Rightfully Let Go, But Not Soon Enough

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 28, 2008; 2:15 PM

Unless you've been living in Pittsburgh in recent years, you've probably never heard of Mark Madden, let alone had the displeasure of hearing his highly rated low-brow sports talk show on the city's ESPN-owned and operated radio station.

Lucky you.

And better yet, no one except the people in the same room with him will be listening to Madden any time soon in Pittsburgh, and perhaps anywhere else. On Tuesday, he was permanently taken off the air of 1250 ESPN, six days after making despicably vile comments concerning the news last week that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

"I'm very disappointed to hear that Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is near death because of a brain tumor," Madden said during the opening of his popular afternoon drive time show from 3-7 p.m. "I always hoped Sen. Kennedy would live long enough to be assassinated. I wonder if he got a card from the Kopechnes."

(The last sentence was a reference to Mary Jo Kopechne, a Kennedy aide who drowned in a 1969 accident, with Kennedy driving a car that plunged off a bridge in Cape Cod.)

Madden made his comments last Wednesday, but incredibly, was not initially disciplined. Instead, his immediate boss, station general manager Mike Thompson, told him he had to go on the air and apologize. Madden did, and was allowed to keep broadcasting that day, and Thursday, though he did not appear on the show Friday on what station promos often refer to as "The Mark Madden Station."

"The fact is, we took action right away," Thompson told the Pittsburgh Press-Gazette. "Frankly, it was a comment that was stupid. He admitted that. I didn't think it requires any such thing as (discipline)...I had a long talk with him after the show and went out for dinner. He clearly understands my position. He was wrong. He knows that first-hand and he also knows that (management) is involved."

Some offended listeners clearly disagreed, as did readers who learned about Madden's Kennedy comments in last Friday's editions of the Press-Gazette in a column written by Bob Smizik, a long-time Pittsburgh sports columnist. Smizik also questioned how ESPN, the sports media juggernaut, could possibly continue to allow Madden to stay on the air.

"Keep in mind that 1250 ESPN is owned by ESPN, a network that prides itself on high ethical standards," Smizik wrote. "ESPN is part of the ABC family, and ABC is owned by Disney. It only can be concluded that no one in this steep chain of command, and they should have been aware of it, felt Madden's comment merited punishment."

ESPN clearly had been aware of it, and on Tuesday following a three-day holiday weekend, the cable network finally took action.

"We've taken him off the air pursuant to our contractual right," Josh Krulewitz, ESPN's vice president of public relations told washingtonpost.com. "In the moment, we immediately said what he had said on the show was totally inappropriate. There was never any question about it, and we told Mark that. We apologized to our listeners and Mark apologized on the air.

"Since then, we had a chance to regroup, to review the situation and to take a longer look. We came to this decision and we feel it's the right decision."

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