ESPN has released a statement to explain the series of events surrounding the phantom LeBron story which appeared briefly on ESPN's servers before being yanked. The story has come down that the problem lies not with James, nor with ESPN.com's editorial staff, but with the writer, Arash Markazi.
Rob King, Vice President and Editor-In-Chief, ESPN Digital Media released a statement today:
ESPN.com will not be posting the story in any form. We looked into the situation thoroughly and found that Arash did not properly identify himself as a reporter or clearly state his intentions to write a story. As a result, we are not comfortable with the content, even in an edited version, because of the manner in which the story was reported. We’ve been discussing the situation with Arash and he completely understands. To be clear, the decisions to pull the prematurely published story and then not to run it were made completely by ESPN editorial staff without influence from any outside party.
We knew the story was going to get complicated. James was clearly unaware that his actions were going to be reported on. The question was whether he was unaware Markazi was a reporter or if he was aware Markazi was a reporter but believed he was off-record. Now we have the official position regarding that.
So was what Markazi did unethical?
If this were a drug ring, Markazi could not identify himself as a reporter. He couldn't ask if people involved in illegal behavior were on-record without jeopardizing both his safety and the story. There are a number of illegal stories broken where a reporter has had to refrain from revealing both his position and intention.
LeBron James did not do anything illegal. He has done nothing against the law, nothing that would warrant this kind of deception. There's no crime in being an egotist, no fault that goes against human decency is partying like a rock star. He simply comes off looking bad. And that's not enough to warrant such tactics. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding. But the onus is on Markazi to notify James or one of his representatives that he is a reporter, and that he is writing a story on the night's events. LeBron James has every right to be whatever kind of person he wants to be at a private event held for him, among friends.
For his part, Markazi also released a statement, though I would not particularly call it contrite:
I have been in conversations with ESPN.com’s editors and, upon their complete review, understand their decision not to run the story. It is important to note that I stand by the accuracy of the story in its entirety, but should have been clearer in representing my intent to write about the events I observed.
ESPN takes a lot of flack for not being responsible with their coverage, and will of course take flack for protecting James' PR theoretical rear. But Markazi leaves little option by admitting he did not specify that what he saw that night would end up in front of the eyes of millions. Their hands were tied when Markazi did not approach the story with the right set of practices. We live in an age where the media seems to know no bounds. At some point, those lines have to be drawn by those with the most reach.
None of this makes any part of this story any less funny.