Inside ESPN’s Jemele Hill Headache

Last week, on stage at Vanity Fair’s annual New Establishment Summit in Beverly Hills, my colleague Nick Bilton asked legendary Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger for the logic behind ESPN’s recent decision to support Jemele Hill, a prominent African-American anchor, after she tweeted that President Donald Trump was “a white supremacist who surrounded himself largely w/other white supremacists.” It was a poignant question. At the time, the N.F.L. was involved in some highly public soul-searching. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision last year to take a knee during the national anthem as a way of protesting social injustice had morphed into a larger demonstration about freedom of speech, as many players across the league routinely knelt before kick-off. As Trump raged about his displeasure regarding players’ decisions to express their First Amendment rights, the league’s personnel and even many of its owners had come together in solidarity, locking arms on the sidelines, or staying in the tunnel during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Yet Hill’s tweet, at the fore of this collective social reckoning, seemed provocative for a journalist. While Trump had been ushered into office on account of fervor from his ardent base, with undeniable pockets of racism, characterizing him as a white supremacist who largely surrounded himself with others racists seemed, if anything, like it ran the risk of journalistic imprecision. Denouncing Trump’s profound limitations, and the horrors presented by the primitive views of some courtiers, seems like the sort of notion best expressed beyond the capacity of 140 characters. Not surprisingly, Trump and his supporters called for Hill’s head, often in profane terms. (Even Hill herself would later express some penance in an essay written for the ESPN-operated site The Undefeated.) Nevertheless, Iger,…

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