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Volume 24 No. 217
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Trump Weighs In On Latest ESPN Controversy, Calls For Hill To Apologize

President Trump on Friday "demanded an apology" from ESPN after the net's Jemele Hill earlier in the week "called the president 'a white supremacist,'" according to Nolan McCaskill of POLITICO. Trump tweeted, "ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!" Trump's tweet was his "first comments on the dispute." White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday called Hill’s tweets "outrageous" and suggested they amounted to a "fireable offense" (POLITICO.com, 9/15). The AP notes ESPN did not immediately "issue a response to the president's comments." ESPN has accepted Hill's apology for her tweets and has "repeatedly said Hill's comments don't reflect the view of the network." However, that apparently "hasn't satisfied Trump" (AP, 9/15). In N.Y., Andy Clayton notes Trump's tweet comes as ESPN "continues to fight the narrative that the Disney-owned broadcast giant is too liberal" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 9/15). The DETROIT FREE PRESS prior to Trump's tweet posted an editorial cartoon focusing on the White House's reaction to Hill's tweets (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 9/15).

BEYOND THE BELTWAY: People from around the sports landscape weighed in on social media in response to Trump's tweet. Sporting News' Michael McCarthy wrote, "Donald Trump in trouble w/ conservative base over 'DREAMERS' deal with Democrats. Is ESPN convenient liberal bogeyman to change the subject?" The Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder: "Florida, Texas, USVI are reeling and N Korea playing with nukes, but someone on ESPN hurt my feelings. #distraction." ESPN's Jay Williams: "Out of all the issues our country faces, this is how you choose to devote your time?" The N.Y. Times' Andrew Das: "If Trump gets Sports Twitter taking ESPN's side in a debate today it might be his most remarkable achievement to date." Sports economist Andy Schwarz: "Today Donald Trump truly became the President ... of Fox Sports." SI's Richard Deitsch: "Congrats to all the FS1/Fox Sports Radio execs. Your work is done for today."
 
DENYING REPORT ABOUT REPLACEMENTS: SI.com's Stanley Kay noted ESPN is "denying a report from ThinkProgress that it tried to replace" Hill on Wednesday night's 6:00pm ET edition of "SportsCenter." ThinkProgress reported ESPN "tried to keep Hill off-air," but that Michael Smith "refused to host the show without his regular co-host." ESPN reportedly "asked two other black personalities, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, to host the show, but they declined." ESPN VP/Communications Josh Krulewitz on Thursday said, "We never asked any other anchors to do last night's show. Period" (SI.com, 9/14). Senior VP/"SportsCenter," News & Information Rob King said Wednesday was a "hard and unusual day, with a number of people interpreting the day without a full picture that happened." King: "In the end, ultimately, Michael and Jemele appearing on the show [Wednesday] and doing the show the way they did is the outcome we always desired" (N.Y. POST, 9/15). In N.Y., Nicholas Parco writes a tweet Eaves sent out at 4:30pm on Wednesday "is telling" in hindsight. The tweet read, "'Man.. this day got me like...' followed by two, red angry emojis and one yellow emoji with zipper over its mouth" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/15).

NO-WIN SITUATION: In Boston, Chad Finn writes it is "clear that this is a maelstrom ESPN couldn’t have avoided even if it knew how." There is "no doubt" ESPN "deserves a significant degree of criticism." It has a "history of inconsistent application of punishments for employees who are deemed to have crossed a line." It too often "appears as if ESPN bases its decisions on what it believes will appease the largest following." Finn: "So long as it tries to appease everyone by guessing what will cause the least amount of controversy, it will appease no one, and it’s certainly not winning any news cycles" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/15).

RUN FOR COVER
: The NEW YORKER's Ian Crouch wrote under the header, "ESPN Can't Win In Trump's Rowdy America." Monday night marked the return of Hank Williams Jr. to "MNF," where he performed the opening theme with Florida Georgia Line and Jason Derulo. The song featured Williams' "original blues-rock combined with modern country, EDM, and a lot of Auto-Tune," and it was "greeted with jeers, not simply because it sounded ridiculous but because, for many viewers, that sound was inseparable from what they saw as a series of bad decisions by ESPN."  People on the left "hated the song because it had too much" of Williams, while people on the right "hated the song because it didn’t have enough Hank, Jr." Everyone else "hated the song" because "it’s a mess." Crouch: "But it’s a particular kind of mess, and one that tracks with some of the issues plaguing ESPN." Williams was dropped in '11 by ESPN for comparing President Obama to Hitler (NEWYORKER.com, 9/12).