I suppose ESPN's explanation here is reasonable, but is it any less damning than all those black-helicopter theories floating around for the WWL to say, in essence, "Our glimpses into the lives of famous people must be authorized"?
We don't yet know how Arash Markazi gained entry into LeBron's circle, but he did, and whatever you make of his story — banal crap or an invaluable peek into a world of banal crap — he accomplished what he was (presumably) assigned to do: capture the essence of a night out in Vegas with LeBron James. This isn't Ida Tarbell poking around Standard Oil. This is a professional gossip writing about a celebrity in a club, and if Markazi's story outstripped its dumb genre, it's only because he managed the not-inconsiderable feat of getting unauthorized access to that celebrity's world. Markazi did his job, and by the standards of this sort of thing, he did it pretty well.
But now there's talk of ESPN suspending him, merely for the crime of not announcing that he might be taking a few notes. There is nothing more comical than seeing ESPN discover the standards it's usually so willing to throw to the dogs. The company itself is one hugely profitable monument to fudged standards. What, exactly, is the difference between what Markazi did and what ESPN allowed this idiot to do at the ESPYs? Did Lynn Hoppes properly identify himself as a journalist to Brett Favre and Tracy Morgan and every other famous person whose offhand remarks he breathlessly relayed to us? The only difference, so far as I can tell, is that Markazi caught his celebrity in a rare moment of not being stage-managed. LeBron said frank and impolitic things. LeBron wanted to see flying pantyless ladies. ESPN isn't in the business of telling us frank and impolitic things, and it's certainly not in the business of telling us about flying pantyless ladies, unless you count women's tennis.
Rob King's fierce brief on behalf of journalistic propriety may sound wonderful in a j-school classroom, but all it is is another tight-assed rule in a tight-assed profession that loves to dress up purely mercenary business strategies as high-minded matters of ethics and epistemology. Journalistically speaking, what purpose does this particular rule serve, anyway? Lots of good journalism has been done by reporters leaning against walls and taking discreet notes. Lots of bad journalism has been done by reporters walking in the front door and announcing themselves. The point isn't the rule itself but the outcome of the reporting. If the quotes are accurate, if the story is an honest accounting, who the hell cares that Markazi didn't identify himself? Well, ESPN does, and it's not because of any rediscovered ethical sense; it's because the whole operation is founded on getting and maintaining a certain kind of authorized access. Maybe ESPN didn't curtsy to LeBron in the way everyone thought. But this seems infinitely worse: ESPN wrapping a protective halo around the public behavior of the celebrities it helps create. Lord strike me down for saying this, but free Arash Markazi!