It was only a matter of time before Donald Trump chimed in on Jemele Hill, who called him a “white supremacist” and a “bigot” earlier this week. Rather than go after the ESPN host specifically, Trump took on her entire network, and blamed its falling subscriber numbers on its left-leaning politics.
“ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers,“ the president tweeted. “Apologize for untruth!”
As usual, Trump just couldn’t let sleeping dog lie. The Hill story has dominated national headlines for much of the week, after press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders essentially called for ESPN to fire Hill on Wednesday.
It was an unprecedented move that might end up costing Sanders her job, after the Democratic Coalition filed an ethics complaint against her.
“When Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for Jemele Hill to be fired by ESPN, she crossed the line and put herself in dubious legal territory,” Coalition Chairman Jon Cooper said in a statement. “For Sanders to publicly call for the dismissal of a Trump critic is bizarre and disturbing, to say the least. If anyone is to be fired, it should be her.”
Aside from a statement in which it distanced itself from Hill’s tweets, ESPN has kept silent on the matter. There was a report that it sought to keep Hill off the air for a night until things cooled down, which the network denied. Hill also apologized for putting her employers in an uncomfortable position but stood by her tweets, which she still hasn’t deleted.
In other words, the story had reached its nadir, and was ready to drift away into the 24-hour news cycle ether. That is, until Trump tweeted about it. The president has a habit of empowering his enemies, and by attacking ESPN he did just that. The network actively wanted to distance itself from the story and has refused to cover it on its many platforms. But by calling the network out for the widespread conservative belief that ESPN has a liberal bias, Trump puts himself and his administration at odds with the network.
By reigniting the controversy, the president also wrecks whatever goodwill he may have earned for his recent outreach across the aisle. His tweet also turns strengthens Hill’s status as a bold new face in the anti-Trump resistance. What Trump also doesn’t realize is that ESPN is a much different entity than CNN. By attacking its programming, Trump is essentially asking his base to boycott a network that carries the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, PGA, UFC, NCAAA, and last but not least, NASCAR. In other words, this is a war Donald Trump can’t win.