U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

White House press secretary says tweets criticizing Trump are 'a fireable offense'

Incident Details

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S. September 12, 2017.

— REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
September 13, 2017

At a White House press briefing on Sept. 13, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that it should be a “fireable offense” for ESPN sports journalist Jemele Hill to criticize President Trump on Twitter.

On Sept. 11, Hill tweeted that Trump was “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

During the Sept. 13 briefing, a reporter asked Sanders whether the president was aware of Hill’s tweet.

“I’m not sure if he’s aware, but I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly something that is a fireable offense by ESPN,” she said.

Later that day, Hill later tweeted a public apology.

"My comments on Twitter reflected my personal beliefs," she said. "My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional."

Shortly after, ESPN released its own statement, distancing itself from Hill’s comments.

“Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN,” the statement said. “She has acknowledged that her tweets crossed that line and has apologized for doing so. We accept her apology.”

A Super PAC named The Democratic Coalition has filed an ethics complaint with the Office of Government Ethics against Sanders. Coalition Chairman Jon Cooper told TheWrap, “When Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for Jemele Hill to be fired by ESPN, she crossed the line and put herself in dubious legal territory.” 

On Sept. 15, Trump criticized ESPN on Twitter.

On Oct. 9, ESPN announced that it had suspended Hill for two weeks in response to a tweet about a potential boycott of companies advertising with the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones, the owner and general manager of the Cowboys, is reportedly close to Trump and received praise from the president after he threatened NFL players who refused to stand during the national anthem.

“Jemele Hill has been suspended for two weeks for a second violation of our social media guidelines,” the network said in a statement. “She previously acknowledged letting her colleagues and company down with an impulsive tweet. In the aftermath, all employees were reminded of how individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such actions would have consequences. Hence this decision.”

On Oct. 10, President Trump once again criticized ESPN and Hill on Twitter.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].