WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump went after ESPN in an early morning tweet, calling for the network to apologize and claiming that it is “paying a really big price for its politics” and that subscribers are dumping it “in record numbers.”
The source of his ire is one of its anchors, Jemele Hill, who returned to the network’s “SportsCenter” after being censured for calling Trump “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself [with] other white supremacists.” ESPN said that Hill “recognized that her actions were inappropriate,” but White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that she should be fired.
ESPN has seen subscribers loss in the past two years, by 7.4% to fewer than 88 million. Its total viewers fell 19.2% from 2014 to 2016.
The cable network had no immediate comment.
Hill issued a statement on Wednesday that “my comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. 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.”
Trump on Thursday continued to point to counter-protesters as also part of the problem when it comes to racial violence, telling reporters that you have “got some very bad people on the other side.” He ignited a storm of controversy in the wake of the Charlottesville violence last month when he equated the white supremacist actions to those of the counter-protesters. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) met with Trump this week to discuss the response to Charlottesville.
“He was trying to convey that there was an antagonist on the other side,” Scott told reporters after their meeting, according to CNN. “My response was, while that’s true, if you look at it from a sterile perspective, there was an antagonist on the other side. However, the real picture has nothing to do with who is on the other side. It has to do with the affirmation of hate groups who over three centuries of this country have made it their mission to create upheaval for minority communities.”
ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Company. Its CEO, Bob Iger, was a part of a presidential advisory board made up of business executives, but he stepped down in June after Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris climate accord. Iger also criticized Trump’s decision last week to end a program that allowed young undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States.
Update: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that ESPN “has been hypocritical.
“They should hold anchors to a fair and consistent standard. ESPN suspended a long-time anchor, Linda Cohn, not too long ago for expressing a political viewpoint. The network’s public editor has said that there is a perception that ESPN has become political and that has harmed the network. This is clearly a political statement. They should be consistent in whatever guidelines that they have set themselves in that front.”