ESPN’s Jemele Hill has made plenty of public comments since this fall’s controversies over her tweets calling President Trump a white supremacist (which didn’t get her suspended) and saying that Dallas Cowboys’ fans who disagreed with Jerry Jones’ anti-protest comments should boycott team sponsors (which did get her suspended). Her appearance on ABC’s The View Wednesday was notable on that latter front, though, as it seemed to involve her saying she wouldn’t repeat the Cowboys’ tweets more directly than she has in the past.
The clip starts with a discussion of the Trump tweets, where Hill basically repeats what she’s said before, standing by her claim of Trump as a “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists” but regrets saying that on Twitter. She then says she wouldn’t characterize all Trump supporters as white supremacists, talks about minorities feeling threatened, and gets into a bit of a debate with co-host Meghan McCain about the surrounded part; McCain asks if she’d consider Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who is black, a white supremacist, Hill says she would not, but that she didn’t say everyone around Trump was a white supremacist, and then starts talking about the current and former advisers she does consider to meet that criteria. The discussion then moves on to the tweets about the Cowboys (around 3:19):
When asked “Would you do that again?”, Hill responded “No, I probably wouldn’t do that again. And this is the problem with Twitter, as we all know, Twitter’s not a great place for nuance. I wasn’t specifically calling for a boycott of the NFL or of Jerry Jones, but I understand how it could be interpreted that way. And let’s keep it 100, my employer is in business with the NFL, and some of those same advertisers that Jerry Jones has, they’re also advertisers of ESPN. So I very much understood why I was suspended. It was not related to the Trump tweets, it was more or less related to that and to putting the company in a tough position.”
“You asked me if I would do that again, and I probably would do it a different way. I wouldn’t take it to Twitter. What I should have done, because we were having all these national conversations, was gone to ESPN and asked if I could write a column about it instead to kind of at least, with more breadth and more depth, explain my position.”
Hill previously told Jim Miller “I never intended for it to create the firestorm that it did. I thought I was tweeting something pretty benign,” said “it’s something I’ve actually said on television before, and nobody wrote about it,” and talked about the lack of nuance on Twitter compared to other platforms, but also seemed to defend the specific content she tweeted:
“I did apologize to Skipper, I apologized to my colleagues on our show, to Michael. And not about the content of what I said because that I was frankly never going to apologize for. So it wasn’t the content of what I said, it was the position it unfortunately put everyone in.”
This isn’t a full reversal of those earlier comments, and is maybe mostly a different way for Hill to phrase what she previously said, but it’s notable to hear her specifically say she wouldn’t make those Cowboys’ tweets again (something she hasn’t committed to on the Trump front, despite talking about how Twitter was perhaps the wrong forum there). And it’s also notable to hear her explicitly talk about ESPN’s relationship with the NFL and with sponsors of the Cowboys and the NFL.
That brings up the old debate about the divide between ESPN’s business and editorial sides, and there really hasn’t been a sufficient explanation from ESPN as to why Hill was suspended for these tweets beyond “a violation of our social media guidelines.” It would be nice to hear the company explain at some point exactly why one of its journalists wasn’t able to suggest that fans upset with a NFL owner could boycott his sponsors, or to discuss what their journalists can and cannot say about advertisers who might have a business relationship with ESPN.
Without comment from them, all we have is Hill’s comments that “My employer is in business with the NFL, and some of those same advertisers that Jerry Jones has, they’re also advertisers of ESPN. So I very much understood why I was suspended.” And we have to wonder if her plan to write a column mentioning a potential boycott of Cowboys’ sponsors from fans angry at Jones would have gone anywhere; would ESPN have been fine with that, legitimate commentary that didn’t violate its social media policy, or would it still have had an issue with editorial comments about potential advertiser boycotts? While this isn’t the biggest crisis in the world or the biggest issue at ESPN, their handling of that Hill suspension still doesn’t look great.
[The View on YouTube]