ESPN's JAMELLE HILL AND MICHAEL SMITH. PHOTO: ESPN
By: Richard Prince--"Journal-isms"
ESPN’s public editor Jim Brady recently stated that Jemele Hill (pictured right) violated the company’s social media policy in her tweets calling President Donald Trump a white supremacist, as Trump elevated the controversy by calling for Hill to be fired and for ESPN to apologize.
Black journalists, meanwhile, seemed largely to be standing beside Hill, especially after a disputed report by ThinkProgress that ESPN tried to take Hill off the air, but that potential black fill-ins would not go along.
The report named none of its sources and no other news organization substantiated it, but black employees elsewhere said they had seen managements try similar divide-and-conquer tactics.
Brady’s conclusion is just an opinion, as he is not a part of management. However, ESPN President John Skipper reiterated in an internal memo that “we have social media policies which require people to understand that social platforms are public and their comments on them will reflect on ESPN. At a minimum, comments should not be inflammatory or personal.”
Skipper added, “We had a violation of those standards in recent days and our handling of this is a private matter.
As always, in each circumstance we look to do what is best for our business.”
Brady explained it this way: “So, yes, Hill is a U.S. citizen who clearly cannot stand the president of her country. She’s far from alone in that view. But she’s also the high-profile host of a high-profile show on a high-profile network that is going through high-profile business and cultural challenges, and none of what’s happened the past few days has accrued or will accrue to ESPN’s benefit.
“With the salary and prominence ESPN provides Hill comes some responsibility to play by the network’s rules, and, in this case, she crossed the line set by management just five months ago, when ESPN released revised guidelines about political discussions.
“Included in those guidelines was the following:
“The topic should be related to a current issue impacting sports. This condition may vary for content appearing on platforms with broader editorial missions — such as The Undefeated, FiveThirtyEight and espnW.
Other exceptions must be approved in advance by senior editorial management.”
“The tweet that Hill was responding to when she wrote her most noteworthy comments had nothing to do with sports.
And for those who say that Hill’s personal Twitter account isn’t ESPN’s business — and I have seen a few suggestions to that effect — ESPN made it clear when I asked back in April that it considers social media accounts of its public-facing talent part of that policy. . . .”
Hill said as much in her carefully crafted statement Thursday when she wrote that “my regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light.”
In reporting Friday on Trump’s tweet calling for ESPN to apologize, “CBS Evening News” reporter Julianna Goldman noted that Trump had never apologized for his long insistence that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and called Trump’s current stance “straight out of the Trump playbook.” Goldman quoted from Trump’s 2007 book “Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life.” “When people wrong you, go after those people because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I love getting even.”
In the New York Times, Kevin Draper reported Friday that any disciplining of Hill “might be out of legal bounds for ESPN. The network is based in Bristol, Conn., and a Connecticut statute provides free-speech protections beyond the First Amendment, making it illegal for ESPN to punish Hill, according to some labor lawyers. . . .”
There might be a deeper reason why African Americans have been inclined to support Hill, Jarvis DeBerry wrote for NOLA.com the Times-Picayune.
“With the obvious exception of those whose shtick is publicly scolding black people, most black opinion writers and pundits are signing themselves up to be attacked by white people every time they dare to talk about race,” DeBerry said. “Jemele Hill, the ESPN co-host who White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders thinks should be fired, was getting that kind of backlash long before her Monday tweet that President Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has surrounded himself with other white supremacists.
“I haven’t seen a poll on the question, but I would bet money that if you asked black Americans — or, honestly, just Americans who aren’t white — you would find widespread agreement with Hill’s sentiment. You’ll also find agreement from some white people. Some journalists who covered Alabama’s Gov. George Wallace’s campaign rallies say Trump’s campaign events are nearly identical to those of that late champion of segregation. The question that always confronts a black person who thinks in public is this: Do I say what I really think? How much grief can I take from white people today? . . .”
Articulating Hill’s view is only part of being a journalist, Vanessa Williams wrote for the Washington Post in what CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter called a “must-read”:
“I think one of the fundamental responsibilities of a journalist is not only to report the news, but in reporting the news, to be simultaneously categorizing what is happening in society,” Williams wrote. “We categorize hurricanes as horrific for people suffering through it. We categorize mass murder as horrific.
The adjectives and descriptions and categories journalists use allow us consuming their journalism to understand it.
“One of the categories that journalists are reluctant to use, and which breeds misunderstanding and lack of understanding is the category of racism and white supremacists. To me that means journalists should be categorizing individuals, ideas and policies as racism. It will give people the ability to understand that in the way that we so freely categorize everything else. … If somebody pushes a campaign that attracts primarily white voters on the basis that he’s going to make the country in the image of white people again, we should be willing to categorize those actions as what they are — white supremacist or racist. If journalists are not going to do it, who’s going to do it?”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Washington Post journalist Richard Prince occasionally submits his column "Journal-isms" to "Media Matters." Prince's "Journal-isms" originates from Washington, D.C. To check out Prince's complete columns log on to: http://mije.org.