THURSDAY, JULY 8, 2021
In stepped the New York Times: In yesterday morning's New York Times, Kevin Draper—no relation to Don—filed his second report on the "scandal" at ESPN now known as Disparagementgate.
(That's been shortened from the name initially given to this alleged scandal. Initially, experts had called it Disparagingcommentsgate.)
In print editions, Draper's initial report on the alleged scandal had appeared on the front page of Monday morning's Sports Monday section. You can read that first report here.
In print editions, Sports Monday is a fully separate, stand-alone section. This initial report by Draper was given gigantic display.
Augmented by a very large visual, Draper's initial report consumed roughly the top eighty percent of the Sports Monday front page. In fairness, the headline atop the report was basically accurate:
A Leaked Video Inflames The Racial Turmoil at ESPN
In print editions, that's what Monday's headline said.
Question! Until that day, had anyone known that there actually was "racial turmoil" at ESPN? At one point in Monday's report, Draper linked to an earlier report on the general topic, a report he'd written back in July 2020.
In truth, there wasn't much to that July 2020 report. Monday's report would be different.
This Monday morning, Draper's report was given massive prominence. Yesterday morning, he published a follow-up report, largely concerning the spread of the turmoil at ESPN.
The turmoil at the Disney property had indeed been inflamed! Headline included, the new report started like this:
DRAPER (7/7/21): Rachel Nichols Out for N.B.A. Finals Coverage on ABC
When a sideline reporter first appeared on ABC’s broadcast of the N.B.A. finals on Tuesday night, it was not Rachel Nichols, an abrupt change announced by ESPN earlier in the day. It was an attempt to stanch a yearlong scandal that has spilled into public view about the company’s handling of conflicts centered around race.
The decision to have Malika Andrews be the sideline reporter instead was made after The New York Times reported that Nichols, who is white, made disparaging comments about a Black colleague, Maria Taylor, last year. Among other things, Nichols said that Taylor was picked to host N.B.A. finals coverage last season because ESPN was “feeling pressure” about diversity.
"Among other things"—so true! So true, but also so cool!
It was delicious stuff! Rachel Nichols—and Nichols is white!—had made "disparaging comments" about a colleague, Maria Taylor.
Deliciously, Taylor is black! This was the stuff of the scandal.
The disparaging comments were made last year, but finally, Nichols was out! As Draper was now reporting, Nichols wasn't part of ABC's broadcast on Tuesday night, when coverage of this year's NBA finals started.
(Somewhat appropriately, ESPN and ABC are both owned by Walt Disney Television, a division of Disney General Entertainment Content of The Walt Disney Company. As such, the hackwork occasionally seen on each network leads back to Mickey Mouse!)
In the main, yesterday's headline was accurate. As a result of disparaging comments, Rachel Nichols was "out!"
More specifically, Nichols was "out for N.B.A. Finals coverage on ABC." In this way, Draper reported the state of play in the alleged scandal at ESPN now known as Disparagementgate.
As we gather together this morning, let the word go out to all the nations—on a fateful morning one year ago, Rachel Nichols did, in fact, make some disparaging comments. (About whom, we won't yet say.) She did so during a telephone call which she believed was private.
Yesterday morning, as Draper continued, he revisited the scene of the crime:
DRAPER (continuing directly): Nichols’s comments came during a private phone conversation while she was quarantined in a Florida hotel last July before the N.B.A. resumed its season, which had been paused because of the coronavirus pandemic. She was seeking career guidance from Adam Mendelsohn, the adviser and political strategist who works closely with the Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. The phone call was accidentally captured on camera and uploaded to a server at the company’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., then quickly spread widely among ESPN employees.
It was, in fact, in that setting that Nichols made the disparaging comments which lie at the heart of the newly inflamed turmoil at ESPN. She did, in fact, make disparaging comments during that phone call, as did the highly-connected person with whom she was speaking.
But at whom were these disparaging comments directed? Therein perhaps lies the rub! Also, therein perhaps lies the heart of our rapidly failing nation's current cultural moment.
On Monday morning, Draper's initial report about Nichols' disparaging comments received huge play at the Times. That same morning, a lengthy report from rural Gore, Georgia appeared on the paper's page A1—on the Times' overall front page.
Each report concerned attempts to come to terms with consequences of this nation's brutal racial history. That said, Draper's report about ESPN has touched off a bit of a storm. The report from farm country in rural Gore, Ga. will never be mentioned again.
For today, let's get clear about the setting in which Nichols—and her interlocutor, Adam Mendelsohn—made their disparaging comments. As reported by Draper and disputed by no one, the basic background is this:
The comments were made during a phone call which was believed to be private.
Nichols believed that she was speaking in private to a friend and associate. Somehow, though, the phone call was "captured on camera and uploaded to a server at the company’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn.," after which the videotaped recording of the phone call "quickly spread widely among ESPN employees."
Just for the record, the videotaped recording of the private conversation "quickly spread widely" at ESPN because one or more ESPN employees made a point of making that happen. When Nichols' phone call was somehow recorded, one or more of Nichols' colleagues made sure it was spread all around!
For the record, we've seen no one dispute the idea that Nicholas thought she was engaged in a private phone conversation. Yesterday, we did see a former ESPN employee laugh at Draper's apparent assessment, in which Draper has advanced the claim that the phone call was "accidentally" recorded.
That claim was ridiculous, this observer said. He seemed to believe that someone at ESPN deliberately activated the equipment which allowed the phone call, made in Nichols' hotel room, to be recorded.
For the record, this former ESPN employee identifies as black. He spoke as part of a maddening, 50-minute conversation on The Dan Le Batard Show, a maddening conversation to which Draper himself had linked in yesterday's report.
(You can watch that program here. The program carries this title: "An Honest Conversation About ESPN, Rachel Nichols & Maria Taylor.")
We watched that maddening conversation after clicking the link provided by Draper. Draper didn't mention the fact that the three former ESPN employees engaged in this conversation openly ridiculed his own reporting during their maddening confab.
How did the private phone call fall into ESPN hands? We don't have the slightest idea, and that doesn't necessarily strike us as the principle question here.
In our view, the principle question would be this:
It's true that Nichols—and Mendelsohn too—made some "disparaging comments" during that pirated phone call. But who was disparaged by their remarks? At whom were their disparaging comments directed?
Very late in the maddening show, Le Batard and his guests got to the heart of the matter. The disparaging comments in question weren't necessarily aimed at Taylor, they correctly noted. Quite plainly, the vast bulk of the disparaging comments had been aimed at the "conservative," Trump-voting, white-boy bosses who run things at ESPN!
The white-boy bosses had been disparaged—but then, in stepped the Times!
Had Maria Taylor been disparaged at all? We would be inclined to say no. But with a promise to return to the serious questions surrounding matters of justice in Gore, Ga., we'll tackle that question tomorrow.
Eventually, we'll also talk about the growing discussion concerning Nikole Hannah-Jones. Also, we'll discuss CNN's recent attempt to discuss critical race theory and the schools, an attempt which went several stages past Mickey Mouse to something we'd call "peak (and embarrassing) Goofy."
At the end of the day, these various situations are largely of a piece. In all these cases, a rapidly failing nation is trying to figure out how to deal with the legacy of "the world the slaveholders made"—the world our nation's benighted ancestors left us.
The treatment of major media stars will of course burn up Twitter and receive most of the ink. The homeless of Gore, Ga. will quickly be set to the side.
That's part of the problem we all live with too. It comes from the world the slaveholders made, but experts say that such acts of deference, to big pampered stars, may also be bred in the bone.
Tomorrow: Yes, but who was disparaged?