White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemingly doubled-down yesterday to some degree on her criticism of ESPN.
Earlier this week, Sanders asserted that the series of tweets by ESPN anchor Jemele Hill, which included accusing President Trump of being a white supremacist, constituted a fireable offense. The president himself used his Twitter feed yesterday morning to call for ESPN to apologize “for untruths.”
Alongside Michael Smith, Jemele Hill is the co-host of the ratings-challenged 6 p.m. Eastern time edition of SportsCenter (SC6 or The Six) on the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” Hill reportedly receives a seven-figure salary from ESPN.
Although most of America may never have heard of Jemele Hill prior to the Monday tweetstorm, she has received a tremendous amount of support from the sports industry and the social justice cohort on Twitter for her anti-Trump online activity. Hill subsequently apologized to ESPN (but not to Trump).
During yesterday’s White House press briefing, a reporter following up on the Trump tweet about ESPN wondered if the president should also apologize for his involvement in birtherism (i.e., fringe allegations that Barack Obama was born outside the U.S. and thus constitutionally ineligible to serve as president). Sanders responded in this manner.
“I think the president has made plenty of comments on that front. I think the point is that ESPN has been hypocritical. They should hold anchors to a fair and consistent standard. ESPN suspended longtime anchor Linda Cohn not too long ago for expressing a political viewpoint. The network’s public editor has said that there is a perception that ESPN has become political and that has harmed the network. This is clearly a political statement. They should be consistent in whatever guidelines that they have set themselves in that front.”
Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis (who blew up the internet yesterday after his CNN appearance with Brooke Baldwin) broke the story that ESPN suspended longtime SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn last spring for suggesting in a WABC radio interview that the downward trend in ESPN viewership was partially the result of too much coverage of social or political issues.
Jemele Hill apparently faced no discipline for her tweets, although the ThinkProgress blog claims that the network unsuccessfully tried to remove her from the Wednesday evening SC6 broadcast, but potential fill-ins refused to cooperate.
“The Worldwide Leader has found itself constantly in damage-control mode, fighting off accusations of liberal bias as a result of multiple recent incidents, including Curt Schilling’s firing and a number of its on-air personalities — not just Hill — voicing their opinions on politics in general and the president in particular,” the New York Post explained.
Last year, ESPN fired outspoken conservative Curt Schilling for posting an anti-transgender meme to his Facebook page in violation of ESPN’s no-politics rule, which has since been revised somewhat. Ex-ESPN reporter Britt McHenry has implied that her conservative views might have resulting in her being included in the April ESPN layoffs, and there is also speculation that NFL legend Mike Ditka was let go after criticizing Obama.
Describing himself as a radical moderate and a First Amendment absolutist who has never voted Republican, ex-attorney Travis has derisively nicknamed ESPN as “MSESPN” and has argued that it is bleeding subscribers, in part, because it is pushing a liberal/progressive agenda on the typical viewer who just wants to watch a game or game highlights.
For whatever reason or combination of reasons, Disney-owned ESPN reportedly loses about 10,000 cord-cutting subscribers every day and lost about 13 million subscribers in the past six years. Cable and satellite providers charge each customer $7 a month for the ESPN channels, so the loss of income for ESPN — which is on the hook for $7 billion to $8 billion in telecast rights fees due various sports leagues — is massive. The red ink resulted in the above-mentioned April layoffs of about 100 public-facing employees, including on-air anchors, commentators, and website writers.
See also from the Inquisitr:
- Clay Travis Shocks CNN Anchor Brooke Baldwin With This Comment [Video]
- Jemele Hill Vs. Linda Cohn Reveals ESPN Double Standard: Clay Travis
- President Trump Is A White Supremacist, ESPN Anchor Jemele Hill Claims
ESPN President John Skipper issued a lengthy memo yesterday in which he stressed that the network is not a political organization, and that the company’s social media policies require staffers to avoid making inflammatory or personal comments. Perhaps suggesting that ESPN is not supposed to be a Worldwide Leader in politics, he also underscored that employees can express themselves when “sports and politics intersect.” He noted, too, without being specific, that a violation of company standards occurred recently.
ESPN critics like Travis and Fox Sports 1 analyst Jason Whitlock have, however, continually insisted that ESPN executives themselves created an environment that encouraged the leftward direction of network on-air personalities and which created a disconnect (literally and figuratively) with the ordinary sports fan.
In a long essay posted on the ESPN website today, its own public editor Jim Brady argued that the sports network has work to do when it comes to internal ideological or intellectual diversity in the aftermath of the Jemele Hill controversy.
“As to the larger question of ESPN’s overall political climate, I still stand by what I wrote late last year: If you consume as much of ESPN’s content as I have for the past 22 months, it seems clear the company leans left. I don’t think anyone ever made an executive decision to go that route as much as the personalities the network has promoted into high-profile positions tend to be more liberal, and as their voices are amplified, the overall voice has shifted with it. But I still think it’s a problem that needs to be addressed if ESPN plans to better navigate the intersection of sports, politics and culture, and if it wants to hold onto a larger share of its audience in these days of unbundling.”
After posting his exposition, in which he also claimed that Jemele Hill ignored company guidelines and put ESPN in a difficult position even though she has a right to her opinion, Brady spent a lot of time sparring with Hill supporters/Trump foes on Twitter who disagreed with his assessment.
If you are a sports fan, are you watching ESPN the same, more, or less than you used to?
[Featured Image by Carolyn Kaster/AP Images]