The ongoing ESPN/Trump imbroglio regarding broadcaster Jemele Hill’s tweets about the president reached the White House on Wednesday, and on Friday morning, Trump himself weighed in:
ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
“ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming),” Trump tweeted. “People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”
The “untruth” to which Trump refers is presumably Hill’s accusation, tweeted Monday night, that Trump himself is “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” Nothing we write here is going to sway your mind one way or another on the truth of Hill’s beliefs, so read Trump’s statement as you will.
However, Trump is also repeating an often-used, and repeatedly debunked, idea that ESPN is losing subscribers in waves because it’s “turned liberal.” While some former viewers have doubtless turned away from the more progressive elements of ESPN’s coverage, the real truth is that ESPN is feeling the effects of its own rights-buying frenzies. The billions ESPN pays to broadcast the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, major college football, and so on have to come from somewhere, and that “somewhere” is tucked onto your cable bill. Many millions of subscribers, tired of paying for channels they don’t use, have cut the cord, and ESPN is feeling the pinch as a result.
So although the “ESPN’s gone liberal!” crowd can shout with volume, they’re not shouting the full picture. (For instance: a survey earlier this year found 19 percent of ESPN’s viewers said it’s gone more liberal, but 10 percent said it’s gone more conservative. The remainder detected no bias.)
Granted, ESPN isn’t helping its own cause at all by appearing to dole out differing punishments for different individuals along the political spectrum. But poor HR decisions do not equal an entire corporate philosophy, and again: even if the company were screaming liberal, raging conservative, or no-bias middle-of-the-road, they’d still be shedding subscribers by the millions—subscribers who never watched ESPN in the first place.
Hill has not backed down from the substance of the tweets, saying only that she regrets involving ESPN in what were her personal statements. (As for the president’s contention that ESPN has “bad programming”—well, that’s in the eye of the beholder. The “30 for 30” documentary series is some of the best work on television, while the shouting-match debate shows … eh.)
The ESPN tweet was part of a flurry of early-morning tweets from the president. So, in the spirit of ESPN, we close with a scoring chart of Trump’s tweets, as of 10 a.m. ET:
• Tweets since midnight: 7
• Tweets using exclamation points: 7
• Tweets using ALL CAPS: 3
• Tweets bashing Obama: 1
• Tweets bashing Congress: 1
• Tweets bashing “political correctness”: 1
• Tweets bashing ESPN: 1
• Tweets addressing the fact that North Korea just fired another missile over Japan: 0
There really shouldn’t be any more to say about this story, but there surely will be.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.