In a blatant attempt to shift media attention to a polarizing cultural fight, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated today in a press conference that ESPN sportscaster Jemele Hill should be fired.
Hill came under fire on Wednesday after tweeting about Donald Trump:
Sanders called these tweets a “fireable offense.”
This is rather horrifying coming from a purportedly conservative administration. Over the past few years, leftist companies like ESPN have fired conservatives on a routine basis; ESPN has gotten rid of Mike Ditka and Curt Schilling, among others, for speaking out in conservative fashion. Yesterday, Clay Travis reported that ESPN had suspended Linda Cohn for speaking out against ESPN personalities going political on air. The entire right wing rightly went ballistic over the firings of Google’s James Damore and Mozilla’s Brendan Eich for their political stances.
Yet here we are, with the White House openly calling for the firing of a private citizen by a company for the sin of criticizing the White House.
Now, I think Jemele Hill’s comments are asinine, a warmed-over version of Ta-Nehisi Coates, as Jason Whitlock rightly stated this morning on Fox News. She has yet to name the white supremacists who surround Trump, or cite the evidence that Trump is himself a white supremacist. But that’s not fireable. This is still America, where government actors shouldn’t be utilizing their government platforms to call for the firings of private citizens. If ESPN wants to dump Hill for damaging their business, that’s their problem. For the White House to call for such a move, however, is pretty egregious. Imagine if the Obama administration had called for Ditka’s ouster.
And it’s especially bad coming from a supposedly conservative administration. That conservative administration is going to make the case before the Supreme Court that religious people should have the right to conduct their businesses in accordance with their religion. How can that administration simultaneously use a government platform to call for a private citizen’s firing over offense to the government? The White House isn’t firing Hill, to be sure. But they’re certainly acting in ways that aren’t in line with a free speech philosophy.
But the Trump administration can rely on people to react in knee-jerk fashion. Because a lot of people don’t like Hill’s words, they won’t mind Sanders’ call for firing. Which means we’re now in a race to the bottom between those who make free speech a secondary value and partisanship a primary one.