Ken Burns has a problem with the journalistic approach to The Last Dance, namely Michael Jordan's conflict of interest.
If you've been starved for sports, then The Last Dance has scratched that itch. The 10-hour documentary centers on the life and career of Michael Jordan, specifically the 97-98 Bulls and their last season together.
The footage was shot by a behind the scenes camera crew and has lain dormant for years.
It was resurrected by producer Michael Tollin and structured into this incredible series.
The reactions have been universally positive. Director Jason Hehir has delivered one of the most engaging long-form documentaries of all time.
Every week, my roommates and I gather in front of the television to relive the 1990s and Jordan's greatness. While Michael was worried we wouldn't like him after this doc, it's been hard to not admire his indescribable drive and passion for the game.
All he cared about was winning, and he put it above everything else.
Jordan was heavily involved in the doc. Not only is he one of the talking heads but he had a hand in crafting it and getting the final say on what's aired.
And that's part of the problem for Ken Burns.
For those of you who don't know, Ken Burns is one of the most famous documentarians of all time. His PBS series on Baseball, The Civil War, and Jazz are widely considered to be among the best journalistic pieces and documentaries of the 21st century.
But Burns has distinct problems with the journalism of The Last Dance.
Via Chris Kornelis of The Wall Street Journal, "Mr. Burns has been spending the quarantine walking, writing poetry and working on the seven documentary films he has in production. But he has yet to watch ESPN’s popular Michael Jordan documentary series, The Last Dance. The series counts the basketball great’s production company as a partner, an arrangement Mr. Burns says he would “never, never, never, never” agree to. “I find it the opposite direction of where we need to be going,” he says.
“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.”
Basically, Burns says that if Jordan is as involved in the doc as he says he is, that there can in no way be an impartial look into his career or his impact on the game. That's a valid point, but I don't think it's a reason not to watch.
Like any documentary, I think the audience is supposed to do their own research and form their point of view. No matter what you make, you always have a particular point-of-view that gets edited into the story.
It's almost impossible to remain impartial.
But given the episodes we've seen, I don't think we're getting many negative looks at Michael. We may not love his attitude or willingness to throw people under the bus or call them soft, but so far, Michael is the one throwing the punches in the doc.
We still have 6 episodes to go, so it's not fair to really make any judgments.
Most of what we can do is speculate.
And get on Google to find out more.
Still, the lesson in all of this is always to check the sources behind the doc. And if you're making one, think about who you want to be beholden to. It's hard to decide between giving access to someone or not having the doc exist. You have to make that hard call.
This footage has been around for decades and Jordan didn't embrace it being let out for any reason.
He did embrace this one.
So, watch with that knowledge in the front of your minds and feel free to do your own research.
Or just enjoy it.