ESPN Fires Mark Madden For Kennedy Assassination Remark

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Mark Madden, whose acid-laced comments have made him a hit on ESPN, has now taken a hit: he has been fired from ESPN due to a comment about terminally-ill Senator Ted Kennedy that clearly crossed the line:

Mark Madden, who made his reputation with bold, outlandish attacks on famous people, has been permanently removed from the air by ESPN.

His dismissal, which came down from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., came five days after he made a scurrilous remark about U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on his 1250 ESPN talk show, which ran from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays.


The comment?

At the opening of his show last Wednesday, Madden said this about Sen. Kennedy, who days earlier had been diagnosed with brain cancer:

“I’m very disappointed to hear that Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is near death because of a brain tumor. I always hoped Senator Kennedy would live long enough to be assassinated.

“I wonder if he got a card from the Kopechnes.”

At the urging of station general manager Mike Thompson, Madden apologized over the air for his remarks about two hours later.

After initially reviewing the situation on a local level, Madden was neither reprimanded nor suspended. When asked if there would be some form of punishment, Thompson said, `No. The fact is we took action right away. Frankly, it was a comment that was stupid. He admitted that. I don’t think it requires any such thing as [discipline].”

ESPN had a change of heart, and it came from the corporate level in Bristol. Krulewitz explained the change of course

“We had a chance to regroup and review the situation and consider it more thoroughly from all perspectives,” he said. “This is the decision we have made, and we feel it is the right one.”

In other words: they probably got a ton of complaints, perhaps even from outraged advertisers. OR, they sincerely looked at it and decided the remarks were not just in bad taste due to the timing, but crossed the line and didn’t want the corporation to be associated with that kind of comment.

What crossed the line was most likely not the comment about the Kopechnes. Quite a few A.M. conservative talk show hosts have done riffs on that for years.

But saying even in jest that he wants to see Kennedy assassinated?

Not a good career move…
Washington Post sports columnist Leonard Shapiro says ESPN waited too long to give Madden the boot:

Madden made his comments last Wednesday, but incredibly, was not initially disciplined. Instead, his immediate boss, station general manager Mike Thompson, told him he had to go on the air and apologize. Madden did, and was allowed to keep broadcasting that day, and Thursday, though he did not appear on the show Friday on what station promos often refer to as “The Mark Madden Station.”

“The fact is, we took action right away,” Thompson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Frankly, it was a comment that was stupid. He admitted that. I didn’t think it requires any such thing as (discipline)…I had a long talk with him after the show and went out for dinner. He clearly understands my position. He was wrong. He knows that first-hand and he also knows that (management) is involved.”

Some offended listeners clearly disagreed, as did readers who learned about Madden’s Kennedy comments in last Friday’s editions of the Post-Gazette in a column written by Bob Smizik, a long-time Pittsburgh sports columnist. Smizik also questioned how ESPN, the sports media juggernaut, could possibly continue to allow Madden to stay on the air.

“Keep in mind that 1250 ESPN is owned by ESPN, a network that prides itself on high ethical standards,” Smizik wrote. “ESPN is part of the ABC family, and ABC is owned by Disney. It only can be concluded that no one in this steep chain of command, and they should have been aware of it, felt Madden’s comment merited punishment.”

ESPN clearly had been aware of it, and on Tuesday following a three-day holiday weekend, the cable network finally took action.

Prediction: This won’t be the last of this kind of comment by broadcasters. The fact is: shock radio makes big bucks for corporations, which will give their talent the boot if the reaction is too angry, but smilingly count the money as politically oriented talk show hosts push the hot-buttons of demonization to go after those on the right, left or center with whom they don’t agree.

Controversy gets ratings which can trump taste. But the risk of loss of audience share and advertising due to controversy will often trump the ratings.