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Kentucky Basketball: Poynter Review Project Has Sharp Words for Bob Knight and ESPN

I was unaware of the Poynter Review Project until I received a tweet from Oscar Combs alerting me to this article that they have up as of yesterday discussing the situation with Bob Knight serving as an ESPN analyst, and his behavior in that role when talking about Kentucky basketball.

First of all, you're probably wondering, like I was, who is the Poynter Review Project (PRP hereafter)? Here is their bio on their ESPN blog:

ESPN and The Poynter Institute have partnered for the Poynter Review Project, offering independent examination and analysis of ESPN's media outlets. With an 18-month term, the Poynter Review team expands the role of ESPN ombudsman, held previously by Don Ohlmeyer, Le Anne Schreiber and George Solomon.

There is more to this bio on the blog, but this is sufficient for you to get who they are. PRP is essentially an ombudsman for ESPN, investigating reader complaints impartially in the interests of improving the network. Most newspapers and many media outlets have ombudsmen. Sometimes, though (too often, in fact), they are little more than a rubber stamp for the outlet, spending more time rationalizing the defense for complaints against the outlet than actually criticizing them.

So what the PRP was looking into in this case were complaints about Bob Knight's actions recently, particularly his refusal to mention Kentucky by name in several media appearances in which it would normally be required, where he referred to them as "that team from the SEC" instead. But that isn't all. As we all know, Bob Knight later discussed the NCAA tournament on the Mike & Mike show and did name Kentucky several times, but there are problems with that, also. At this point, it is necessary to quote the PRP article:

Knight, indeed, did talk about Kentucky on the March 14 show, mentioning the school by name once in discussing how the Wildcats’ loss in the SEC title game might affect their tournament play. But his comments about Kentucky were remarkable mostly for how generic they were -- contrast that limp analysis with his discussion of Syracuse and Fab Melo earlier in the segment.

We didn't discuss how anemic the analysis of Kentucky was by Knight. Most people in the Big Blue Nation, including us, were happy just to make a little fun of the incident. Many media types immediately adopted the "There, now he's said it. Let's move on" position after that instead of pointing out what the PRP so clearly noticed.

Make no mistake -- when you become a member of the "elite" sports media (or any other media, for that matter), there is a tendency for your peers to circle the wagons and defend you against charges of unethical and unprofessional conduct, primarily by use of the, "he apologized, lets all move on" position. This is very much the same thing.

The article continues:

But while 902 wins, 11 Big Ten Conference titles, three NCAA championships and an Olympic gold medal might let you keep your top button undone, it doesn’t allow you to be derelict in your duties as an analyst. And this gets to a question that has bedeviled ESPN before: Do its star analysts get to play by different rules than the rest of ESPN’s talent?

I think this question has been answered since long. Several of ESPN's top personalities have demonstrated in the past that the rules for them are not the rules for all, and Knight is just the most recent among them. While this may not surprise anyone and has obvious business benefits by not risking your top rainmakers, it has a negative affect on the overall credibility of the network, and places them at risk of being seen as a company that will occasionally look the other way on journalistic ethics and professional behavior when the alternative is to potentially place one of their stars in the penalty box.

PRP concludes:

In Knight’s case, ESPN moved relatively quickly to intercede and, one hopes, to prevent further damage. But it shouldn’t have had to do so in the first place. When you become an analyst, you’re no longer a coach. Your accumulated wisdom and body of work comes with you, to inform that analysis. Biases and bad blood, on the other hand, have to be left behind.

Here's the question left on the table, though -- does Knight even care? I guess we'll see when the opportunity arises for him to discuss Kentucky in the future, but it looks like to me that no matter what he does, ESPN will not be interested in parting ways. In fact, this situation seems to guarantee that ESPN will look the other way until the complaints become so loud and numerous that Knight's actions become the news.

One can only hope for the law of diminishing returns to assert itself if Knight cannot learn from his lapse in judgment.