Here's the confusing thing: The tweet that got ESPN's Jemele Hill suspended on Monday was far less provocative than the one for which she received no discipline last month — the one that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called a “fireable offense.”
The “SportsCenter” anchor who remained on the air after calling President Trump a white supremacist has been benched for two weeks because she suggested fans who object to the ultimatum Cowboys owner Jerry Jones issued on Sunday (“if we are disrespecting the flag, then we won't play”) should boycott the team's advertisers.
In actuality, ESPN's move is unsurprising. Bob Iger, chief executive of ESPN's parent company, Disney, made clear last week that he made an exception when he spared Hill the first time. She wasn't going to catch another break.
Here's what Iger said at a Vanity Fair conference in Los Angeles on Oct. 3:
Jemele Hill is an ESPN employee, and she can't separate herself from that when she speaks publicly or when she uses Twitter to express her opinion, and so we do have policies against that. In this particular case, I did get involved. I felt that we had to take context into account. And context, in that case, included what was going on in America. And what I felt was going on in America — what we felt was going on in America — was that there were a lot of people out there that were outraged, particularly black people, at the fact that the promise that was given to them in the Constitution, “liberty and justice for all,” or the rights that were fought for in the Civil War, or the rights that they thought had been won in the civil rights movement were theirs. In other words, they had earned them.
And I think what they've seen in these last number of months is the opposite. And it's not only disappointing; it's — it has angered them. They've had a real need to speak out.
I've not ever experienced prejudice, certainly not racism. So, it's even hard for me to understand what they're feeling about this, what it feels like to experience racism. And so I felt that we needed to take into account what Jemele and other people ESPN were feeling in this time, and that resulted in us not taking action on the tweet that she put out.
In a statement, ESPN basically said that Hill ignored the warning she had received in September.
By suspending Hill now, ESPN appears to be trying to reestablish its political neutrality. The clear message from Iger's remarks, Monday's statement and the network's actions is that ESPN does not want to be viewed as endorsing Hill's first tweet or rejecting her second. It would prefer not to be viewed as taking any position at all.
The reality is that the network's inconsistent application of its social-media rules has opened it up to criticism from Hill's sympathizers and detractors alike.