Independent of ESPN needing to piss on Bill Simmons' corn flakes at every opportunity, there is no defensible business model in long form sports and culture reporting as a paid enterprise. I should know; I've been doing it as a hobby for the past decade, and it's paid less and less with each year, and that isn't going to get better with ad blockers and mobile use taking over. There's just no justification for paying a living wage for content, because page views for crud pays just the same, as Bleacher Report has proven for years.
There's also this: ESPN, as a business, is in real trouble. It's the dirty little not-so-secret of broadcast television: the ratings are going straight to nowhere, because there are way too many shows for way too few viewers. A successful nationally broadcast show on a major network might get 4 or 5 million viewers now, or about 20% of a show that would have been canceled for low ratings a few decades ago. The only success stories are mass-market talent and reality shows, a handful of outlier moments, and the live event work of televised sports. Which leagues know all too well, leading to hostage negotiation rights meetings, and an ever-growing number of competitors for those rights (hello, Yahoo).
ESPN can try to get that money back from the worst rip-off in America; the de facto public subsidy that is non-sports viewers paying for the channel as part of their cable bill. But with those cable bills now extending well past three figures per month, and people being more than able to serve their entertainment needs with just the Web, more and more people are cutting the cord. Or, in the case of younger viewers, never installing it in the first place.
The World Wide Lemur is owned by Disney, who sees it as a profit center that doesn't have the ups and downs of movies or theme parks. When Bristol isn't driving numbers, there will be blood... and the Web site doesn't drive nearly enough revenue. I'm just surprised that the bloodletting began and ended with Grantland, what will all of the other possibilities out there.
So sure, ESPN was devoid of a soul in doing this dirty and reprehensible thing. They also were always going to do this, whether it was this week or next month. It's not a business...
And in the long run, ESPN might not be, either.