Media: Tony Kornheiser suspended

ESPN is fast becoming the most insipid of media types — one that can neither dish it out, nor take it.

The network confirmed on Tuesday that it has suspended Pardon The Interruption co-host Tony Kornheiser for two weeks over comments he made on his (non-ESPN) radio show last week about Hannah Storm’s wardrobe.

Here’s what Kornheiser said:

“Hannah Storm in a horrifying, horrifying outfit today. She’s got on red go-go boots and a catholic school plaid skirt . . . way too short for somebody in her 40s or maybe early 50s by now.” [Storm is 47.] “She’s got on her typically very, very tight shirt. She looks like she has sausage casing wrapping around her upper body . . . I know she’s very good, and I’m not supposed to be critical of ESPN people, so I won’t . . . but Hannah Storm … come on now. Stop. What are you doing? . . . She’s what I would call a Holden Caulfield fantasy at this point.”

As a regular listener to Kornheiser’s show (podcast) and longtime reader of his, I know, this is what he does. Part of the appeal of his work has been that it scans the spectrum and picks up pieces that might or might not be sports. It infuriates some who don’t want to hear about it unless it’s pure sports, and some of those types didn’t like his Monday Night Football style, but in general it has served him well, and has helped him land the only worthwhile studio program on ESPN, PTI, with Washington Post columnist Mike Wilbon.

(Am I burning enough ESPN bridges here? No? I’ll proceed.)

On Tuesday, Deadspin.com further observed that the suspension might have less to do with his comments on Storm than another comment referring to ESPN host Chris Berman (though not by name) later in the show …

“I know I’m not supposed to be critical of ESPN people, like if I point out that people say that they lost 50 or 60 pounds have actually gained all the weight back. . . ” (Co-host interrupts: “And then some. Gained the weight back, back, back, back.”)

Berman’s contract is up soon — and early indications through our source are that ESPN may be willing to go elsewhere if his demands are outlandish, which they most likely will be — so anything that upsets the delicate balance of negotiations by calling one of the parties a fat slob is considered a much more suspension-worthy offense than the Storm comments.

I don’t know what’s going on. And, let’s face it, this might well be a publicity stunt by ESPN to try to shore up Storm’s ratings, or whatever. Wouldn’t be surprising.

But here’s the problem. ESPN hires people with strong opinions. If the network is seen — in fact, IS — swooping in on these people and punishing them for expressing their opinions or exerting pressure on trying to influence those opinions, it is running aground of some pretty basic journalistic ethics, and giving ammunition to every two-bit pundit (present company included) who believes the network would try to sway its talking (and writing) heads to opine in a certain way based on the network’s financial and marketing interests.

ESPN is supposed to be the big leagues. So I can’t figure out why its leadership would act in such a small-time manner.

Kornheiser apologized, both to Storm and publicly, for his comments — which it should be noted, were aimed less at Storm (to whom he was very complimentary) than to her wardrobe. It’s shtick, sure. But it’s what he does.

Here’s the message for ESPN. It takes more than hiring a bunch of journalists to make you a news organization. And while it’s no secret that the network is drifting farther and farther from that designation, maybe the network leadership should spend more time listening to its critics than trying to silence them.

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