“I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.” That was White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, from the lectern in the briefing room, calling for the firing of a SportsCenter anchor.
Sanders made that statement in response to a question about Jemele Hill’s Monday evening tweets about President Trump, in which she wrote, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists….Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.”
Hill, a former columnist at the Orlando Sentinel and one of ESPN’s brightest talents, didn’t address the controversy on her 6pm show. She did issue a statement late last night, saying, “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.” She has not, however, deleted her tweets.
Though questions about what journalists can and should say on their personal social media feeds didn’t begin with Trump, his rise—and the politicization of nearly all aspects of American culture—have forced the issue. Politico’s managing editor recently waded into this larger controversy when he told staffers that the company discards “dozens” of job applications over inappropriate or partisan tweets.
Hill is hardly the first media figure to associate Trump with white supremacy. Last month, both The New Yorker and The Economist featured covers depicting the president and the white hood of the Ku Klux Klan. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that Trump’s “ideology is white supremacy” in last week’s widely read Atlantic story. So why did Hill’s comments become an issue worthy of an official response from the lectern? In part, because conservative media figures like sentient hot-take Clay Travis and perpetually confused Tucker Carlson made it one. Some journalists suggested Sanders’s response was a deliberate attempt by the administration to distract from bigger issues.
Regardless of whether there’s some ulterior motive, Sanders’s comment is obviously troubling. White House officials shouldn’t be weighing in on the employment of private citizens. And while Hill’s tweets may have pushed the envelope, it’s worth considering the question posed by Washington Post reporter David Nakamura that led to Sanders’s response: “If the president was so clear [in denouncing hate after Charlottesville]…why do you think influential African-American figures are saying things like this?”
Below, more on Hill’s tweets, the reaction, and Sanders’s comments.
- Who is Jemele Hill?: The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis has an excellent and timely feature on Hill and her SportsCenter partner Michael Smith.
- Support from colleagues: Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch spoke with several ESPN employees about the reaction to Hill’s comments. NFL writer Jim Trotter was especially thoughtful in his response.
- Blame ESPN: Deadspin’s Samer Kalaf and Tom Ley both faulted “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” for caving to conservative criticism and not backing its employee.
- An “especially troubling” statement: National Review’s David French is no fan of Hill or ESPN, but he writes that Sanders’s comment in the briefing room was inappropriate: “Public officials should not be calling for the termination of private critics, period.”
- How this reached the White House: The Washington Post’s David Nakamura has an overview of the story, and an explanation for the context of his question.
- ESPN’s difficult balancing act: In the background of this specific story is a larger narrative about the network itself. Earlier this year, BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg looked at how ESPN became a conservative cause.
Other notable stories
- Jim Rutenberg’s New York Times Magazine cover story on RT, Sputnik, and Russia’s information war is going to be getting a lot of attention over the next few days.
- CJR’s Trudy Lieberman writes about the newest angle on the Trump administration’s “information blockade,” focusing on a directive that employees of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention not speak directly with members of the press.
- National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster issued a directive warning staff against leaks of material. Naturally, BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner got a copy of the memo.
- Huge British media story: For Esquire, Ed Caesar profiles George Osborne, the former chancellor of the exchequer who was fired by Prime Minister Theresa May, only to be appointed editor of the London Evening Standard.
- Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! for his first television interview since leaving the administration.