ESPN Suddenly Wants To Steer Clear of Politics, Kowtows to China

It looks like ESPN spells “hypocrisy.”

The supposedly sports network has infuriated conservatives for years by serving up a reliably liberal take on current events while making a pretense of being apolitical.

But now, its executives have taken a hard line against on-air personalities actually talking about politics when the topic is a specifically political issue – in this case, the battle between the repressive Chinese government and protesters in Hong Kong.

According to Deadspin, Chuck Salituro, ESPN’s senior news director, has issued a memo to all ESPN programs that deal with the story about a tweet by the general manager of the Houston Rockets that has resulted in a rupture of the relationship between the NBA and the Chinese market it covets.

As Deadspin’s Laura Wagner reported:

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“The memo, obtained by Deadspin, explicitly discouraged any political discussion about China and Hong Kong. Multiple ESPN sources confirmed to Deadspin that network higher-ups were keeping a close eye on how the topic was discussed on ESPN’s airwaves.”

Now, the NBA’s handling of the tweet by the Rockets’ Daryl Morey is already a disgrace of its own.

Besides the fact that Morey deleted his tweet and apologized and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta disavowed his employee, the NBA issued its own cringe-worthy statement hoping to appease Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s hypersensitive commissars.

“We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable,” the league said.

Considering that China is the NBA’s largest overseas market and that, as The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, the Chinese government and large Chinese businesses have suspended operations with the NBA, that’s undeniably a news story.

It’s also undeniably a story about China’s internal politics and the fact that the Beijing government is working to crush what freedom Hong Kong has been able to hold onto since the former British colony became politically part of mainland China again in 1997.

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But according to Deadspin, ESPN’s personalities are forbidden from discussing that rather crucial aspect of the story.

It’s not like ESPN has been shy in the past about getting into politics.

Last year, for instance, it used its “Body Issue” to highlight soccer player Megan Rapinoe. Even then, before this year’s women’s World Cup tournament made her practically a Donald Trump-hating household name, Rapinoe was known for taking a knee for the national anthem.

And, of course, there was the presence of radical leftist Jemele Hill, who was tolerated at the network for years before she left for even the even more liberal confines of The Atlantic magazine.

The difference could well be that ESPN’s parent company, Disney, has a good deal more at risk when it comes to China than it does simply offending American conservatives.

Do you think ESPN is hypocritical for its treatment of Chinese politics?

As The Washington Post reported Tuesday, China has little hesitation about punishing Western companies it sees as taking the wrong stance on the Hong Kong protests.

For Disney — and all major motion picture companies — China is a vast market for film exports. Even in the face of the current trade war between China and the Trump administration, Disney has been able to maintain its presence, The Post reported.

It’s a good bet that the executives at Disney didn’t want any blabbermouth at ESPN rocking its Far East boat.

For ESPN, apparently, sports and politics are separate, except when it comes to pushing the liberal line on internal American disputes.

(That’s how it can rate conservative Curt Schilling bad enough to fire but liberal Keith Olbermann good enough to hire.)

When it comes to the possibility of disturbing a mega-market like China by upsetting its communist rulers, though, the wall goes up again — and memos come out from the top office to remind everybody exactly what is what.

Sometimes you can’t spell hypocrisy with ESPN.

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