Huckabee Sanders Clashes With Press Over ESPN Comment, 'Stands By' Statement That Anchor Committed 'Fireable Offense'

September 15, 2017

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders clashed with reporters on Friday over her recent comment that an ESPN host committed a "fireable offense," standing by her statement in a tense exchange.

Sanders also took NBC reporter Hallie Jackson to task for interrupting her colleagues. After Jackson repeated a question several times about the ESPN story, Sanders told her, "I'm just asking you to be respectful so that I can get around the room."

"SportsCenter" anchor Jemele Hill received backlash this week for calling President Donald Trump and others in his administration "white supremacists" on Twitter. ESPN called the comments "inappropriate," and Hill later apologized to the network, but did not recant her views.

When asked about Hill's tweets on Wednesday, Sanders said the ESPN host committed a "fireable offense," a charge she stood by the next day. Critics said it was wrong for the White House to call for the firing of a private employee for criticizing the president.

Multiple reporters at Friday's White House press briefing asked Sanders whether her statements were inappropriate and whether she still stood by them.

"You said you don't have advice for a private company, yet you're giving advice to ESPN," Jackson said to Sanders.

"I said it's not my decision to make for a private company," Sanders responded. "I was asked specific [sic] about that individual. I made a comment, I stand by it. I think ESPN needs to stand by the standard that they have set in their own actions they've taken about previous employees."

"I really don't have much else to add on that front," she continued.

Earlier in the briefing, another reporter noted that Trump demanded an apology from ESPN for Hill's tweets and asked whether he is willing to apologize for "untruths" he has said.

"The president today tweeted out that he wants to see ESPN apologize for what he called untruths. By him saying that, though, does that mean that he is willing to apologize for birtherism claims that he called on for years?" the reporter asked Sanders.

"I think the president has made plenty of comments on that front," Sanders said. "The point is that ESPN has been hypocritical. They should hold anchors to a fair and consistent standard. ESPN suspended a longtime 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," Sanders added. "They should be consistent in whatever guidelines that they have set themselves in that front."

Another reporter then asked whether Sanders still stands by her comments.

"Do you still stand by your statement the other day when you said that what Jemele Hill did was a fireable offense?" he asked

"I do, and again I think they laid that out themselves by suspending one of their own anchors for political comments," Sanders responded.

One member of the press corps explicitly asked Sanders if she or Trump is calling for ESPN to fire Hill.

"That's not a decision I'm going to make. That's for ESPN to decide," Sanders said. "Again, I was asked about that, I think it is a fireable offense, based on the standard ESPN has set themselves. By saying people that go too far and make political comments have been suspended from their own network, I think that's a consistency that they should probably focus on."