SBD/October 12, 2017/Media

Public Editor Addresses ESPN's Suspension Of Jemele Hill For Political Commentary

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Hill suggested on Twitter that fans should boycott Cowboys sponsors
ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady in his latest filing addressed the net's attempts to navigate "political, social and controversial waters" in the wake of comments made by Jemele Hill on Twitter. It is "clear" Hill's tweets "about an advertiser boycott were the trigger" for her two-week suspension. Hill’s mentioning of an advertiser boycott and criticism of NFL owners "reflected negatively on ESPN, hence the suspension." But when it comes to this latest action by ESPN, Brady is "a bit perplexed." Brady: "I understand exactly what it is that upset ESPN about Hill’s actions." But it is "not the job of Hill ... to concern herself with the network’s business relationships." In fact, the "separation of 'church and state' is a longstanding core concept in any news organization worth its salt." So it "shouldn’t matter whether Hill’s comments put ESPN in a bad position with the NFL, any more than with the network’s excellent reporting on concussions that has done the same." ESPN has "dozens of journalists who spend much of their time chasing stories that don’t reflect well on the network’s business partners," and the net has "done a good job defending its journalists in those cases." That is why the company’s reaction to Hill’s tweets "should be worrisome to other journalists at the company." Brady: "I’m also not sure what part of ESPN’s social media policy Hill violated." Her Trump tweets "clearly violated ESPN’s political and election guidelines." Brady: "There’s nothing I can find that suggests Hill’s NFL tweets were in violation of any specific guideline." Hill’s suspension "seems to suggest that journalists should consider ESPN’s business relationships before speaking out, and that, in turn, does undermine the independence of journalists" (ESPN.com, 10/11).

ROCK & A HARD PLACE: In Miami, Barry Jackson writes ESPN apparently has "succeeded in angering everyone: the president, right-wingers who are outraged that Hill wasn’t disciplined for her 'white supremacist' tweet and now liberals who believe she is being silenced unfairly." What is "difficult to reconcile" about ESPN’s social media policy is that it would be "acceptable for Hill to suggest boycotting Cowboys sponsors on the air but not on Twitter." The message from ESPN’s statement, which "stretches credulity, is that Hill’s indiscretion was not her call for a boycott but the medium she used to advocate it." Players’ boycotting of the anthem -- and Trump’s criticism of the NFL -- has "made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for ESPN voices to address these issues without saying something that will be perceived as political and invariably anger at least a portion of its audience." ESPN needs to "recognize that reality and at least rethink whether it should allow those commentators to express those views on social media" (MIAMI HERALD, 10/12). In S.F., Spencer Whitney writes ESPN has been "fighting a losing battle in an effort to keep both sides of the NFL protests happy and instead, with Trump’s help, has succeeded only in further alienating viewers" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/12).

READING BETWEEN THE LINES? Al Sharpton in a special to USA TODAY writes while employers "may have the right to dictate how their employees behave in the workplace and on social media, it is clear that ESPN caved in to pressure -- pressure that came from the top." ESPN suspending Hill for "even discussing the issue takes things to another dangerous level." Sharpton: "What specific, established social media policy did Hill violate? Or is ESPN just making things up as it goes along and doing President Trump's bidding?" (USA TODAY, 10/12). In Toronto, Vicky Mochama writes the "preposterousness of Hill's suspension exposes the hypocrisy of organizations like ESPN and the dangers of being an outspoken Black person in media" (TORONTO STAR, 10/12).
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