Disney CEO Bob Iger says ESPN has become too political: 'The pendulum may have swung a little bit too far'
Disney CEO Bob Iger smiles as he arrives for the the annual Allen and Co. media conference Sun Valley, Idaho July 7, 2015. (Reuters)
Disney CEO Bob Iger admitted that ESPN has become overly political.
When asked by The Hollywood Reporter in a new interview published Thursday how the sports network has changed over the past year, Iger said that the network is working on reeling in its politics and focusing on sports.
"There’s been a big debate about whether ESPN should be focused more on what happens on the field of sport than what happens in terms of where sports is societally or politically," Iger said.
Iger then explained that its new president, Jimmy Pitaro, who replaced longtime executive John Skipper in March, is working towards refocusing the network. Skipper shocked the media industry by leaving ESPN last year when a drug dealer attempted to extort him by using his cocaine habit against him. Prior to his sudden exit, Skipper was reguarly accused of making ESPN a left-leaning network.
"Jimmy felt that the pendulum may have swung a little bit too far away from the field. And I happen to believe he was right," Iger told the magazine. "He has brought back some balance."
Under Skipper, the network was accused of various examples of bias, such as spending too much time covering Colin Kaepernick’s protests and awarding the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner.
Far-left voices such as Jemele Hill were rewarded with high-profile gigs, while conservative personalities such as Curt Schilling were silenced (Schilling was fired in 2016 after sharing a Facebook post regarding the North Carolina law that banned transgender people from using specific bathrooms).
Hill -- who famously called President Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter last year -- left ESPN this month. She also called Trump a “bigot” and “unqualified and unfit to be president.” Skipper moved her to the flagship “SportsCenter,” but she was eventually reassigned under Pitaro before leaving the network altogether.
Author Clay Travis, a frequent critic of ESPN, regularly referred to Hill and Michael Smith’s now-defunct, urban version network’s flagship “Sportscenter” as “WokeCenter” because the show regularly touched on politics.
“They finally have executives in charge of the business who have realized WokeCenter is bad for ESPN’s brands. Sports fans don’t want to see sports and left wing politics mixed ad nauseum,” Travis recently wrote. “The best way to cure a toxic brand? Get rid of the people who made that brand toxic.”
The network still employs anti-Trump former MSNBC star Keith Olbermann, but he’s stayed relatively quiet when it comes to spouting political opinions since ESPN announced his expanded role under Pitaro.
However, Pitaro hasn’t stripped all liberal talking points from ESPN. Last month, “First Take” co-host Max Kellerman made headlines by slamming Tiger Woods’ response to questions about President Trump.
“You have to respect the office. No matter who is in the office, you may like, dislike personality or the politics, but we all must respect the office,” Woods told reporters when asked about Trump.
Jemele Hill -- who famously called President Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter last year -- left ESPN this month. (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for ESPN)
Kellerman blasted Woods’ remarks, saying it was a “thoughtless statement dressed up as a thoughtful statement,” while essentially calling Woods dumb for having his own opinion.
“And it either holds in contempt the intelligence of people who hear it or else it’s just a stupid thing to say. … To say you must have respect for the office — Tiger, be clear. Are you saying that the office, therefore, confers respect onto its present temporary occupant? No. Having respect for the office means principally, in my view, is the office holder should have respect for the office,” Kellerman said.
Iger has long been rumored to have political aspirations and recently named "the most powerful person in entertainment” by The Hollywood Reporter. The Disney honcho was given 60/1 odds of winning the 2020 election by gambling website Bovada.
Fox News’ Sasha Savitsky contributed to this report.
Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.