ESPN‘s handling of its latest controversy offers fresh evidence that the network will punish employees for expressing conservative views while liberal staffers are given a pass – regardless of how it impacts the company’s bottom line.
The company offered a mild reprimand of anchor Jemele Hill after she called President Trump a "white supremacist" in a tweet. But conservatives at the network have been punished or even fired for speaking their minds, and another personality recently got put on time out for simply musing that ESPN's obvious political bent is turning off viewers.
“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists,” Hill, the face of ESPN’s “SC6,” a relatively new version of SportsCenter with an urban feel, tweeted. Hill is an outspoken liberal who currently has a pair of photographs with Barack and Michelle Obama pinned atop her twitter feed.
“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”
The network issued a statement saying she'd been given a talking to, but there appears to be no meaningful disciplinary action to date.
“The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her action were inappropriate,” the network said in a statement.
Other incidents have been handled much differently at ESPN. Citing “sources,” Fox Sports' "Outkick the Coverage’s" Clay Travis reported on Tuesday that longtime ESPN anchor Linda Cohn was told by directly by the network’s president John Skipper not to show up to work after she suggested that the network has become too political. Travis noted that Cohn, who has hosted ESPN’s flagship SportsCenter over 5,000 times, was also told to stay home and think about what she said.
The rhetoric that Skipper reportedly wanted Cohn to ponder was simply a radio interview that occurred back in April when she appeared on 77 WABC’s “Bernie and Sid” radio show. The 25-year ESPN veteran was asked if politics played a part in recent struggles at the network, including mass layoffs and a drop in subscribers.
“That is definitely a percentage of it,” Cohn told the radio hosts. “I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”
Both ESPN and Cohn declined to comment when contacted by Fox News.
Why would politics turn away subscribers from a sports network? Well, in recent memory, ESPN has awarded its prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage to Caitlyn Jenner for coming out as transgender, spent countless hours of airtime praising now-former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the National Anthem and even removed an Asian-American broadcaster named Robert Lee from an assignment because of fear that his name is similar to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Meanwhile, outspoken conservative former MLB star Curt Schilling was fired from the network for expressing political views on social media.
“ESPN is an inclusive company. Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated,” the network said in a 2016 statement.
Schilling did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry was let go during the widespread layoffs earlier this year and has since become an outspoken conservative on social media. However, she claims that she was reprimanded by ESPN executives for favoring right-leaning tweets while she worked there.
In the pre-Trump era, ESPN took similar matters more seriously. Back in 2008, Hill was suspended for writing on ESPN.com, “Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim.” In less than a decade the network has pivoted from suspending Hill for comparing Celtics fans to Nazis to allowing the same reporter to call the President of the United States a white supremacist.
Former ESPN personality Jason Whitlock, now a host on Fox Sports, believes the majority of sports fans lean to the right. He has a theory for why the Connecticut-based sports network has turned to the left.
“I think that ESPN has chosen a lane politically… there's rumors that [Disney chairman and CEO] Bob Iger wants to run for president,” Whitlock said Wednesday on “Fox & friends.”
On Tuesday’s edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Travis quoted NBA legend Michael Jordan who once said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” However, the folks at Disney clearly don’t mind if right-leaning viewers find their sports news elsewhere -- and the network is losing subscribers in the process.
Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News.
Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.