Last week all-sports cable TV channel ESPN sent out pink slips to 100 employees, many of them on-air personalities. Profits have been declining since last year in large part because of the 12 million viewers who, since 2011, have dropped their subscriptions.
Yet even at this late date, there are those who insist this has nothing to do with the network’s pervasive left-wing bias, preferring to blame it on customers switching over to mobile viewing.
Among the usual suspects promoting this view is Kevin Draper of Deadspin.
Regarding ESPN’s liberal bent, he writes:
This last is a point a lot of the network’s dumbest critics have pointed to as a reason for ESPN’s decline, and even levied as a charge of sorts. It’s true, of course, if not necessarily for the reasons those that are making it think it is. Former New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent once titled a column “Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?,” and answered the question in the first line: “Of course it is.” He would later regret his flippancy, but the basic argument was sound: The Times’ viewpoint was (and is) urban, northeast, and educated, and members of those groups generally skew liberal.
Draper’s breezy dismissal of liberal politics as a reason for ESPN’s declining subscriber base reminds me of the quick excuses pundits gave for the National Football League’s ratings drop last season: Well, ratings have been declining for a while, and there is a presidential election going on, and that explains the drop, not Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest. But shortly thereafter an independent survey showed that, yes, Kaepernick’s juvenile idiocy was one reason for the fall in viewership.
Since human beings are a relatively diverse lot there will no doubt be a myriad of reasons whenever millions of people decide to discontinue receiving a product or service.
It’s no different with ESPN.
When people tune into a sports program, they expect to see sports, not liberal diatribes. It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that some conservative viewers will tire of left-wing politics and drop their subscriptions. Indeed, that may be one reason some people are switching to mobile!
The remainder of Draper’s argument amounts to him putting bullet holes in his own feet:
The same is broadly true of the most prominent and talented ESPNers, and if the network is going to build shows around their personalities, that has to be at least acknowledged, if not embraced. If ESPN wants Bomani Jones, a genuine superstar talent, to be Bomani Jones, they have to be comfortable with him unleashing his takes on TV and on Twitter. Disney isn’t ordering up lefty takes—they’d be delighted if Jones could connect to audiences the same way while offering up conservative ones—but he wouldn’t be Bomani Jones if he did that. Allowing their best talents to be themselves is a strategy that makes sense for ESPN.
Um, wait a minute. If lefty politics isn’t part of the problem, then why does Draper need to defend ESPN’s decision to let it go unchecked? Furthermore, this doesn’t really refute anything. Letting Bonehead Jones be Bonehead Jones is not proof that conservatives aren’t dropping ESPN because of its politics.
Draper ends his argument, with … well, just read it:
It’s also tempered by the conservatism inherent in being, still, not just the most powerful media operation in its sphere (if not outright) on the planet, but part of a still vaster corporation that works according to the dictates of a capitalist industry.
Hopefully you didn’t hurt yourself when you fell on the floor laughing.
Gee, do you suppose that the average conservative viewers says, “You know honey, I’m really pissed at Tony Kornheiser comparing the Tea Party to ISIS, but since ESPN operates in a market economy, it all balances out”?
This is the proper response to that:
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