At nearly midnight on Wednesday evening, Jemele Hill took to Twitter to address “the elephant in the room.” Of course, that would be the controversy stemming from Hill referring to President Trump as a “white supremacist” on Twitter. “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs,” Hill wrote. “My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.”
In “Deep Six: Jemele Hill and the Fight for the Future of ESPN,” The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis chronicles the dilemma Hill, the new co-host of ESPN’s SC6, has before her, writing: “This tension — between being the fearless opinion-slinger ESPN hired and honoring the legacy of a venerable franchise — isn’t just the kind of thing that’s on Jemele Hill’s mind. It’s the very dilemma of the network she’s trying to help reinvent.”
Hill had a right to her opinion—which was well argued in a series of subsequent tweets she posted—then and now. However, with respect to what if any discipline was due to Hill for daring to be both an employee and a Black woman with political opinions, the decision should only be made by ESPN. No outside influence, be it racist, antagonistic trolls or someone working for the administration of a man Hill rather astutely sized up ought to have a say in the matter.
Unfortunately, one White House official felt otherwise, using a gross abuse of power to try and sway a major network on how to deal with its employees.
Standing before the White House podium, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that Hill’s criticism of the president was a “fireable offense by ESPN.” In past months, we’ve learned of Trump aides complaining to media executives about anti-Trump commentators, but this was done in public during a press event covered by several news networks, and thus before an audience of millions. This administration is largely fueled by anomaly, but Sanders’ actions are as despicable as they are frightening.
A White House press secretary standing before a podium with the White House emblem to call for the firing of an individual citizen is not a tenet of democracy. It is yet another example of the Trump administration behaving as if we all live in an autocracy in which a large orange glob of stupidity and bigotry is the supreme ruler whom we dare never challenge. Furthermore, Sanders seems to believe the rest of us are as forgetful as she is.
Back when he was a television personality, Donald J. Trump had no problem using his Twitter account to label other public figures and entities racist, including Tavis Smiley, Bryant Gumbel, the sitcom Black-ish, sitting U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and, oh, the then-current president of the United States of America.
Imagine if President Obama’s press secretary had used the White House podium to say Donald J. Trump should be fired by NBC for spreading the racist myth that he was not born in the United States. Imagine all the whining that would have come from that hypocritical, racist piece of shit. The same goes for conservatives, who routinely decry “political correctness,” although they seem to only be offended by those whose politics differ from theirs. The hypocrisy is astounding, albeit totally unsurprising.
Additionally, Trump being linked to white supremacy is not new. It was only recently that in the wake of his response to the events in Charlottesville that the New Yorker, The Economist, and Time each unveiled covers that linked him to white supremacy. This is a man who themed a campaign around assailing Mexicans and Muslims and mocking the disabled. A man who claimed “some fine very people” showed up at a rally organized by racists to protect a statute symbolic of the degradation of Black people. A man whose failure to properly condemn hate groups gave way to a bipartisan bill practically pleading with the current president to publicly condemn them in plain language. A man with a detailed history of courting the support of white supremacists. And while some would counter that description by calling them “white nationalists,” as Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley makes clear, the distinction does not matter much given that ultimately, a white ethno-state is “still one in which whites would maintain supremacy over non-whites.”
Jemele Hill was right in her assessment. This White House is dead wrong for trying to get her fired for something far less offensive than, say, housing discrimination towards Blacks and calling for the death of innocent Black men by way of a newspaper ad. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, like her predecessor, is a smug sycophant with a sociopathic-like gift for lying on command. She is the daughter of another bigot, the sister of a dog torturer, and someone guilty of offering her own racist musings.
She is not in the position to feign moral superiority as a spokeswoman for the devil, nor is she right to use her position as White House Press Secretary to attack private citizens. If she can’t handle the truth, that’s her issue. Jemele Hill should be not fired for it. Sarah Huckabee Sanders can go fuck off.