Where’s Arash? Or should ESPN be laying low instead?

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Since his column last Wednesday on the life and partying times of LeBron James in Las Vegas was killed, ESPNLosAngeles.com reporter Arash Markazi hasn’t posted a story nor sent anything on his Twitter account.

Should we be worried? Is he on vacation? Paid leave?

Send to the woodshed?

Again, it’s perception, and ESPN doesn’t do it well with fixing that.

ESPN has declined comment on the matter but says Markazi has not been punished, according to the Sports Business Daily.

The SBD quotes “a person familiar with the situation” as saying Markazi won’t be suspended for failing to identify himself at a Las Vegas hotel, and thus having access to writing about some crazy partying by James and his group.

There are still more opinions on this floating around in mediaville, based on sketchy information and even sketchier motives.

On today’s Dan Patrick syndicated radio show, the former ESPN employee continued to take the skeptical viewpoint that the World Wide Leader in Sports is doing something fishy here, even as Darren Rovell from CNBC says James people did not try to stop this story.

“Here’s my problem with this,” said Patrick. “You put this reporter out there to go behind the velvet ropes and hang out with the celebrities. You’re there for three days. LeBron gets paid for an appearance. So it’s not like, ‘I’m hiding in the shadows … trying to hear what LeBron James is saying.’ And then you decide you’re not going to run the story, and then you put it on this reporter to say, ‘I didn’t properly identify myself.’

“This is what this came down to, in my opinion. ESPN has no problem running somebody else’s story. Hey, you wanna tape Jerry Jones in a bar after he had a couple of pops and is ripping some people? Don’t blame us. Somebody else recorded this. And now all of the sudden, you have a story that you generated, and that’s the problem. You want somebody to do your dirty work for you.

“And don’t hang this reporter out to dry. And I don’t know who’s running the news department there, but decide what is entertainment and what is news, because the lines are blurred after ‘The Decision’ 2010. Don’t cover this story in the first place, or run this story. And if LeBron’s not upset about it, why are you?

“You know what’s going to happen? I have Bob Ley and ‘Outside the Lines’ investigate ESPN and this story. How about that? Just turn it inside and let Bob find out exactly what happened here.”

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Added Patrick: “There are great news-gathering people and journalists still there. But they gotta start to right the ship here. And that’s not a good first effort. … ESPN is better than that. That’s what disappoints me. If you’re going to be the standard-bearer, or the world wide leader, then act it. Be what we look up to and where we go for information. You’ve sucked all the newspapers dry, you have all the reporters, you have all the tools there. Do it correctly because we’re watching and we expect this out of you. You’re just a start-up. Never forget, it’s information first and entertainment second.”

The SBD also notes a few more people chiming in on this:

Dan Le Batard in the Miami Herald: ESPN made the “correct ethical decision” in not running Markazi’s story, but when the net has “drawn nearly 10 million viewers by doing a recent infomercial with James, perception drowns reality, circumstantial evidence and cynicism merging to choke credibility … ESPN is going to look like it is protecting James here, even though it isn’t. … The irony here is that, in reaching for fairness, ESPN created exactly the opposite impression.”

In Boston, Charles Pierce wrote, “If Arash Markazi really did just sort of worm his way in without identifying himself, then the ethics of his work are problematic. I just don’t think that’s what happened. … (The public explanation for pulling Markazi’s story is not) anything more than ESPN’s trying to smooth over its well-cultivated relationship with James by taking the only avenue available to it — to wit, throwing its own reporting, and its own reporter, out the window … This should give pause to all the actual journalists working at the WWL.”

The San Jose Mercury News’ Gary Peterson: “However it is explained, ESPN comes off looking like an organization of witless amateurs and/or feckless enablers … (The explanation) smells funny, which leads to the presumption that the real catalyst for making the blog go away is ESPN’s deference to James, with whom the multimedia oligarchy maintains an unofficial partnership.”

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