Huge conflict of interest at ESPN

January 11, 2008

Ever wonder why the Reggie Bush investigation seems to be overlooked by ESPN even though it is being covered by other major media outlets?

Well, as The Big Lead points out, David Cornwell, Bush’s attorney, is also a legal consultant for ESPN. If that’s not a major conflict of interest, I don’t know what is. I’m not saying that ESPN is purposefully downplaying the Bush story because of this, but just the appearance that it could be happening is really bad for journalism reasons.

Let’s see how this plays out after the Tarnished Heisman book is released on Tuesday. I plan to buy it that day and hope to have a review of it sometime next week.

UPDATE: I’ve done my own googling to make sure David Cornwell is both a legal consultant and Reggie Bush’s lawyer. This USA Today article says Cornwell is a legal reporter for ESPN, and Cornwell took part in an ESPN Sportsnation chat as well. I also found two stories that say Cornwell is Bush’s attorney.

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3 Responses to “Huge conflict of interest at ESPN”

  1. LSUoverUSC Says:

    Excellent article.

  2. I think you bring up a fair point, but is it relevant?

    There probably should be more transparency by the WWL in regards to Cornwell’s relationship with Bush when he is commenting for ESPN on other legal issues. Looking at his bio it appears that he has worked at the highest levels of professional sports so he is clearly qualified to comment on legal issues within the world of sports regardless of whom he represents. I think he is more qualified than Roger Cossack (sic?) because of his sports background but that’s just me.

    Do you think that it not being out in the open is conflict of interest?


    Cornwell runs a successful law firm so he will attract top clients. Is your discomfort with the supposed lack of coverage on the Bush matter by ESPN lead you to think that there is a conflict? Cornwell works at the pleasure of ESPN not the other way around if they choose to cover the story a certain way and if that upsets Cornwell can walk. I’m sure there are plenty of sports atty’s willing to jump in and fill that spot.

    If you look at Sportsline, or Fox Sports they are covering the story about the same as ESPN. Yahoo! has been out in front on a lot of this, I give them credit for some good work in some areas of the story but they also have an agenda that followed the salacious side to this story. None of the traditional media outlets have been as dogged at covering the story as Yahoo! but that doesn’t make them lazy.

    Lake is the only person providing any info without any other corroboration so it’s hard to justify simply going with Lake’s version with his credibility issues. That’s not to suggest that if someone is an ex-con, that their opinions/stories/documents are completely uncredible and worthless, but neither do they get a free pass. Motivation counts in the legal system, and the combination of an incentive to go after Bush combined with a prior record will at least raise the question of credibility and motive.

    The fact that Yahoo! broke the story might be why the bigger media outlets haven’t gone crazy over this, it wasn’t their scoop so to speak. It seems pretty clear to me that the other sports organizations are waiting for further info (presumably from the depositions) before going all in. That’s a prudent approach.

  3. Gilbert Says:

    Thanks for posting that CC.

    My main problem is the transparency. In their stories about Reggie Bush, often quotes David Cornwell without saying that Cornwell is their employee.

    I agree that Cornwell is very qualified to be a legal analyst, and I think he’s been one of their best when discussing other legal issues on ESPN. I also agree that conflict of interests like this are sometimes unavoidable (like you said, Cornwell has a successful law firm, of course athletes are going to hire him).

    But at least be honest about it. Don’t make it look like you might be hiding something. I’d give ESPN more credibility on this if they came out and said something like: ” Cornwell’s a legal analyst for us, but we won’t let that get in the way of our covering the Reggie Bush story.” Or, “He’s a brilliant mind and we enjoy having him, but he works for us, not the other way around — Cornwell isn’t dictating how we are covering the Reggie Bush story.” Or even just adding one line in the stories that say, “Cornwell, also a legal analyst for ESPN, said …”

    That’s all I’m asking. I’m not asking for them to end their relationship with Cornwell, just to be transparent about it.

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