By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 27, 2007 2:35 PM
The initial coverage of the Sean Taylor shooting Monday by ESPN, the so-called worldwide leader in sports news and information, was absolutely pathetic.
Let's see, an All-Pro player is gravely wounded -- murdered, as it sadly turned out Tuesday morning -- during an apparent burglary attempt. On Monday, he was reportedly in critical condition, and all they could do for most of the day on ESPNews was devote about 45 seconds to the story every 30 minutes or so? The rest of the hour was mostly spent on highlights rehashing weekend NFL and college football action.
Regular ESPN led with the Taylor story on SportsCenter Monday night at 6 p.m., but the information came mostly from a constantly updated story being posted on The Washington Post web site. ESPN filled out its meager report with file footage of Taylor in action and lifted videotape of Joe Gibbs and several players reacting to the shooting from Comcast SportsNet and WRC-TV. Chris Mortensen came on the air live from Atlanta, where he's based, but offered little fresh information, and then it was back to the highlights, always the highlights, and promoting the network's upcoming Monday night football game.
News of the Taylor shooting first broke in Monday morning drive time. How could ESPN not have rushed a reporter or two to Miami for constant live updates, either from the hospital or outside of Taylor's home? Surely they must have stringers on call. And Hank Goldberg, ESPN's frequent on-air NFL analyst and a longtime and well-connected South Florida daily sports talk show host, lives in Miami. Why wasn't he pressed into immediate service?
This was a huge NFL news story, and we're not taking a provincial approach on this, either, just because it happens to involve a Washington athlete. If it had been a Hollywood celebrity shooting, don't you think that CNN and its Headline News service would have interrupted regular programming and offered blanket, minute-by-minute coverage?
ESPN would like the world to think it owns the sports news business. Not this time. The boys up in Bristol badly botched this story and did a serious disservice to viewers looking for up-to-the-minute information on a mega sports-news event.
In fact, the model for how a cable news operation should handle such coverage actually was provided locally by Comcast SportsNet.
I tuned in several times Monday evening and was gratified to see that the Bethesda-based network had quickly dispatched Redskins reporter Kelli Johnson to Miami to jump on the story. Johnson, stationed outside Jackson Memorial Hospital, provided breaking information as well as interviews with several key principals on the scene, including Taylor's father and Redskins' personnel director Vinny Cerrato.
On Tuesday morning, several hours after Taylor's death was announced, CBS, NBC and ABC stayed with their regular national morning shows and ran brief stories on the shooting along with a mix of politics, the Mideast peace talks in Annapolis, Dick Cheney's heart procedure and reports on missing women in Aruba and the Chicago suburbs.
But when I turned in to Channel 5 shortly after 8 a.m., the local Fox affiliate, to its great credit, was live from Miami with reporter Maureen Omeh on the scene. The station also brought in a medical expert to explain why Taylor's injury ultimately proved to be fatal, and kept updating the story as the morning went on.
In the same 8 a.m. hour, Comcast SportsNet was airing a taped repeat of a weekend college football game between Washington and Washington State, showing a crawl at the bottom of the screen reporting Taylor's death. They would have been wiser to stay with the Taylor coverage.
In the same 8 a.m. hour, ESPN, on tape, and ESPNews live were still in full highlight mode. Pathetic. Just pathetic.Cliché Corner
Every time I hear a broadcaster yap about a football team not executing properly, I can't help but recall the response from the late John McKay, the head coach of the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in the mid-1970s, when he was asked in a postgame press conference what he thought about the execution of his team's offensive line that day.
Without a moment's hesitation, McKay, who coached the NFL's last winless team in 1976, smiled, shook his head yes and said, "I'm all for it."
After a four-day turkey weekend binge of watching college and pro football seemingly morning, noon and night, "execution" seems a tad over the top for so many broadcasters who keep mangling the language and falling back on cliché after cliché in their commentary. Time to threaten fifty lashes with a wet noodle for anyone caught using the following expressions -- all of them uttered live to a national audience this past week, and most other weeks -- the next time they're behind a football microphone.
I'm certain I missed other examples of mangling of the language over the last few days. Maybe you've got a few pet peeves of your own that you'd love to see eliminated from college and NFL broadcasts. Send them in and we'll try to, pardon the expression, "air it out" in a future column. Give us your best/worst shots.Email of the Week
I too miss Tony Kornheiser's articles and the almost-daily writings of Michael Wilbon. The Post has had any number of excellent columnists and writers that have gone on to other pursuits.
My problem is while there may not be an endless supply of writers and columnists that can attract readers, there are certainly some left. Rather than trying to hang on to writers and columnists who obviously have other interests, The Post should be trying to cultivate the next Kornheiser and Wilbon. Wilbon started with the paper and developed into the writer he is. The Post has stopped looking and keeps hanging on to columnists rather than breaking the ties and developing new and better writers.
It is almost the same as the Redskins, rather than having the patience to develop new talent, they keep looking for old talent that is not interested in the Post. Monday, whether the Redskins won or lost, I would love reading about it in The Post and following the various columnists' thoughts and insights. Now, while I read the paper, the insights are limited to Monday and almost nonexistent the rest of the week. It is easy to begrudge that other media have more money and benefits, but The Post found new talent in the past and can find or develop it in the future, if they want to maintain the quality of the paper.