President Donald Trump demanded an apology from ESPN on Friday “for untruth,” days after one of the sports network’s highest profile employees called the president “a white supremacist.”
“ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming),” Trump tweeted Friday morning. “People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”
Trump’s tweets were the president’s first comments on the dispute between the White House and ESPN’s Jemele Hill, a black journalist who co-hosts “SportsCenter.”
Hill called Trump “a white supremacist” on Monday. She accused him of surrounding himself with white supremacists and said he is “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime” whose presidency is “a direct result of white supremacy.”
“He is unqualified and unfit to be president,” she said. “He is not a leader. And if he were not white, he never would have been elected.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday called Hill’s tweets “outrageous” and suggested they amounted to a “fireable offense.”
Sanders faced a series of questions Friday, and while she wouldn’t clarify whether she believes Hill should be fired, Sanders stood by her initial comment and accused the company of being hypocritical and inconsistent.
“I think the point is that ESPN has been hypocritical. They should hold anchors to a fair and consistent standard,” Sanders said.
She pointed specifically to Linda Cohn, who was told in April to take a day off after saying on a radio show that ESPN had lost part of its base by becoming too political.
Asked if the White House’s position is that ESPN should fire Hill, Sanders demurred.
“That is not a decision I want to make. That is something for ESPN to decide,” she said. “I think it is a fireable offense based on the standard that ESPN has set themselves by saying that people that go too far and make political comments have been suspended from their own network. I think that that is a consistency that they should probably focus on.”
An ESPN spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
But the company distanced itself from Hill in a statement Tuesday, saying her comments don’t represent its position. The company later said Hill apologized for crossing the line and appearing to speak on behalf of ESPN.
Hill addressed “the elephant in the room” with a statement Wednesday in which she did not apologize but expressed regret for painting the network “in an unfair light.”
“My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs,” she said.
Trump has continued to face criticism for his response to a fatal white supremacist rally in Virginia last month. The president received bipartisan backlash after failing to explicitly condemn the white supremacists, KKK members and neo-Nazis who clashed with counterprotesters in Charlottesville. He eventually did but doubled down on his original stance blaming “both sides” for violence that occurred.
He told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday that he maintained that position during a meeting Wednesday with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the upper chamber’s lone black Republican who had criticized the president for his response.
“I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that’s what I said,” Trump recalled telling Scott.
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