Contributor Post Created with Sketch. ESPN and ‘The Map’

 

The other morning, ESPN was reporting on the Chinese/NBA flap and used a map that shows nine dotted lines that encompass Taiwan and other territorial claims of the Communist Chinese that no other nation recognizes.

This caused a minor storm on Twitter, with people accusing The Worldwide Leader in Sports of kowtowing to the ChiComs, which carry ESPN networks on state-owned cable and internet, along with other Disney products. In a fit of stupidity, both Disney and ESPN have been stonewalling other media outlets for an explanation.

As in all situations of this kind, the choices are few. It’s either malice (or in this case, cowardice), stupidity, or incompetence. I’d put the odds of the former being 10% and the odds of one of the two latter reasons at an even 45-45%.

Like all television networks and stations, ESPN has streamlined and automated its productions significantly over the last ten years. What used to take an army of technicians to get on the air is now handled with the push of a couple of buttons from a producer or production assistant. To fill that monitor display, a template was called up on the newsroom automation system, the term “Map of China” was entered into a search bar and dozens of images from the AP Graphics Bank and/or Getty Images were displayed in thumbnail size. Someone probably didn’t read the caption on the picture and just said, “The yellow and black one looks nice” and just like that, without further review, it tumbled out into our living rooms.

In the old days, there would have been a photoshop artist or graphics operator who may have looked at that and said, “Eh, I don’t think that’s the graphic you want to use” or they would have taken it upon themselves to eliminate the dotted lines. But not now. This doing big-time television on the cheap, with young producers who know little about the world around them, is how 99% of all graphic errors happen these days. It’s all C&C – Cheap and Careless. It’s the world they created so they might as well own up to it and say, “Stuff happens. It was a mistake, and no, nobody got fired. But we pledge to be better next time.”

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  1. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It’s referred to as the “nine dash line,” but espn’s graphic had ten. Why’s that?

    • #1
    • October 10, 2019, at 4:42 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. OldDanRhody's speakeasy Member

    EJHill: they might as well own up to it and say, “Stuff happens. It was a mistake, and no, nobody got fired. But we pledge to be better next time.”

    Yeah, that’ll be the day…

    • #2
    • October 10, 2019, at 5:03 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Eustace C. Scrubb Member

    I couldn’t help but notice that Israel is not on their map.

    • #3
    • October 10, 2019, at 5:47 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    It’s referred to as the “nine dash line,” but espn’s graphic had ten. Why’s that?

    It is sometimes drawn with 10 or 11 dashes, but it always the same location. The original had 9 dashes and it has been disputed since day 1.

    • #4
    • October 10, 2019, at 5:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. DonWatt Coolidge

    One can’t help being reminded of the Obama NSC staffer, Ben Rhodes, saying the average reporter is 27 years old and that they know nothing. The idea that someone is working at ESPN world HQ in Bristol, CT churning out graphics for Sportscenter or all the other shows has any understanding of politics, let alone geography, just might be a bit naive.

    The real tragedy is that ABC/Disney/ESPN just want this story to disappear as soon as possible. They have too much to lose and nothing to gain . . . other than their souls.

    • #5
    • October 10, 2019, at 6:18 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. WI Con Member
    WI Con Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Hopefully Trump didn’t throw away that marker from the hurricane.

    • #6
    • October 10, 2019, at 6:18 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  7. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Given ESPN’s big contract with the NBA and the NBA’s ties with China, it’s also possible the map was part of some package provided by the league through the Chinese government as part of the games being held in the Chinese cities. Then someone would have just plugged in their map with zero thought about it having any geopolitical markings that would cause trouble.

    • #7
    • October 10, 2019, at 6:19 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. cirby Member

    EJHill: To fill that monitor display, a template was called up on the newsroom automation system, the term “Map of China” was entered into a search bar and dozens of images from the AP Graphics Bank and/or Getty Images were displayed in thumbnail size. Someone probably didn’t read the caption on the picture and just said, “The yellow and black one looks nice” and just like that, without further review, it tumbled out into our living rooms.

    Except that’s almost certainly not what happened.

    The “nine dash” map is rare outside of China proper (and Western political discussion of their expansionism). Do an image search on “China map” and the only hits you get with that sort of design are screencaps of the ESPN example – unless you specifically look for terms like “nine dash.”

     

     

    • #8
    • October 10, 2019, at 6:34 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    cirby: Except that’s almost certainly not what happened.

    Cirby, I’ve been in the television production business for almost 37 years now. I’ve been at the Bristol campus more times than I care to admit.

    ESPN is a major creator and consumer of intellectual property. They do not do Google searches to find their graphics. Disney pays a hefty bill every year for access to both the AP Graphics Bank and Getty Images. (Not just for ESPN but for ABCNews and other projects.) Just look at the credits at the end of every game. They’ll tell you.

    And they, and their rights holders, are sensitive to the geopolitical implications of being an international supplier of programming. One year at the U.S. Women’s Open a Taiwanese flag made air and the USGA descended upon the production truck en masse. Why? Because Taiwan’s athletes compete under their Olympic Flag, not the Taiwanese political flag. This has been going on for decades, but no one either cared or noticed.

    Contrary to what one may think, the leagues do not supply much in the way of graphics. Even the NFL outsources the task of providing headshots to other media organizations to Getty. (They have a separate, secure login for those registered with the league.)

    When the choice is between malice and stupidity in television, stupidity wins out every single time.

    • #9
    • October 10, 2019, at 8:08 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  10. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jimmy CarterIt’s referred to as the “nine dash line,” but espn’s graphic had ten. Why’s that?

    They bought the deluxe set with extra tracks?

    • #10
    • October 10, 2019, at 8:45 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Donwatt (View Comment):

    One can’t help being reminded of the Obama NSC staffer, Ben Rhodes, saying the average reporter is 27 years old and that they know nothing. The idea that someone is working at ESPN world HQ in Bristol, CT churning out graphics for Sportscenter or all the other shows has any understanding of politics, let alone geography, just might be a bit naive.

    The real tragedy is that ABC/Disney/ESPN just want this story to disappear as soon as possible. They have too much to lose and nothing to gain . . . other than their souls.

    So is this a standard single sale of a soul, or are they able to subdivide it like so many Horcruxes to maximize the profits potential?

    • #11
    • October 11, 2019, at 4:51 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. cirby Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    ESPN is a major creator and consumer of intellectual property. They do not do Google searches to find their graphics. Disney pays a hefty bill every year for access to both the AP Graphics Bank and Getty Images.

    I used Google as an example of what sort of searches you turn up when you look with a simple “China map” request. That’s a decent sample of what actual people really come up with when they look for “China map.”

    The search results you get from AP and Getty do NOT have the Chinese-supplied “nine dashes” maps in their search results.

    ESPN/Disney used either an internally-produced map – or one provided by China. Yes, they actually do have their own graphics people to make that sort of thing – all of the big networks still do. They only use external sources for things like photographs.

    You should have learned that in all of your years of production. I certainly learned that in all of MY years of TV and video production.

     

    • #12
    • October 11, 2019, at 5:39 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. CJ Coolidge
    CJ

    EJHill (View Comment):
    They do not do Google searches to find their graphics. Disney pays a hefty bill every year for access to both the AP Graphics Bank and Getty Images. (Not just for ESPN but for ABCNews and other projects.)

    Hmmm…. Sounds like Disney is relying on AP & Getty to do the vetting of these images. Maybe one’s ire should be directed at the image providers, who one would be relying on to be more careful about supplying politically explosive images. Perhaps there’ve been some angry phone calls behind the scenes between Disney and the image providers. I can imagine it would complicate their business relationship if Disney publicly tried to throw AP or Getty–or whoever it was–under the bus. If I’m paying good money for quality images, I’m going to be pretty grumpy if they’re sneaking in inappropriate content.

    • #13
    • October 11, 2019, at 7:02 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. cirby Member

    CJ (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):
    They do not do Google searches to find their graphics. Disney pays a hefty bill every year for access to both the AP Graphics Bank and Getty Images. (Not just for ESPN but for ABCNews and other projects.)

    Hmmm…. Sounds like Disney is relying on AP & Getty to do the vetting of these images. Maybe one’s ire should be directed at the image providers, who one would be relying on to be more careful about supplying politically explosive images. Perhaps there’ve been some angry phone calls behind the scenes between Disney and the image providers. I can imagine it would complicate their business relationship if Disney publicly tried to throw AP or Getty–or whoever it was–under the bus. If I’m paying good money for quality images, I’m going to be pretty grumpy if they’re sneaking in inappropriate content.

    They’re not relying on AP or Getty for that image. They use those sources for things like photographs of real people and places.

    The ESPN job site not only has openings for artists, they have “Lead Designer,” “Designer II,” “Associate Designer,” et cetera.

    There’s a whole room full of people somewhere at ESPN, cranking out things like “China map with dashes.”

    • #14
    • October 11, 2019, at 7:39 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    CJ : If I’m paying good money for quality images, I’m going to be pretty grumpy if they’re sneaking in inappropriate content.

    I wouldn’t call it “sneaking in.” If you were doing a story on it you would want it available. Unlike Cirby, I don’t see anything nefarious. 

    cirby: Yes, they actually do have their own graphics people to make that sort of thing – all of the big networks still do. They only use external sources for things like photographs..

    Yeah, they employ graphics people and I personally know quite a few of them. You would not believe the volume of material that these people crank out hourly. They are not being used to produce yellow-on-black outline maps that air for less than 5 seconds. And on a program that’s only seen domestically.

    As for your own Google search, depending on the terms you use, none of them containing any reference to dashes or disputed territory, half of the results from Getty alone show Taiwan as being a part of China. There is no conspiracy here. 

    • #15
    • October 11, 2019, at 8:17 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. cirby Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    CJ : If I’m paying good money for quality images, I’m going to be pretty grumpy if they’re sneaking in inappropriate content.

    I wouldn’t call it “sneaking in.” If you were doing a story on it you would want it available. Unlike Cirby, I don’t see anything nefarious.

    cirby: Yes, they actually do have their own graphics people to make that sort of thing – all of the big networks still do. They only use external sources for things like photographs..

    Yeah, they employ graphics people and I personally know quite a few of them. You would not believe the volume of material that these people crank out hourly. They are not being used to produce yellow-on-black outline maps that air for less than 5 seconds. And on a program that’s only seen domestically.

    As for your own Google search, depending on the terms you use, none of them containing any reference to dashes or disputed territory, half of the results from Getty alone show Taiwan as being a part of China. There is no conspiracy here.

    “They don’t have the nine-dashes map, but they do have TAIWAN” is a non-answer answer.

    “Yeah, we need a stock China map – that market’s worth billions, so make sure to use a design they approve. Don’t forget to include the South China Sea.”

    You might also note that, until this week, ESPN always used maps that didn’t include the South China Sea or the Chinese grab of Indian territory.

     

    • #16
    • October 11, 2019, at 8:29 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. DonWatt Coolidge

    I’ve got to go with EJ on this one. The alternative is to think that ESPN makes conscious decisions to either alienate their free world audience or to take part in an active influence operation from their Chinese masters. I don’t think this is that sophisticated.

    I don’t know and we’ll probably never find out where the map came from. But under deadline pressure or on live television, you see swish-pans, wrong camera cuts, misspelled graphics every day. Don’t be too ready to attribute human error to a sinister motive, when incompetence or ignorance is the more likely reason.

    And I am not carrying a torch for ESPN. I think their public and private response approaches corporate cowardice here.

    • #17
    • October 11, 2019, at 8:37 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    They forgot to draw in the big jackboot over Xinjiang. Oh wait, that’s the NBA over there.

    • #18
    • October 11, 2019, at 8:48 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. CJ Coolidge
    CJ

    EJHill (View Comment):
    I wouldn’t call it “sneaking in.” If you were doing a story on it you would want it available. Unlike Cirby, I don’t see anything nefarious.

    Okay, but if you’re Getty, you wouldn’t want controversial/disputed maps of any country to float to the top of your customers’ searches of generic “Map of [country X],” would you? Sure, it’d be nice for that to be available for clients who are specifically searching for disputed maps. I don’t for a minute think that various maps of Israel, for instance, are all jumbled up in some database.

    • #19
    • October 11, 2019, at 8:49 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    @cirby I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I just have to let this drop. The level of effort you ascribe to four seconds of domestic television at 7am ET when half the country is asleep and on a show that pulls less than 330,000 total viewers is absurd. (As is the network’s total silence, but that’s another issue.)

    The basic problem with these kind of conspiracy theories is that it calls for a level of competence, coordination and silence that just does not exist in real life. Especially for an organization that leaks like crazy to Deadspin, who revels in poking ESPN at every opportunity. 

     

    • #20
    • October 11, 2019, at 9:00 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Eustace C. Scrubb Member

    Would it cause too much confusion if the basketball network rebranded itself as NBC?

    • #21
    • October 11, 2019, at 9:13 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Eustace C. ScrubbWould it cause too much confusion if the basketball network rebranded itself as NBC?

    Yeah, I think that’s taken. Although John Tesh would probably be all in for a revival of “Roundball Rock.”

    • #22
    • October 11, 2019, at 9:43 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Jon1979 Lincoln

    EJHill (View Comment):

    @cirby I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I just have to let this drop. The level of effort you ascribe to four seconds of domestic television at 7am ET when half the country is asleep and on a show that pulls less than 330,000 total viewers is absurd. (As is the network’s total silence, but that’s another issue.)

    The basic problem with these kind of conspiracy theories is that it calls for a level of competence, coordination and silence that just does not exist in real life. Especially for an organization that leaks like crazy to Deadspin, who revels in poking ESPN at every opportunity.

     

    I agree that ignorance and not mendacity was the reason for the mistake. I’m just not sure that, as obsequious as ESPN (and Disney) are towards the Chinese right now, and with them doing the games as well as live remotes from there, they didn’t also allow the Chinese to pre-package some of the information about the country and the cities the games were being played in, including their preferred map.

    • #23
    • October 11, 2019, at 10:04 AM PDT
    • Like
  24. DonWatt Coolidge

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    @cirby I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I just have to let this drop. The level of effort you ascribe to four seconds of domestic television at 7am ET when half the country is asleep and on a show that pulls less than 330,000 total viewers is absurd. (As is the network’s total silence, but that’s another issue.)

    The basic problem with these kind of conspiracy theories is that it calls for a level of competence, coordination and silence that just does not exist in real life. Especially for an organization that leaks like crazy to Deadspin, who revels in poking ESPN at every opportunity.

     

    I agree that ignorance and not mendacity was the reason for the mistake. I’m just not sure that, as obsequious as ESPN (and Disney) are towards the Chinese right now, and with them doing the games as well as live remotes from there, they didn’t also allow the Chinese to pre-package some of the information about the country and the cities the games were being played in, including their preferred map.

    Feel free to think that China provided the map and made ESPN use it. Until we see some evidence that this is true, I cannot.

    • #24
    • October 11, 2019, at 10:14 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Donwatt (View Comment):

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    @cirby I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I just have to let this drop. The level of effort you ascribe to four seconds of domestic television at 7am ET when half the country is asleep and on a show that pulls less than 330,000 total viewers is absurd. (As is the network’s total silence, but that’s another issue.)

    The basic problem with these kind of conspiracy theories is that it calls for a level of competence, coordination and silence that just does not exist in real life. Especially for an organization that leaks like crazy to Deadspin, who revels in poking ESPN at every opportunity.

     

    I agree that ignorance and not mendacity was the reason for the mistake. I’m just not sure that, as obsequious as ESPN (and Disney) are towards the Chinese right now, and with them doing the games as well as live remotes from there, they didn’t also allow the Chinese to pre-package some of the information about the country and the cities the games were being played in, including their preferred map.

    Feel free to think that China provided the map and made ESPN use it. Until we see some evidence that this is true, I cannot.

    I don’t know if they made ESPN use it — more likely if anything, they gave ESPN a multi-media kit for showcasing the exhibition games in China, and someone would have just unthinkingly plugged in the graphic without knowing anything about the contested areas.

    • #25
    • October 11, 2019, at 10:28 AM PDT
    • Like
  26. cirby Member

    EJHill (View Comment):
    @cirby I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I just have to let this drop. The level of effort you ascribe to four seconds of domestic television at 7am ET when half the country is asleep and on a show that pulls less than 330,000 total viewers is absurd. (As is the network’s total silence, but that’s another issue.)

    Sorry, but “just let this drop” isn’t really an option, is it?

    It’s not “a level of effort for four seconds,” it’s “someone complained about the old map, make a new one they won’t complain about, we’ll use it in the future.”

    You keep claiming it was “just for one show,” but that’s silly. You know about production, and you have to know the sorts of crap producers throw in for little or no reason.

    You might know a few artists, but I’ve BEEN one. Still am, to a degree. I know the kinds of shortcuts they take, and also know how you get tasks dumped on you for the dumbest reasons. Which is why it’s incredibly reasonable to expect some poor schlub to get stuck with “make a new China map, we got complaints from our Chinese sponsors when we used that other one we used a hundred times before.”

    Making that map was literally a five minute gig for someone with good Photoshop skills, it’s not like they spent a lot of time and/or money on it. Or thought, for that matter.

    • #26
    • October 11, 2019, at 11:03 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. cirby Member

    Donwatt (View Comment):
    Feel free to think that China provided the map and made ESPN use it. Until we see some evidence that this is true, I cannot.

    I’m pretty sure “billions of dollars” is good evidence.

    “Oh crap, the Chinese are pissed off! Change some graphics and grovel some more!”

     

    • #27
    • October 11, 2019, at 11:06 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. DonWatt Coolidge

    cirby (View Comment):

    Donwatt (View Comment):
    Feel free to think that China provided the map and made ESPN use it. Until we see some evidence that this is true, I cannot.

    I’m pretty sure “billions of dollars” is good evidence.

    “Oh crap, the Chinese are pissed off! Change some graphics and grovel some more!”

     

    “Let it drop” is an option, perhaps the best option, because the argument becomes draining very quickly.

    If you think the map is a product of ESPN’s craven pursuit of “billions of dollars,” then provide us with the name of the artist, the line producer of the show, the executive producer, the executives that set the policy. And, most importantly, show us where the same map has also been used on ESPN. I’ll wait.

    And try not to argue from authority (“I’ve BEEN one”). It doesn’t prove this point, only that in the past you’ve BEEN one. 

    Cheers

    • #28
    • October 11, 2019, at 11:48 AM PDT
    • Like
  29. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    cirby: You might know a few artists, but I’ve BEEN one.

    You’ve been, I am.

    • #29
    • October 11, 2019, at 12:16 PM PDT
    • Like
  30. DonWatt Coolidge

    By “executives that set the policy,”I mean the policy as regards to the map. I’ve already said their corporate policy leaves much to be desired. They would rather this just went away as soon as possible.

    • #30
    • October 11, 2019, at 12:33 PM PDT
    • Like