By Derek Helling
A tweet by the Turner-owned sports web property Bleacher Report was the subject of ire by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently. The deletion of the tweet and apology to Cuban that followed was a journalism ethical travesty, but it is Turner president David Levy who should shoulder most of the blame for the problem, not Cuban.
On Thursday, February 24, Bleacher Report posted a tweet containing a video of Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki throwing up an airball during a game with the caption "Dirk Forever." Cuban immediately took umbrage, sending an email to Levy asking the tweet to be deleted. Levy acquiesced, and shortly thereafter the tweet was deleted and an apology tweet was issued in its place.
For those who are unfamiliar with journalism ethics, it's a huge issue for the subjects being covered to be able to dictate to the press how they are covered. While something as trivial as a video of one shot in a tweet seems harmless, the concern is the proverbial slippery slope. That's a line that should never, ever, be crossed regardless of the importance of the exact subject matter.
Several questions arise in response to actions like this. How many other times has Bleacher Report received a complaint from someone in the major college/professional sports industry about coverage and altered the coverage to accommodate the complaint? What's to stop this from happening again in the future? Those are questions that should never be asked about any media outlet.
As someone heavily involved in professional sports, Cuban should know that his demands were outrageous. Bleacher Report represented the event truthfully, and has every right to comment on the subject as it sees fit. This was not libelous coverage. For anyone who is being covered by the media for any reason: outside of libel or slander, if you don't like the coverage, it's up to you to change the story from your end, not demand the media distort the story to create a rosier picture.
Why Levy, Not Cuban, Should Shoulder Most of the Blame
While Cuban should understand why his actions were a problem, Cuban isn't the big issue here. As the team owner, he has a strong emotional connection to his franchise, as is right for someone in that position. Nowitzki is arguably the greatest player in team history, probably making Cuban's emotional attachment to his reputation even stronger. This is about more than just emotion for Cuban, however.
Cuban was also building and protecting the Mavericks brand in this move. He has built the business into one of the most successful in the National Basketball Association, as evidenced by the fact that Dallas has the second-best attendance in the NBA this season despite not having the best on-court product.
It's not Cuban's job to regulate Bleacher Report or any other of the media outlets that cover his team. Cuban has no authority to impose his wishes upon them, other than threatening to revoke the press credentials of the outlets which are the subject of his displeasure, which he has actually done on a temporary basis before.
Levy is the one whose responsibility the content of Bleacher Report lies with, and who has the authority to impose his wishes upon Bleacher Report employees. If something unethical happens at Bleacher Report, it's on Levy. When Levy made the decision to tell his subordinates to not only remove the tweet but apologize as well, he not only compromised his own integrity, but the integrity of Bleacher Report/Turner Sports as publications along with the professional integrity of all of Turner Sports'/Bleacher Report's employees.
Levy owes his employees, and everyone who consumes Bleacher Report content, an immediate apology. The company also needs to publicly take steps to ensure that this doesn't happen again. In a time where being a media outlet is as treacherous as ever, it's vitally important that such organizations be as transparent and rigorous about journalism ethics as possible.
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