On Wednesday, during a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called on ESPN anchor Jemele Hill to be fired for calling Donald Trump a “bigot” and a “white supremacist” on Twitter. Sanders told reporters, “I think that is one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make. It is certainly something that I think would be a fireable offense by ESPN.”
The authoritarianism on display here is alarming: The White House is calling on a media company to fire an individual reporter for criticizing the president. But just as troubling is the way that ESPN served Hill, a black female reporter, up on a platter to the Trump administration. Yesterday, ESPN wrote in a statement, “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.”
Here are some of Hill’s tweets:
None of these tweets are false, nor are they outside the norm of what journalists have been saying about Trump. He has called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” instituted a Muslim ban, given comfort to neo-Nazis and Klansmen, and revoked DACA for Dreamers. It is just a fact that Trump is a white supremacist who pushes for racist policies.
ESPN should have known that the Trump administration would capitalize on its cravenness. Unfortunately, it is not the only media company to fall prey to a “fairness” trap when dealing with a racist White House. Earlier this week, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reported that, in an attempt to remain unbiased, Politico vets the Twitter feeds of potential hires and discourages its staff from tweeting “partisan” opinions. When Politico editors were asked by staff about condemning white supremacy or physical attacks on journalists, the editors advised them to “try to stay away from those things because some of them are partisan,” a source told Wemple.
The main effect this will have is to chill the hiring and the speech of minority journalists at a time when they are needed the most.