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Ken Burns says Last Dance Is ‘Not Good Journalism’

The Wall Street Journal ran an interview with documentarian Ken Burns on Wednesday to promote his massive 1994 series Baseball coming to PBS’s video app. The paper took the opportunity to ask Burns his thought on the latest sports-themed documentary to grab headlines, ESPN’s The Last Dance.

Burns was critical of ESPN for partnering with Michel Jordan’s production company to present a story that is largely about Michael Jordan. “I find it the opposite direction of where we need to be going,” he told WSJ.

“If you are there influencing the very fact of it getting made it means that certain aspects that you don’t necessarily want in aren’t going to be in, period,” he says. “And that’s not the way you do good journalism … and it’s certainly not the way you do good history, my business.”

One way that Burns did compare The Last Dance and Baseball favorably was what it provides fans in sports’ absence. Baseball debuted during the 1994 Major League Baseball strike and filled a void, giving baseball fans appointment television, related to their favorite sport.

He says The Last Dance is filling that same void right now for a larger audience in a significantly more stressful time.

“I think one of the many aspects of this hugely transformative moment —and we don’t know exactly what we will be transformed into—is the absence of sport and the absence of that abstract, ritualized warfare that feels so good.”

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