The White House Is Wrong: Linda Cohn and Jemele Hill Are Not Totally Analogous


For the second day out of three, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has gone after ESPN for not disciplining Jemele Hill (President Trump had his own thoughts this morning). Here’s today’s installment:

The White House doubles down: 'ESPN has been hypocritical. They should hold anchors to a fair and consistent standard'

— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 15, 2017

“ESPN suspended longtime anchor Linda Cohn not too long ago for expressing a political viewpoint,” Sanders said, in asking for the network to maintain discipline consistency.

First of all, Hill did flagrantly violate ESPN’s social media policy, which expressly forbade her from making the comments that she did. So, even though her bosses at ESPN likely agree with the substance of her remarks, with the current divisive climate and the pressure the network was already under not to be painted as liberal partisans in an arena that many of its viewers cling to as an escape from politics, it’s safe to say that leadership was irate Hill put them in this position. They came very close to disciplining her, but ultimately opted against it at the eleventh hour. I’m glad I didn’t have to be the person making that decision because there was nothing to be done to avoid making half the country mad at that point. (ESPN instead chose to split the baby in half, and make everyone upset.)

But to say that this circumstance and what Linda Cohn said are both apples would be incorrect. Click here for a full description of what Cohn said; to summarize, she said that ESPN “definitely overpaid” for rights deals with the NBA and Pac-12, that “old school viewers were put in a corner and not appreciated” in ESPN’s talent layoff decisions, and that anyone who wants to ignore viewer distaste for ESPN’s political talk is “blind”.

It’s not as though Cohn was suspended — the semantics of which ESPN debates, as she was told to stay home but may not have formally missed a paycheck — for being pro-Trump or anti-Democrat; she publicly criticized the leadership of the company. You may agree that everything she said was accurate, and you may think that Jemele Hill deserved to be punished for calling Donald Trump a white supremacist in violation of company social media policy, but these two situations aren’t really the same thing.