The recent still-rolling ethics train wreck launched by ESPN “SportsCenter” co-host Jemele Hill is a perfect example of how such cultural fiascos occur.
Hill, a young African American woman, went on a Twitter rant against President Trump this week.
“Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime,” Hill tweeted Monday night. “His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period. He is unqualified and unfit to be president. He is not a leader. And if he were not white, he never would have been elected.”
Factors, Stage I: The Instigator
A. An ethics alarms doesn’t ring.
Why in the world would Hill think that the face of a national broadcast network could publicly call the President of the United States a white supremacist without causing a problem for her employer? The key ethics values being breached are trust and responsibility. She has a responsibility to ESPN, which should be able to trust her not to harm it or upset viewers.
B. An instigator has an inflated view of his or her own importance, indispensability, wisdom, expertise or authority.
We are living in an age where narcissism is epidemic, but even so, a sports anchor has to be able to comprehend that once he or she is outside the realm of sports, her opinion on the President or anyone else cannot possibly have a positive effect on public discourse unless it is carefully crafted, thought out, and expressed.
The key ethics values being breached are competence and humility.
C. Social media.
Any public figure, including TV personalities, should not use social media until they recognize that a flamboyant post is the equivalent of a press release. Attacking the President, especially in personal terms, is stupid, even when the attack itself isn’t as stupid as Hill’s. (Uh, Jemele ? President Obama would never have gotten to within a baseball throw (remember, we saw him throw a baseball) of the White House, or even the nomination, if he were not black. Before him, no candidate, successful or not, for President would have been elected if wasn’t white, or male for that matter. Or Jewish. The accusation if Trump were “not white, he never would have been elected” is really, really stupid.
The key ethics value being breached is competence.
D. Corrupting cultural influences.
Too many of Hill’s likely peer groups and those around her have, since last November 8, engaged in nearly continuous disrespect of the President’s person, his office, and the process that elected him. This continues to be divisive, destructive, and dangerous for the nation. It is wrong. The culture is giving her terrible role models, like Maxine Waters, celebrities on Hollywood award shows, and Stephen Colbert, who, for example, thought that it was a appropriate and hilarious to repeatedly give the “Heil!” salute on his show as an insult to the President. CBS (unethically) lets him get away with this kind of thing, because it embraces the Star Syndrome, or the King’s Pass, rather than ethical principles.
The key ethics value being breached is citizenship. Hill has been misled into thinking that amplified hateful conduct and rhetoric toward a President is appropriate conduct for any U.S. citizen. it isn’t. It is even more inappropriate for prominent Americans in the media.
Stage Two: Failed Containment
ESPN’s response was this: “The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate.”
This made the problem worse. Why? Because ESPN had, more than once, suspended or fired prominent personnel for far less “inappropriate” public comments than what Hill said. Thus it appeared to shrug off a personal attack on the President, including accusations of racism.
Factors, Stage Two
A. Inept Ethics Chess
How could ESPN, already under fire for politicizing its sports reporting (and losing viewers as a result) not realize that an ethics train wreck was starting to roll, and that it could either stop it, or accelerate it? Hill had made sure that no matter what it did, it would be attacked, but no valid attacks would land if it said, “As we have in the past when on-air personnel have made inflammatory statements about public figures and issues unrelated to sports, ESPN has suspended Jamele Hill for her comments about President Trump.”
The key ethics values being breached are competence and fairness.
B. Bias makes you stupid.
ESPN and its parent company Disney is largely run and populated by Democrats, progressives and liberals who detest President Trump, and thus have their values paralyzed by bias in everything related to him. Echo chamber or no, they should recognize this by now, and adjust accordingly. Everyone has to recognize the biases that lead to bad decision-making. In addition, one is in immediate peril of unethical conduct when one refused to respect the choices and views of fellow citizens, especially when you purport to provide services and products to all
The key ethics values being breached are trust, competence and fairness.
C. Unethical messaging
As a business, employer and a prominent presence in the culture, ESPN has an obligation to send clear, positive, responsible messages to its employees, audience and the public at large. Ugh. Here are some of the messages a reasonable person could derive from the networks bland reaction to Hill’s rant:
If you are female and black, you can pretty much get away with saying controversial stuff that a white man can’t. (See: Curt Schilling)
ESPN thinks the President and half the population and probably more than half its audience is racist, but would prefer employees not broadcast that fact, because it is inappropriate.
ESPN hires self-righteous political grandstanders rather than competent sports commentators.
ESPN has double standards.
ESPN has no standards.
ESPN is run by a confederacy of gerbils.
Here is the message that ESPN, if it were responsible, trustworthy, fair and competent while respecting its viewers, should have sent with whatever action it chose to take regarding Hill: Continue reading