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ESPN and other outlets are grappling with calling out Trump and racism

ESPN's Jemele Hill, center. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

ESPN found itself in another political controversy earlier this week, this time becoming the latest news organization forced to grapple with where the line is on politics and racism after SportsCenter host Jemele Hill called President Trump a white supremacist in a series of tweets.

“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists,” SportsCenter host Hill tweeted on Monday in a Twitter conversation about an article about musician and potential U.S. Senate candidate Kid Rock’s frustration with being labeled a racist in part because he favors the Confederate flag.

Her critiques of Trump continued, calling his ascendancy to the White House the result of white supremacy.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Hill's comments "outrageous" and "a fireable offense" Wednesday.

Conservative media outlets including the Federalist and Breitbart jumped on Hill's words, claiming the network would have fired a conservative journalist who said something comparable. ESPN addressed Hill's tweets Tuesday but will not further punish her.

“The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate,” the company's PR account said.

Other ESPN hosts and personalities have addressed politics and race in recent weeks, including after the deadly attack and protests in Charlottesville in August. Without naming Trump, ESPN's “Mike & Mike” co-host Mike Greenberg commented on the president's response to Charlottesville.

“There are two sides,” he said. “There is right, and there is wrong. That's it. And there are no other ways, as far as I'm concerned, to look at it, justify it, and there shouldn't be any reason not to say so.”

The network was criticized for pulling broadcaster Robert Lee from calling the University of Virginia football team's home opener against William and Mary earlier this month because he shares a name with the Confederate general whose statue is at the center of unrest in Charlottesville.

ESPN isn't the only media outlet publicly dealing with how its journalists respond to racial controversies in the Trump administration.

Politico Magazine national editor Michael Hirsh resigned in November 2016 after posting addresses for white nationalist leader Richard Spencer. The Post's Erik Wemple reported last week that at a recent Politico staff meeting, reporters asked about the policy about tweeting their opinions on white supremacy and other topics that deserve widespread condemnation. Wemple writes;

“The editors’ message was very hesitant: Try to stay away from those things because some of them are partisan,” said a source in attendance. Reddy told this blog that the goal wasn’t necessarily to warn people off those topics but rather to refrain from “loosely” opining on stuff “just for the sake of weighing in.” The goal at Politico, he continued, “is to convey fact rather than bringing opinions.”

And CNN announced in June that its show “Believer” would not return for a second season after host Reza Aslan was criticized for calling Trump a “piece of s‑‑‑” on Twitter following Trump response to a terrorist attack in London. In August, CNN hosts including Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper excoriated Trump’s response to Charlottesville with no apparent repercussions.

ESPN may not approve of Hill’s comments, but a significant portion of Americans are concerned about the increased prominence of white supremacy and the president's role in promoting it.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a Trump supporter who recently criticized the president's response to Charlottesville, is hoping that his party's leader will soon grasp how real racism is for Americans like himself and Hill. And he'll spend Wednesday talking to Trump about ongoing systemic racism in America.

Even the Republican led Senate unanimously passed a resolution this week asking Trump to not only condemn white supremacy but put White House resources behind monitoring white supremacy.

You don't have to agree with Hill to acknowledge that she is not an outlier. With the percentage of Americans worrying a great deal about race relations being at a record high — 42 percent, according to Gallup — many wonder if the president will ever understand their concerns.