Tom Bradshaw

Self-censorship and the pursuit of truth in sports journalism: A case study of David Walsh

Issues of self-censorship and potential barriers to truth-telling among sports journalists are explored through a case study of David Walsh, the award-winning Sunday Times chief sports writer who is best known for his investigative work covering cycling. The paper uses a Kantian theoretical perspective to explore how sports journalists, including Walsh, implicitly use deontological and consequentialist modes of moral reasoning when making decisions about newsgathering and publication. Kant's categorical imperative is adapted as the journalistic categorical imperative which, together with the journalistic hypothetical imperative, is developed as a concept to explore the practical reasoning of sports journalists. Walsh's autobiographical writings about his sports reporting are analysed, together with the body of articles that he has written while a staff reporter at The Sunday Times. The case study aims to identify and highlight a range of ethical issues facing contemporary sports journalists, particularly self-censorship.

Keywords: self-censorship, sports journalism, David Walsh, Immanuel Kant, truth, categorical imperative


  1. Andrews, P. (2014) Sports journalism: A practical introduction, London, Sage, second edition
  2. Bailey, M. (2015) David Walsh on Armstrong, Froome and making a movie, cyclist., 28 October. Available online at, accessed on 20 July 2017
  3. BBC (2017) HARDtalk, 20 February. Available online as a podcast at, accessed on 11 August 2017
  4. Binns, A. (2017a) 'Fair game? Journalists' experiences of online abuse', Applied Journal of Journalism and Media Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2 pp 183-206
  5. Boyle, R. (2006a) Sports journalism: Context and issues, London, Sage
  6. Boyle, R. (2006b) Running away from the circus, British Journalism Review, Vol. 17, No. 3 pp 12-17. Available online at, accessed on 28 November 2015
  7. Bose, M. (2012) But can medalists write?, British Journalism Review, Vol. 23, No. 4 pp 8-11. Available online at, accessed on 28 November 2015
  8. Fearon, M. (2012) In pursuit of the truth, The Sunday Times, Culture 16 December p. 41
  9. Greenslade, R. (2014) How I brought down drug-taking Lance Armstrong, by David Walsh, Guardian, 28 January. Available online at, accessed on 21 June 2017
  10. Ingle, S. and Kelner, M. (2017) Chris Froome fights to save career after failed drugs test result, Guardian, 13 December. Available online at, accessed on 21 December 2017
  11. Kant, I (1997 [1788]) Critique of practical reason (trans. by Abbott, T. K.), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
  12. Kant, I. (2005 [1785]) The moral law: Groundwork of the metaphysic of morals (trans. by Paton, H. J.), London, Taylor & Francis ebook
  13. McKay, F. (2010) On doping and David Walsh,, 10 November. Available online at, accessed on 19 July 2017
  14. MacKenzie, K. (2016) The sports mafia that's kept Big Sam's secrets safe for years,, 29 September. Available online at, accessed on 29 December 2017
  15. Pugh, A. (2012) David Walsh: 'It was obvious to me Lance Armstrong was doping',, 11 October. Available online at, accessed on 20 July 2017
  16. Rowe, D. (2005) Fourth estate or fan club? Sports journalism engages the popular, Allan, S. (ed.) Journalism: Critical issues, Maidenhead, Open University Press pp 125-136
  17. Rowe, D. (2007) Sports journalism: Still the 'toy department' of the news media?, Journalism, Vol. 8, No. 4 pp 384-405
  18. Sefiha, O. (2010) Now's when we throw him under the bus: Institutional and occupational identities and the coverage of doping in sport, Sociology of Sport Journal, Vol. 27 pp 200-218
  19. Walsh, D. (2012) The program: Seven deadly sins - My pursuit of Lance Armstrong, London, Simon & Schuster
  20. Walsh, D. (2013) Inside Team Sky, London, Simon & Schuster
  21. Yin, R. K. (2009) Case study research: Design and methods, London, Sage, fourth edition
  22. The Sunday Times (2012) David Walsh scoops Journalist of the Year Award, Sport, 9 December p. 15
  23. The Sunday Times (2013) David Walsh honoured over 13-year fight 'for the very soul of sport'. Sport, 5 May p. 4

Note on the contributor

Tom Bradshaw is course leader and senior lecturer in Sports Journalism at the University of Gloucestershire. He studied philosophy at Cambridge University before becoming a journalist and has won awards for his sports journalism. He is midway through a PhD that examines ethical issues in contemporary sports journalism.