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E.S.P.N. Responds to Colin Cowherd's Latest Nonsense

As everyone in the blogosphere knows by now, Colin Cowherd used his radio show on Thursday to launch an attack on The Big Lead, which reacted much more maturely than I would have in the same situation.

After Cowherd incited his listeners to flood the weblog with hits to overload the system and shut down the site, a course of action was chosen: write the ombudsman at E.S.P.N., Le Anne Schreiber.

Earlier this evening, Schreiber responded publicly to the deluge of e-mails she received:

The official response from ESPN's communication department was: "Our airwaves should not be used for this purpose. We apologize." It is the kind of bland public statement that does little to assuage the anger and distrust of ESPN's audience over an episode like this. I could not tell from that statement how seriously ESPN regarded the offense, so I contacted Traug Keller, senior vice president, ESPN Radio, to get a clearer idea of ESPN's reaction.

Keller responded immediately to my request for an on-the-record statement. "We talked to Colin Cowherd, and we talked to all our radio talent, making it clear that you cannot do this," Keller said Friday. "Our airwaves are a trust, and not to be used to hurt anyone's business. Such attacks are off limits. Zero tolerance. I can't say it any stronger."

Keller said that he had not formulated a policy about such attacks on Internet sites until now because he had never imagined the possibility of them.

I appreciated Keller's quick, forthright response.

Now that ESPN Radio has such a policy, I presume such attacks will be treated as an offense that warrants suspension.

The boldface was added by me and, just as Schreiber "appreciated Keller's quick, forthright response," I likewise appreciated hers. (For the record, Schreiber sent me a cordial reply to my e-mail on Friday which indicated that she found Cowherd's conduct grossly irresponsible and informed me that she would be addressing it in her next column.)

Schreiber deserves kudos for her reaction and Keller deserves credit for formulating a policy. I am willing to accept at face value Keller's plausible claim that it had not previously occurred to him that such on-air antics as these needed rules specifically to cover them, since deliberate attacks on websites so obviously are beyond the pale.

Why, though, should suspension be the next step up in punishment? Cowherd already has been forced to apologize for a previous on-air indiscretion that included a failure to check his sources adequately and a subsequent childish refusal to give proper attribution after his error was brought to his attention; now, this latest act of possibly actionable vandalism has resulted in the formulation of what has been characterized by E.S.P.N. Radio's senior vice president as a zero tolerance policy.

Does "zero" mean zero? If so, why would a subsequent assault on a weblog warrant a mere suspension for Cowherd? He already has two strikes against him; how many chances is he going to get? Keller says these sorts of drive-by shutdowns "are off limits." Fine, then; let's make them truly off limits.

Keller and Schreiber responded rapidly, reasonably, and responsibly, which is to their credit. If Cowherd pulls this sort of foolishness again, though, he doesn't need to be facing a suspension. Suspensions are what football players get when they're arrested for being boneheaded 20-year-olds.

Colin Cowherd is a grown man who has gotten more chances than he deserves and as many chances as he ought to get. If last Thursday's inexcusable act, or anything like it, is repeated, Cowherd doesn't need to be suspended; he needs to be fired.

I can't say it any stronger. Well . . . I can, but it's Easter Sunday and this is a family-friendly weblog.

Go 'Dawgs!