There’s no simple way to exhume any sort of revealing or meaningful conclusion to the Jemele Hill-ESPN situation that came unglued this week. The added layers of semantics and protocol and accusations of preferential treatment and defending free speech might make the journey too bothersome.
It’s all going to go away with the next news cycle anyway, right? Not in this digital democracy and toxic political environment.
Wounds have been reopened, many of them self-inflicted by ESPN. New alliances have been formed or reinforced. As journalists are supposed to work in a hypercharged environment, the rules seem to be rewritten and lessons unlearned.
Any simple outcome already left the building when the White House press secretary levied advice to a private sports media company about what constitutes a “fireable offense.” Then the president couldn’t help himself by eventually joining the Twitterverse rhetoric chastising the network about its “politics (and bad programming)” and demanding an apology for “untruth” from his bully pulpit.
As Charlie Pierce deftly wrote earlier in the week for Sports Illustrated, this path seems to be leading us into “the outer suburbs of Crazytown.”
That’s already been amended.
“I think we now may have dropped right into the middle of Crazytown, actually,” added Dr. Dan Durbin on Friday morning. And that was before the White House called ESPN “hypocritical” and suggested it “hold anchors to a fair and consistent standard” all while confusing Hill’s situation with what recently happened to anchor Linda Cohn involving her statement about the company’s internal policies.
For better or worse, Durbin, as director of the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society, has tried to keep up with the hour-to-hour narrative, looking for teachable moments to use in his communications classes.
It goes back to the trigger point when a series of Twitter posts by Hill on her personal account Monday called President Trump, among other things, a “white supremacist,” without any sort of facts to back it up, only through her observations.
ESPN president John Skipper decided to go public with a statement about that, which only opened him up to more ridicule. Hill has since expressed “regret” about her comments “and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light.”
The two sides apparently agreed this is done, and Hill has remained on the air.
But to circle back a bit, Durbin…