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THE PROBLEM ISN’T CHARISSA THOMPSON — IT’S THOSE HIRING HER AT FOX SPORTS
When she admits to lying about coaches’ comments in sideline interviews, I wonder how she was hired at a major network, starting with Eric (The Journalist) Shanks and a man running her teleprompter
The demise of the sports media industry isn’t entirely about Charissa Thompson, who “made up” quotes from coaches in her reckless-as-hell sideline gig. It’s also who hired her at Fox Sports. As the tale goes, she applied for a human resources job and didn’t want the position, calling the supervisor after a shaky interview. She promised him one strong year in HR and was handed over at times to professional news executives, such as Rick Jaffe, who showed her how to read a teleprompter.
There you have it. With Eric Shanks running the Fox sports division, Thompson injected her looks and on-air persona into a sportscasting career. Along the way, Shanks showed his political bent by playing billions-dirty with Qatar, which didn’t want its human rights violations aired during soccer’s World Cup late last year. Fox left alone the host’s deadly crises for almost a month, which didn’t stop Eric The Journalist from accepting an ownership stake at a newspaper in Ojai, Calif., where he lives outside of Los Angeles.
“Towns with newspapers, they function more properly, there’s less corruption,” Shanks told a podcast this year. “Everything is better in a town when there’s local journalism.”
What’s best for Ojai apparently isn’t what’s best for America. Twice now, with repercussions sweeping through her business, Thompson has acknowledged her lack of journalistic training in podcasting b.s. In January 2022, she mentioned it on a show she hosts with Fox’s sideline reporter, Erin Andrews. Covering the Detroit Lions, who went 0-16 that season, she said of then-coach Rod Marinelli, “I was like, ‘Oh, coach, what adjustments are you going to make at halftime?’ He goes, ‘That’s a great perfume you’re wearing.’ I was like, ‘Oh, (expletive), this isn’t going to work.’ I’m not kidding, I made up a report.”
That should have been an infraction for Eric The Journalist. Never does a reporter “make up” a report, which Andrews also said she has done because a coach “was telling me all the wrong stuff.” Shanks should have summoned both, but he obviously did not. Because this week on a “Pardon My Take” podcast, via Barstool Sports, Thompson took her antics into more dangerous territory: “I’ve said this before, so I haven’t been fired for saying it, but I’ll say it again. I would make up the report sometimes, because … the coach wouldn’t come out at halftime, or it was too late and I didn’t want to screw up the report. So I was like, ‘I’m just gonna make this up.’ Because first of all, no coach is gonna get mad if I say, ‘Hey, we need to stop hurting ourselves, we need to be better on third down, we need to stop turning the ball over … and do a better job of getting off the field.’ They’re not gonna correct me on that. So I’m like, ‘It’s fine, I’ll just make up the report.’ ”
Fox Sports has shamed media more than once. Shanks hires the likes of Skip Bayless, whose ratings barely beat morning radio in Shreveport in a weak retort to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. His daily management dealings drove Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to ESPN, which Shanks countered last year by hiring Tom Brady, who has yet to appear on air and leaves talented backup Greg Olsen in a hiring mess. At some point, the executive chair and CEO of Fox, Lachlan Murdoch, might start wondering when sports coverage became folly.
The Thompson debacle is his opportunity. Her remarks were devoured by women sportscasters who’ve worked hard to maintain credibility. Wrote Laura Okmin, who works as a sideline reporter at Fox: “THE privilege of a sideline role is being the 1 person in the entire world who has the opportunity to ask coaches what’s happening in that moment. I can’t express the amount of time it takes to build that trust. Devastated w/the texts I’m getting asking if this is ok. No. Never. Using as an opportunity to teach young reporters: There’s coaches who don’t give anything — even apologize early in wk for it. You gather info in those conversations & take w/you — ‘he was looking for this, hoped he didn’t see that.’ My point being YOU PREPARE for these instances.”
Apparently not Thompson, who since has moved into a Thursday night hosting gig on Amazon Prime Video, which also can’t be happy with her carelessness. Said CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson: “This is absolutely not ok, not the norm and upsetting on so many levels. I take my job very seriously, I hold myself accountable for all I say, I build trust with coaches and never make something up. I know my fellow reporters do the same.”
And ESPN’s Lisa Salters: “Shocked. Disappointed. Disgusted. What we heard today called all sideline reporters into question. My job is an honor, a privilege and a craft at which I have worked so hard … Trust and credibility. They mean everything to a journalist. To violate either one — in any way — not only makes a mockery of the profession, but is a disservice to players, coaches and, most importantly, to fans.”
And ESPN’s Molly McGrath: “This is not normal or ethical. Coaches and players trust us with sensitive information, and if they know that you’re dishonest and don’t take your role seriously, you’ve lost all trust and credibility."
Finally, on Friday, Thompson said she “chose the wrong words to describe the situation.” This is only her livelihood. You don’t use the “wrong words” to explain journalistic technique in a country that doesn’t believe journalists.
“When on a podcast this week, I said I would make up reports early in my career when I worked as a sideline reporter before I transitioned to my current host role. Working in the media I understand how important words are and I chose wrong words to describe the situation. I’m sorry. I have never lied about anything or been unethical during my time as a sports broadcaster,” Thompson said. “In the absence of a coach providing any information that could further my report, I would use information that I learned and saw during the first half to create my report. For example if a team was 0 for 7 on 3rd down, that would clearly be an area they need to improve on in the second half. In these instances, I never attributed anything said to a player or coach.
“I have nothing but respect for the sideline reporters and for the tireless work they put in behind the scenes and on the field. I am only appreciative and humbled to work alongside some of the best in the business and call them some of my best friends.”
Not anymore. Sports media has become a business of buffoons, beginning with no-conscience bosses at the top. They’re in this game to feed off a near-trillion-dollar industry, refusing to cover events with appropriate integrity. It figures the Thompson story received the most heat when ESPN BET began this week, with an almost-permanent link on the company’s website: “ESPN BET, Now Live, Make Any Sportsbook Bet, Get $200 In Bonus Bets, Get Started.”
This is the company’s desperation effort to climb into the heavy ranks of sports betting handles, currently dominated by FanDuel and DraftKings. You’re seeing it throughout all media forms, from Bill Simmons selling out with FanDuel picks and Dan Le Batard — formerly a journalist — making picks for his “Thursday Thunder” segment. ESPN is crashing as well, turning former golf caller Scott Van Pelt into a gambling moron and using Pat McAfee to drop wagers. The issue: More than 6 percent of Americans are dealing with major gambling disorders. Think Van Pelt cares as if he laughs off his betting losses and does his new wagering ads?
You might say they are killing people. Yet few writers beyond me touch the magnitude, knowing they’ll never be hired at those networks as an anti-gambler. It’s much easier to tee off on Charissa Thompson, and next time someone wants her to see a teleprompter, let her file HR reports the rest of her life.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.