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Jemele Hill and the First Amendment vs. The White House

By Robert Simpson | Sports Editor
On October 2, 2017

Photo Courtesy of Sporting News

Jemele Hill, the co-host of ESPN’s broadcast of Sportscenter at 6 p.m. (also known as The Six), tweeted earlier this month that she thought President Donald Trump was a “white supremacist.” correspondence from the White House in response to her comments has raised questions about Hill’s right to freedom of speech, and whether they’ve been violated.

On Sept. 9 Hill tweeted, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” Hill later that day also sent a tweet saying she thought Trump was “unqualified and unfit to be president,” among other things.

Hill’s tweet was met with a mix of criticism from those who thought she disrespected the president and acted unprofessionally, and support from those who thought she had a right to speak her mind.

Hill’s tweet, after going viral, prompted a response from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN,” said Sanders during a White House briefing. Two days later President Trump also responded. He tweeted, “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”

Their responses to Hills’ comment were met with controversy. The white house press secretary's calling for ESPN to fire Hill or make her apologize was a violation Hill’s right to freedom of speech in many peoples’ eyes.

The First Amendment provides Americans with many basic freedoms, including the freedom to criticize the Government (freedom of speech). Calling for Hill to take back her comments or lose her job for making them could be seen as  ignoring a freedom granted by law.

When asked if the White House’s representative response to Hill was a violation of her rights, FAMU Communication Law Professor Leah Hunter said, “Yes, it is a violation (of) her freedom of speech. Freedom of speech allows you to be critical of the government…it is very disappointing to see President Trump and (Sanders) respond this way.” Hunter added that if Hill had been fired because of the response “it would silence other people” from being critical of the government and that it would set a “dangerous” precedent.

Although Hill kept her job, she released a statement via Twitter that said “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.” She also noted that she had unconditional respect for ESPN.

ESPN later added that “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. She has acknowledged that her tweets crossed that line and has apologized for doing so. We accept her apology.”

One important thing to note is that Hill did not take back what she tweeted, or apologize to the President for calling him a white supremacist. She only apologized for getting ESPN caught in the crossfires, and ESPN has not shown any sign of wanting to fire Hill.

It seems that everyone’s right to criticize the President via Twitter is safe, for now.

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