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ESPN Violates Cardinal Rule of Web by Deleting Articles by Fired Columnist

Lots of people in the weblog community have reported that Gregg Easterbrook has been fired by ESPN for using his weblog to make a prejudiced statement about Jewish entertainment executives in a negative comment about the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill.

The facts that:

  1. both ESPN and Miramax, the film's distributor, are subsidiaries of The Walt Disney Company, and
  2. both Michael Eisner, Disney CEO, and Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, are Jewish and criticized by name in his piece

... did not seem to concern Easterbrook before he was fired.

The most interesting recent development in this ongoing story is that ESPN.com has apparently deleted all of the articles that Easterbrook ever wrote for them. This is a violation of a cardinal rule of web publishing. Selective purges of website content written by a person no longer associated with the site owner often gives readers the impression that something Orwellian is taking place.

The other problem with pursuing a strategy like this is that search engines like Google maintain large caches of content from many websites in order to improve Google's performance, as well as to provide a second source for temporarily unavailable published information. So, many of Gregg Easterbrook's ESPN.com articles are still available in the Google cache.

ESPN is within their rights as an employer to fire Easterbrook. But, they undermine their credibility as an on-line publisher when they delete Easterbrook's articles in an atypical way. Even The New York Times handled recent staff dismissals better.

If you run a business weblog, you need to think carefully about the implications of a situation like that which ESPN faced with Gregg Easterbrook before it happens. What will you do if an employee who has written for your site embarasses the company, and he is subsequently fired? Will you systematically delete all references to him? We suggest that this is not the best approach in many cases.

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