Disney's Iger Says 'Empathy' Led Him Not to Punish ESPN's Jemele Hill Over Tweets
By Ben Fritz and Joe Flint
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger was personally involved in the decision not to discipline ESPN's Jemele Hill after she tweeted that President Donald Trump was a "white supremacist," the CEO said Tuesday, adding that he felt that recent political events outweighed the company's social-media strictures.
"We've got to take into account what we're seeing societally and what people are feeling," Mr. Iger said at a conference hosted by Vanity Fair magazine.
Ms. Hill, who co-anchors the 6 p.m. edition of ESPN's popular show "SportsCenter," tweeted on Sept. 11 that Mr. Trump and those he has surrounded himself with are white supremacists. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that tweet and others by Ms. Hill represented a "fireable offense." Mr. Trump also blasted ESPN, saying its politics were costing it viewers and revenue.
Disney-owned ESPN said Ms. Hill had violated its social media policies and that her tweets were inappropriate and didn't represent the views of ESPN. However, she wasn't suspended from her "SportsCenter" duties.
Mr. Iger said recent events have angered many Americans, particularly those who are black. "A little empathy in that regard would go a long way," he added. "I felt we needed to take into account what Jemele and other people at ESPN were feeling at this time. That resulted in us not taking action on the tweet that she put out."
The Disney CEO addressed criticisms that ESPN has become too political and should stick to sports and highlights.
"They're covering sports as part of our society, that's part of ESPN's charge, we've given them license to do that," he said.
Mr. Iger also spoke out on the controversy about National Football League players who don't stand during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Mr. Trump went after football players for not standing, saying team owners should fire them. Many black players have knelt or raised a fist during the anthem as a protest toward police brutality.