Well, the Jemele Hill situation has reached the point where White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has commented that her statements replying to someone on social media are a “fireable offense.” So things are really going to be rational from here on out.
At times like this, when segments of our great society are worked up and riled up online, I think it’s important to take a step back and get some perspective. Seventeen months ago, Clay Travis wrote what I thought was an excellent piece when Curt Schilling was fired by ESPN. And I know that there is often confusion over the sarcasm font online, so that was not sarcasm. Back in those halcyon spring days of 2016, when a large segment wanted Curt Schilling’s head after he posted a disturbing meme in regard to the North Carolina bathroom bill, Travis laid out his view.
I was reminded of that piece as I look back on the current lunacy, and think it’s important to reflect on that view today.
Indeed, this is a story that plays itself out again and again, on perpetual loop, for both public and private figures. Someone posts something on social media, a group that disagrees with that posting publicizes it to make their followers angry and demand retribution, and inevitably the conversation advances to the point where the company who employs that individual has to make a decision — do we fire this employee and end the story or keep them employed and risk losing business because we employ them?
Pretty prescient from Travis. It is playing out again. Jemele Hill called Donald Trump a “white supremacist,” among other things. Hill’s terminology may have been direct and abrasive. The underlying issues–such as Trump’s various remarks and handling of Charlottesville–are divisive. Thirty-five percent of the country hates Hill for her comments and another 35% thinks she’s just spitting the truth. The target has now been placed on Hill.
Back to Travis:
Almost always a corporation fires the employee and the story goes away.
That’s the standard operating behavior in stories like these. My contention is this policy is lazy and actually harmful to our public discourse, but I’m going to discuss that in a bit. In the meantime it’s important to keep in mind that with the rise of social media our public and private lives have become inextricably intertwined. It used to be that most of us had well defined public and private lives.
Jemele Hill, like Curt Schilling, made her comments on her personal social media account, but being a public figure, those got quickly conflated with her work and ESPN.
If I could change one thing about how social media stories like this are covered it would be this proposition that has become embedded in our culture — the idea that corporations should somehow be connected to the opinions of their individual employees.
This is manifestly ridiculous.
If anything comes from this story, I would hope that many reasonable people would begin to question this idea that corporations are somehow responsible for the individual political opinions of their employees.
That idea needs to die.
I agree completely with Travis and will join him in this charge. Jemele Hill does not speak for ESPN and we are going down dangerous roads when we conflate the two.
Now, Travis spent a portion of his piece talking about Schilling being disciplined for his specific political views, and not the act of speaking out. I do think, though, that this idea that the Jemele Hill story (in its current state) is analogous to Schilling in terms of termination is a false one.
I went back through our archives–Schilling had a lengthy history of social media posts and statements–so that the final straw came after previous discipline. Schilling was frequently involved in conversations that could be considered “political” and most of the time weren’t disciplined (sometimes others were for arguing with him). Then, he got suspended in 2015 for posting something equating Muslims to Nazis. He said “ISIS” won the Democratic debates. In a comment most similar to that which is now being discussed–and resulted in no discipline–he said Hillary Clinton should be “buried under a jail somewhere” during a radio spot.
And then he posted the meme/photo that got him fired about six weeks later.
Now, you can debate whether he should have been–we wrote right before ESPN canned him that he would win either way because he would then become a martyr–but he was a lot further and deeper along in the “pushing it” spectrum. Hill will be there if she spends the next year posting memes of Trump with a Hitler mustache.
And we know she won’t get that far down the road.
But at least she has one defender in her right to speak her mind on social media. Back to Travis:
Much to the chagrin of many of my left wing haters — who only support free speech when they agree with it — I’m a first amendment absolutist. I believe that you should be able to share any opinion in any way that you see fit. And I also believe that you shouldn’t have to worry about losing your job because of your political opinion that is privately expressed outside of your job.
I’m sure that Clay Travis, free speech absolutist, is speaking out now that there have been calls for Jemele Hill’s head from the White House. Talk about the time to stand on your principles and be counted.
Most importantly: does it really advance the cause of transgender advocates to demand Curt Schilling be fired for his opinion? I would argue the exact opposite, this makes Schilling a martyr for many people who agree with him and makes sympathetic people in the middle of an issue recoil. I think this polarizes a debate that shouldn’t be polarizing.
Sitting in front of a computer and waiting for someone to say or write something you disagree with so you can grab your pearls, squeal, faint, and demand they lose their job makes you the exact same as the people flooding their politicians with concerns about someone going into the right bathroom.
These are the people you say you’re fighting.
Except in the process you’ve become exactly what you hate, someone trying to silence the freedom of others.
And ultimately that should scare all of us, regardless of your political persuasion.
UPDATE: Here is Clay Travis this afternoon on Hill.