September 14, 2017

At ESPN, Jemele Hill’s Racist Poison Slides, While Linda Cohn Was Suspended For Frankness

Many readers here know that ESPN’s Jemele Hill, co-host of SC6, went on a Twitter rant earlier this week calling Donald Trump and his administration a pack of white supremacists. (Many in the press simply will not allow the fact that Trump has disavowed white supremacists and their ilk 55 times get in the way of fueling this non-stop smear.) Hill appears to have suffered no visible consequences beyond the equivalent of a wrist slap for her unhinged outburst. ESPN is of course free to treat its personnel as it sees fit, but how can it rationally justify basically letting Hill off the hook while suspending legendary female broadcaster Linda Cohn for making several obvious observations in a radio interview about the network’s finances and direction?

While the existence of Cohn’s suspension was kept quiet until very recently. Hill’s wrist-slap  apparently prompted a large number of ESPN employees to anonymously complain about the network’s obvious double standard.

On April 27, the New York Post reported the following relating to a radio interview Cohn, who has been in sports broadcasting since 1984 and with ESPN since 1992, did that day on New York radio station WABC’s “Bernie and Sid” show in the wake of ESPN’s announcement that about 100 of its employees would be laid off (bolds are mine throughout this post):

ESPN’s sweeping staff cuts are not just the result of ambitious TV rights deals and an overburdened budget, popular “SportsCenter” anchor Linda Cohn suggested Thursday.

The network may be losing subscriber revenue not just because of cord-cutting, Cohn allowed, but because viewers are increasingly turned off by ESPN inserting politics into its sports coverage.

“That is definitely a percentage of it,” Cohn said … when asked whether certain social or political stances contributed to the stupor that resulted in roughly 100 employees getting the ax this week. “I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”

Cohn agreed with the argument that certain sports fans may have disapproved of the way ESPN covered polarizing figures such as Roger Goodell, Colin Kaepernick and Caitlyn Jenner.

… Cohn, a 25-year ESPN veteran, toed the company line.

“You know, when you work for a big company, you have to follow in line, you have to pay the bills,” she said. “But you just kind of look in the mirror and do what you think is right no matter what else is going on around you. And that’s what I always tried to do.”

Cohn is a pioneering female sports broadcaster who actually played sports at a high level — first as a goalie on her high school’s boys hockey team, and then in the same position on SUNY Oswego’s women’s team. In 1987, she made “sportscasting history by becoming the first full-time U.S. female sports anchor on a national radio network when she was hired by ABC.” She rose to her current status by outworking and outperforming most of her peers. Early last year, she anchored her 5,000th edition of SportsCenter.

A Google News search covering April 1 through May 31 of this year revealed no indications that Cohn’s rather innocuous reading of reality resulted in disciplinary action.

That changed when Hill escaped meaningful discipline. Then the world learned that Cohn’s interview angered ESPN’s management, as reported by Outkick the Coverage (warning: mild profanity):

ESPN Suspended Linda Cohn, Let Jemele Hill Slide

Last night Outkick broke the news that Linda Cohn, one of the most respected women to ever work at ESPN and the person who has hosted more SportsCenters over the past 25 years than any other current employee, was called and told by ESPN president John Skipper not to come to work after she went on the radio in New York City this past April

… As comments go, virtually no one could disagree with any of what she said.

… Everything that Cohn said was supported by ample data.

But her opinion still wasn’t acceptable to ESPN’s bosses, who have been arguing, and losing the public battle, that ESPN hasn’t adopted a left wing mantra.

According to multiple sources inside ESPN — Cohn declined comment when reached by Outkick — ESPN president John Skipper called Cohn and screamed at her for having the gall to share her opinion in public and told her to stay at home instead of coming to work that weekend. Why was Cohn to stay at home? So, according to an irate John Skipper, she could have time to think about what she had said.

… most inside ESPN kept the Cohn story quiet until yesterday, when Jemele Hill received no punishment for Tweeting Donald Trump was a “white supremacist,” that Trump was only elected president because he was white and had the support of racists and that Trump’s administration — the cabinet of which features a black man, an Indian woman, an Asian woman, and multiple Jewish people — was “largely … white supremacists.”

At that point the floodgates broke and employee after employee reached out to Outkick to share the Cohn story and other comments. (Outkick granted them anonymity because they all feared being fired if they used their names.

For many the combination of the Cohn suspension and the Jemele Hill non-punishment was a breaking point.

“I’m tired,” said yet another employee, “of pretending this company is not full of shit.”

Based on falling subscribership, so is the public.

The portion of the media still trying to protect ESPN is portraying this as a situation that is only troubling “conservatives,” as seen in this headline at the Awful Announcing blog: “Conservatives at ESPN cite disciplining of Linda Cohn as double standard in handling of political commentary.”

No one with a brain is buying that attempt at bifurcation. You don’t have to be “conservative” to be outraged that an ESPN sports announcer would call the President of the United States and his entire administration a pack of white supremacists and escape any meaningful punishment while a pioneering broadcasting legend was told to stay home for a weekend for making observations, as noted above, “supported by ample data.”

All you have to be is a decent, fair-minded human being.

Cross-posted, with some revisions, at NewsBusters.org.

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