta be Berman (reacting to the Tony/Gary weight comments) and/or Golic (a Domer with Storm and has been ripping Tony for years).

ESPN could use a little antitrust scrutiny.

Matt Dick said...

AS I said to a friend yesterday, ESPN didn't hire Tony despite the fact that he's best when he's biting the hand that feeds him, they hired him because of it.

Ten days is crazy.

By the way, I second the comment about the bright green being annoying.

Anonymous said...

BSPN and the Soviets? Brilliant!

Thank you!

charles pierce said...

I think anyone making the "she brought this on herself" argument needs a stupid-ectomy right quick.

That said, there are clearly wheels-within-wheels on this decision.

John from Indiana said...

Journalism... Entertainment... Analysis... I tend to agree with your thoughts on ESPN v Kornheiser; however, we are now in an age where the lines between the above descriptions have become blurred. Tony Kornheiser is an analyst and/or journalist when he writes or speaks about Tim Tebow's potential as an NFL quarterback; but if he says that it has been rumored that Tebow was a bust when it came to the IQ portion of the combine, is he any less slanderous or libelous than in his description of the attire of ESPN comentators... male or female? When it becomes inconvenient though, suddenly he is an entertainer, and is merely making such observations for giggles. Where this all becomes problematic is when the same standards get conveniently applied to the Limbaugh crowd. Ol' Rush wants to be an influential journalist when it comes to influencing the Republican party, but let him slip over the edge in the taste category, and suddenly nobody has a sense of humor anymore and small people can't understand the difference between entertainment, comedy, and true journalism. I'm certainly not here to defend ESPN, but you have to be willing to let the standards for limits or lattitudes apply to people you like, such as Tony, in the same way as to people we disdain, such as Rush (Read Imus, Stern, and even Campanis). If you want to beg off and say sports are for fun and shouldn't be held to the same standard, then John F. and Tony K. can't get away with calling themselves journalists; which becomes problematic if you want to be outraged that Tiger won't consent to being interviewed in his "press" conference..... See? The lines are blurry...

Ronald said...

I love Tony and consider him the modern Howard Cosell. I was a bit surprised he did not come across better on MNF, but his radio show is great. He IS opinionated, but even when you disagree with him he is entertaining. I do miss Tony's columns, both in the Sports section and in the Sunday Style section. They were probably Tony's best career work.

The ESPN suspension is retarded, but wondering minds wonder if maybe there is a lot of show there and Tony could still be getting paid.

BTW, what is the background of the "Jr." nickname??

I think your shot at Mike and Mike may not have been called for. As Howard would have said, Golic is just a dumb jock. Actually, they do make fun of him quite a bit. They entertain, so what if a lot of Golic's material is prepared for him...same as Jay, Connan and Letterman?

Oh, I have thought all along that the green looks like your site was built by a kid, Jr.

But I do love your blog and columns.

Gordon said...

This is not about Tony or Hannah. It is about ESPN. Had Tony said what he said about anyone at Fox, CBS or NBC everything would have been fine. It's all about ESPN. Tony is being made an example of for "bad mouthing" one of the family.

Sadly even if Kornheiser and Wilbon wanted to leave ESPN after there contracts are up they have no place to go. Fox sports is a joke , if you can find it. The reason Dan Patrick could and did go was he had options of the many radio platforms.

As for Hannahs attire I for one love it. Certainly some outfits work better than others but she generally looks great. Age should be no barrier to what anyone wears. No one says a word about Cindy Brunson.

God forbid that ESPN gets "March Madness".

In a ancilary way ESPN had even ruined the winter olympics. They have been "x"! How long before the snowmobile becomes a medal sport.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy Tony's radio show. It is a show for grown ups. ESPN is a network focused on ages 13 to 27 without the ability to pass an AP class.
I do not think I will ever be able to endure another ESPN NFL expert discuss a player's ability to run with "the football" in "The National Football League".
The suspension is unfounded in my opinion after the apologies. However, I'm sure Tony understands, if you throw enough chin music you should expect to get brushed off the plate.
Tim B.

MDS said...

Great comments John...right on

I can't believe a commenter actually defended Mike and Mike. No one who is a real sports aficionado can listen to them for more than 5 minutes without tasting bile...everything is canned and they are both complete idiots with no insight.

Listen to Tony's show on the radio...it is hilarious...read Feinstein (and a few others) and get real insight on sports

Difficult to boycott ESPN altogether, but I try to only watch live sports on their networks...for news I use NFL Network, MLB TV, and CBS College Sports...they are not much better, but...

By the way John your politics are ridiculous...how can such a seemingly intelligent guy be so liberal...makes no sense

Anonymous said...

John,

Love the column and agree with a majority of it. I was just curious what your take is on the Slate magazine column that basically claims Tony is hypersensitive and hypercritical of anyone who criticizes him.

http://www.slate.com/id/2245796/

If this article is to be believed, it seems like hes only ok with making fun of himself or others - not the other way around

Anonymous said...

On the topic of mike and mike (which to me is just one extremely long string of commercials with the occaisional interruption for commentary and analysis) and Dick Vitale - i find it AMAZING they let him on every week and fawn over him regardless of whatever self aggrandizing nonsense he spews. Its public knowledge that his constant self promotion, insider friends and open campaigning got him in the basketball hall of fame. This week he was on ranting and raving about nick bollateri not making the tennis hall of fame (theyre best friends). While I applaud everything hes done to raise money for cancer, all the rest of his schtick and the fact he seems to have nightly wet dreams about tim tebow, derek jeter and duke basketball is just appalling and sad at this stage

Anonymous said...

great blog John, you have great stories and always make for a great read. AS for TK and the ban I guess at the end of the day it really doesn't matter. This won't make him or lose hm any fans. I like Tony too but I'll admit he can blur the line between smart and just kind of mean in a sad sort of way. Look we all have a boss and we all deal with people that can push back harder. In this case Berman pushed back harder. Keep up the great work
ps. how about a book Joe Paterno?

scrivener said...

JF, I'm a big fan of yours, of Tony's, and of ESPN's (in general). In a no-pro-sports town like Honolulu, ESPN has been a godsend, in all its many incarnations.

But this isn't about ESPN and it's not even about Tony, whose radio show I listen to religiously every day. It's about one of the biggest rules of professionalism: You do not dis your co-workers in a public forum. No professional entity can allow personal sniping in public arenas. It's a simple, sensible rule that should be consistently monitored and punished. Two weeks might be a bit harsh, but what difference does it make if it's three days or ten days? The point is that Tony broke one of the cardinal rules of professionalism. As much as I love the guy and as much as I also laughed at his Hannah Storm comments, I have to agree with the network's decision to say this cannot be tolerated.

Apologies are for slipped profanities, not for on-air, personal (if comical) attacks on co-workers.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, the green hurts my eyes. When I go from this site to another one, it takes my a eyes a few moments to re-focus. Do something about it. It's silly.

Anonymous said...

I really dislike Tony but HATE ESPN. Spot on John...

Woodrow said...

Gotta be a contrarian here - Mr. Tony's sense of humor is often mean spirited and if I caught my teenager saying similar things (e.g., "That person is fat! Bahahahahahah!!!!) he would be punished for a month. It is not a coincidence that I started following Jr's blog because he would be one of the few participants on the radio show that call him out on his egotistical rudeness. I felt that he has joined the Imus category of someone who thought it was funny being an ass and belittling others - wrapped in the periodic but insincere "we're only kidding" - but had great guests. I know it's all a radio act, and yes I do laugh when I shouldn't sometimes, but he should consider himself lucky to get this accidental wake-up call. 

"Accidental" in that this all appears to be an effort inside ESPN to remind Satchmo that the biggest Richard at ESPN belongs to Berman.

Anonymous said...

I hate ESPN....but Tony is that old cranky white guy from long island who is funny and is who he is. i loved when he killed them for the whole Jason Jackson firing and other things. now you, feinstein, are annoying with all of your senseless books but i respect what you do. mike and mike are a disgrace especially greenberg. so its ok for him to say coon on purpose (which he did) and not even be reprimanded at all. i understand queen to king or ding to king or ling to king but not coon to king. how about a book on the influence of WFAN in sports media?

Anonymous said...

Tony loves making fun of fat people, so I trust that next time he has lardass Tracee Hamilton in the studio with him, he'll unleash a barrage of fat jokes.

Or are Friends of Tony free from his unfunny, meanspirited, big ego to compensate for small penis wrath?

deepvalue said...

Tony's Radio Show > PTI > Tony's columns > MNF

Tony skewers everyone including himself and crushes people he loves and hates. Some will disagree with this, but he is a LOT like Don Imus in that regard. I love his ranting, but many people don't understand the subtle and nuanced humor behind it all.

antifreeze said...

kornheiser subtle and nuanced?

hope that was sarcasm

Anonymous said...

One factual error in your post: it's Hoda Kotb from the Today show who is the target Tony's venom, not Ann Curry, though he may badmouth her too. But Hoda is definitely, ahead of Storm, his #1 target. By the way, Kornheiser is a pathological narcissist, and I'm not exaggerating for effect. He needs serious help.

MB said...

I think the real issue is neither the minor transgression committed by Tony Kornheiser (this is just Tony being Tony), nor is it the major overreaction in response by ESPN (they’re not the World Wide Leader for nothing, after all).

Rather, I think the spotlight should focus on the third party involved, the innocent “victim” if you will, Hannah Storm.

Now not knowing her, perhaps the way she dresses is a normal part of her personality, and that she always flounces around in attire that is (take your pick): too tight, too short, too revealing, too young, too sexy, too whatever. What I do know is that none of the on-air talent at ESPN (or any other network) goes on the air without some degree of scrutiny by the network. Let’s face it, Hannah probably wouldn’t be wearing any of these outfits if she were asked to be Jim Lehrer's co-host on the PBS News Hour.

Which begs the question – why is she dressing this way for ESPN? Well, let’s think about this for a moment. I would imagine that the demographics of the audience watching Sports Center on a weekday morning probably skews very heavily to young males. Likewise, I would not be surprised if the management at ESPN, in an effort to capture a pretty elusive audience, asked (or directed) that Hannah, as a “mature” woman, dress somewhat “down” as it were, in order to better attract their target audience.

The term that comes to mind, and I apologize for using it, is MILF. Thus the real question for Hannah, a Notre Dame graduate who surely knows the score – are you prostituting yourself in order to remain a viable anchor on a very prestigious, influential network?

Unfortunately, this is a conundrum faced by many women on television – I doubt very much if her husband, Dan Hicks, was ever put in this position.

I would be interested in hearing how someone like Sally Jenkins (who’s basically the same age as Hannah) has reacted to the situation. Is she thinking that Hannah has every right to dress as she pleases if she wants to wear revealing outfits, etc. and that her pal Tony should leave Hannah alone? Or, is she thinking that Hannah, by dressing the way she does, is perpetuating a negative stereotype of women working on network television in sports reporting?

JJ said...

John,

I love how you hold people who play sports to a different standard than those who write or comment on them...