Mr. Smith and Ms. Hill went to Washington.
Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, co-hosts of ESPN2’s daily sports talk show His & Hers, recently attended a holiday party at the White House and were surprised to learn that President Barack Obama was familiar with their show and their work for ESPN.
– Jemele Hill
The party, for broadcast media who cover the White House and other invited guests, took place on Dec. 10. The invitation was a result of a connection made last year between Hill and Addie Whisenant, director of African-American Media in the White House Office of Communications.
Hill said Whisenant had been a longtime listener of the His & Hers podcast that preceded the birth of the TV program.
“She wanted us to develop a relationship with the White House because her job is to connect African-American journalists with the President and First Lady’s initiatives,” Hill said. “If at some point if there was an opportunity where maybe we could interview the President, she just wanted to make sure we were in a position to do that because she felt like with our audience reach and certainly the popularity of the show and the tone of the podcast that it might make a good marriage in terms of interviewing them and connecting them with us.”
Whisenant had told Hill and Smith that the president was familiar with His & Hers, but Hill was skeptical.
“I put that in the basket of ‘oh, they’re just saying that trying to be nice,’ and it wasn’t until we actually had the interaction that I could tell it was genuine and it makes sense because the President is a huge sports fan,” she said.
Hill and Smith met the President and First Lady after standing in a receiving line.
“Our interaction with the President probably just lasted a couple of minutes, but for us the surreal and crazy part was that he clearly, totally knew who we were,” Hill said.
“I wasn’t prepared for that and neither was Mike,” she said. “As soon as I extended my hand, he said ‘my favorite morning show!’ which kind of freaked me out a little bit, and then he was just very complimentary about my work and saying how he appreciated how I handled myself in a male-dominated field, and then the First Lady piped up and was like ‘I watch you, too!’
Hill knows the President is a huge NBA fan, so that became fodder for conversation.
“Before we finished with the photo, I said something to him about the Bulls having lost three straight, and he said he was disappointed and said its Golden State’s time now,” she said. “For both of us, it was a moment we’ll never forget. In this business you’re not speechless or surprised often, but for us it was just a tremendous experience.”