ESPN Memo Warns Staff to Avoid Discussing Chinese Politics When Covering Morey Tweet

The memo reportedly mandated that all coverage "focus on the related basketball issues"

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey attends Yao Ming's press conference announcing his retirement from basketball on July 20, 2011 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey attends Yao Ming's press conference announcing his retirement from basketball on July 20, 2011 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images)
By Bonnie Stiernberg / October 9, 2019 6:15 am

According to a Deadspin report, in the wake of Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting protestors in Hong Kong and the NBA’s subsequent statements about China, ESPN senior news director Chuck Salituro sent a memo to staff “mandating that any discussion of the Daryl Morey story avoid any political discussions about China and Hong Kong, and instead focus on the related basketball issues.”

“The memo, obtained by Deadspin, explicitly discouraged any political discussion about China and Hong Kong,” Deadspin writes. “Multiple ESPN sources confirmed to Deadspin that network higher-ups were keeping a close eye on how the topic was discussed on ESPN’s airwaves.”

It seems as though most shows took that message to heart, steering clear of any specifics as to what is actually being protested in Hong Kong. Around the Horn panelist was the only one to directly mention that, saying, “I don’t think it was a mistake for Daryl Morey to express his sympathy for a movement against authoritarianism being implemented into Hong Kong. A struggle that has been going on now for four months, that reportedly has injured 1,100 people, reportedly now has live gunfire in the streets, which has injured a couple of people, which reportedly has left a journalist covering all this blind. This is a very serious situation.”

Last year, ESPN Jimmy Pitaro said the network would cover politics “if there is a connection to sports,” and as Deadspin notes, “This particular story fits with Pitaro’s definition of politics and sports overlap, and yet ESPN execs still felt the need to send out out a ‘stick to sports’ mandate in order to guide coverage. The only question that remains now is whether they did so because Pitaro has narrowed the window for when ESPN is allowed to talk about politics even further than he had previously stated, or because ESPN is worried about pissing off Tencent, the massive Chinese internet company that it struck a deal with in 2016.”

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