Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
The height of white privilege is being able to ✌🏾ignore✌🏾his white supremacy, because it's of no threat to you. Well, it's a threat to me.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
Corporate drama has ensued. First came a statement from ESPN:
ESPN Statement on Jemele Hill: pic.twitter.com/3kfexjx9zQ— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) September 12, 2017
“Inappropriate” covers a lot of turf. What it doesn’t cover is “incorrect” or “inaccurate.” As this blog has already explained, her description of Trump and his approach to race rests on a string of convincing examples, the most recent being his belief that there were “very fine people” on both sides of August’s Charlottesville clashes.
ESPN being ESPN, however, things didn’t end there. It’s been under fire from conservatives for sensationalizing openly gay NFL draftee Michael Sam; for bestowing a big award on Caitlyn Jenner; for moving its ESPY Celebrity Golf Classic from Trump National Golf Club; and for firing baseball analyst Curt Schilling after he posted his feelings about transgender bathroom laws. In a column last December about ESPN’s emergence as a political football, Public Editor Jim Brady wrote that some consumers were alienated by the company’s brushes with politics. Included in the column is this quote from Hill herself, “In 2012, there wasn’t quite this level of chatter. This time, you’ve got one candidate who is so polarizing, and, because of the racist and xenophobic views associated with him, it’s made it difficult to stay quiet about it.”
That was a mealy-mouthed way of saying that Trump is a racist. Hill’s views have clearly hardened in the intervening nine months. And that has turned into a management issue for ESPN. On Wednesday, Hill tweeted out these thoughts on the matter:
So, to address the elephant in the room ... #Facts pic.twitter.com/RTrIDD87ut— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 14, 2017
ESPN also played the statement game:
Here's the full statement from ESPN about @JemeleHill pic.twitter.com/IVAydvcwum— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 14, 2017
Upshot: Hill stands by her tweets. Asked to comment on this matter, an ESPN spokesman referred this blog to the tweet above. As for this sentence: “My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light” — the Erik Wemple Blog has no idea what that means. The comments and the public way she made them painted ESPN in the light of having an employee who is paying close attention to the racism of the president of the United States.
But ESPN is a goliath. It has been known as “Disney’s cash machine,” though cord-cutters are hurting it. It crawls with PR experts and executives with a lot of time to worry about optics. The line about “My regret …” is the patent product of all these folks: They have to come up with something.
According to ThinkProgress, ESPNers attempted to kick Hill off the air on Wednesday but didn’t get any support from potential fill-ins. ESPN struck back, saying that it never “asked” other anchors to do the show.
Now the president has asked for an apology. His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said on Wednesday that Hill’s tweets constitute a “fireable” offense. On Friday, she reiterated that sentiment and cited ESPN’s record of discipline against it. “The point is that ESPN has been hypocritical. They should hold anchors to a fair and consistent standard. ESPN suspended a longtime anchor, Linda Cohn, not too long ago for expressing a political viewpoint. … This is clearly a political statement.” Cohn got in hot water for criticizing her bosses in public.
Hill, meanwhile, has spent the better part of a week negotiating with her higher-ups to craft statements regarding a series of tweets that stand on top of a fetid pile of evidence extending back years and years. Through all the noise, those tweets remain on Hill’s Twitter account for anyone who wishes to view them. She may apologize to her employer for some platform foul, but she’s not apologizing to a president she sees as a racist. She recently told the Ringer, “I get an enormous satisfaction when I see somebody delete a tweet. And if I make you delete your account, I’m throwing a party. That’s even better. I’m like, I’m running you out of this social media neighborhood. You’re not running me out of it.”