February 11, 2019

Why Bob Costas and NBC split ways

Something has always felt off about Bob Costas’ departure from NBC. He was the biggest star NBC Sports ever had. He won 28 Emmys and eight National Sportscaster of the Year awards. He was the network’s face on pretty much every major sporting event, from the Olympics to the Super Bowl to the World Series.

Yet, when he officially left the network last month after nearly 40 years, it was oddly quiet. No fanfare. No tributes. No real goodbye. In fact, come to find out, Costas reached an agreement to leave NBC last year even though he was under contract through 2021.

Now we’re learning more about how the relationship came apart. In an exclusive on Sunday’s “Outside The Lines’’ on ESPN, Costas revealed that NBC nixed an on-air commentary about the dangers of pro football. The reason? The network was in negotiations at the time with the National Football League on a new TV contract. That was the beginning of the end.

Costas told “OTL” that he had a commentary planned during NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” coverage when the movie “Concussion’’ came out in 2015. Because he knew it was a sensitive subject, Costas said he showed the essay to NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus and executive producer Sam Flood.

“I remember the reaction almost verbatim,” Costas, 66, told ESPN. “They said, ‘This is a very well-written piece, wouldn’t change a comma. We can’t air it.’”

When Costas asked why, he was told because the network was in talks with the NFL to air “Thursday Night Football.”

“It was at that point that I realized that this was an untenable situation for me,” Costas told ESPN. “I knew my days there were numbered.”

Two months later, the NFL awarded NBC with 10 Thursday night games over two seasons. The deal called for NBC to pay the NFL $450 million. Costas eventually exercised a clause in his contract to step away from the Olympics and NFL coverage to take on an emeritus role. He then was yanked from last year’s Super Bowl coverage after making more critical comments about the NFL’s concussion issues. He said he was told he “crossed a line.”

Since then, Costas has gone out of his way to thank NBC and praise Lazarus and Flood. “Outside the Lines,’’ according to its story, assured Costas, at his request, that it would show his admiration and respect for NBC and those who work there. Last year, when I was a sports columnist at the Tampa Bay Times, Costas reached out to me to say he had no animosity toward NBC when I wrote about how it appeared his time with NBC was coming to an end. Costas continues to work at MLB Network.

If Costas’ account is true, it’s troubling that NBC would place business interests ahead of journalistic standards. Just because this is sports doesn’t make it any less problematic. It also shows just how powerful the NFL can be.

Bezos, the Post and the National Enquirer

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO and owner of The Washington Post, speaks at an event in 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

There are many layers to the Jeff Bezos-National Enquirer story, but from a media standpoint, the most interesting is how the Washington Post has covered this story, starting with the fact that it is covering it all. When Bezos bought the Post, we waited for the first real test case of what the Post would do when there was a major story involving the boss. Well, the Post has passed that test — and much of that credit should go to Bezos.

Speaking on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, Poynter senior vice president Kelly McBride praised Bezos’ efforts, first noting that Bezos chose to reveal the Enquirer’s alleged blackmail threats on Medium rather than use the Post as his personal platform. It also would appear that Bezos has not influenced the Post’s coverage. McBride said Bezos has allowed the Post to do its own reporting “whether it’s in favor of him or against his personal interests.’’

“I think he single-handedly changed the first line of his obituary,” McBride said, “from Silicon Valley billionaire to First Amendment defender. And that’s quite remarkable.’’

McBride also brought up another important aspect based on the public and, potential, legal reaction to all of this: Could this be the first step in the demise of the National Enquirer?

Best interview of the weekend

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” host Brian Stelter grilled his former boss, Jill Abramson, Sunday over plagiarism allegations in her new book “Merchants of Truth.” Stelter is a former New York Times reporter and Abramson is the Times’ former executive editor. But that didn’t stop Stelter from pushing and interrupting Abramson enough that, at one point, Abramson asked Stelter if she could finish her thought. In addition, Stelter didn’t hold back his opinion, saying he thought what she had done was, indeed, plagiarism.

The plagiarism allegations went viral last week when “Vice News Tonight” correspondent Michael Moynihan posted the passages on Twitter. Part of Abramson’s book is about Vice. When Stelter asked Abramson if it was ironic that a Vice reporter made the plagiarism charges, Abramson said no because she had been “warned” before the book came out that “Vice was very likely sort of waging an oppo campaign” against her book.

Impactful journalism

The numbers are staggering. In the past 20 years, 220 people affiliated with Southern Baptist churches have been convicted or took a plea deal in sexual abuse cases. The number of victims: more than 700.

These were the findings of a troubling series underway by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News called “Abuse of Faith.” In a note to readers, Houston Chronicle interim executive editor Steve Riley wrote that “victims have begged leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention to take steps that could detect and perhaps stop predators within their churches. The SBC has declined to act.”

Riley said three reporters and a team of data journalists have spent more than six months building a database.

Let’s go to the videotape

The Collier County (Florida) Sheriff’s Department’s booking photos of Warner Wolf. (Collier County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

Legendary sports broadcaster Warner Wolf, now 81 and retired, had a famous catchphrase whenever he introduced highlights: “Let’s go to the videotape.” Well, police say they went to the videotape and what they found was enough to place Wolf under arrest.

According to TMZ, Wolf had an issue with the name of the gated community where he lives: Classic Plantation Estates in Naples, Florida. He has petitioned the homeowners association to remove the word “Plantation’’ because he felt it was racist and offensive. When that got him nowhere, Wolf, according to the police, took care of the problem himself by ripping the word off the community’s entrance sign. This happened last November, and after a long investigation, Wolf turned himself in last week. He was booked for causing criminal mischief that resulted in more than $1,000, which is a felony. He was released on $5,000 bond.

Worth your time

The Los Angeles Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske features a 19th century mission known as La Lomita, on a hill above the Rio Grande. Worshippers gather in the one-room chapel to pray it won’t be sealed off behind a border fence. … Minneapolis Star-Tribune sports columnist Chip Scoggins profiles Jake Sullivan, a one-time high school and college basketball star who has found hope after his life was nearly overtaken by mental anguish. … The Grammys were Sunday night, but The Ringer’s Rob Harvilla explains why the show was already ruined before it aired.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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