The snag with hiring investigative reporters to dig up dirt on powerful entities in sports, even broadcast partners, is that the move can backfire in both directions. When they report embarrassing information, there are upset partners. But at the same time, the reporters are so eager to justify their hiring, and the company often equally eager to show off its independence, that stories that don’t add much to the big picture get pushed as big news. A similar phenomenon happens with reportage on supposed NCAA violations. Yahoo’s sensational report from 2011 on misdeeds in the University of Miami football program created far more noise than actual proof of violations, for example. The cumulative effect in both cases is to create a cynical worldview among fans and media, where everyone is assumed to be guilty or hold sinister intentions.

Usually the unquenchable thirst for content results in harmless piffle like this. Sometimes, it wanders into more important terrain. When it does, the resulting mess damages everyone in sight.

Fast breaks

It isn’t fair to pass any sort of judgment on the new challenger to ESPN in the 24/7 sports business, Fox Sports 1, until they’ve been on the air more than a few days, so I’ll refrain (and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve worked with and remain in contact with many of the channel’s production staffers). Still, here are a few instant impressions:

The much ballyhooed Canadian anchors of Fox Sports Tonight, Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, are a little too goofball for my tastes, but the potential for the right mix of comic edginess, a la Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick from SportsCenter’s glory days, is definitely there.

I scarcely care what ex-jocks like Donovan McNabb, Andy Roddick, and Gary Payton have to say about their own sports, let alone listening to Payton talk baseball and Roddick talk football.

The days of having a show that covers the entire sports world, regardless of broadcast rights, are officially gone (they barely existed, but SportsCenter used to at least try). FSL is clearly positioned as your go-to source for UFC news, which in its studio is as important as the other major sports (except for hockey, which only NBC, the rights holder to the NHL, feels is worthy of regular reportage). There’s nothing wrong with pushing your own product, but I just wish they could be less blatant about it.

Or, conversely, own it. Just once I’d love to see an anchor introduce some video by saying, “Here are the highlights of a sport we are cramming down your throat because we are paying truckloads of cash to air it five nights a week.” Or, “There was a big soccer match today, but because we lost the rights last year we are going to pretend it didn’t happen.”

I suppose that’s about as likely as ESPN not obeying when the NFL tells it to heel.

*Correction: The original version misspelled the names of Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada.


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Robert Weintraub is the author of The House That Ruth Built. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Slate, and a television writer/producer based in Atlanta.