Man with head in his hands

Twitter, Epithets and the End of Civil Discourse?

Ah, Roseanne, thank you for creating a national convulsion. I mean a delightful exercise in debate and an exhibition of the free marketplace of ideas in action, all on Twitter and Facebook. And, of course, we have cable news parroting social media commentaries on the subject while also trying to cover presidential politics.

And amazingly, all of these activities are intertwined with the president of the United States complaining about a TV network firing a star for making a racist comment about a former president’s adviser and another comedian apologizing for vile remarks about the president’s daughter. But wait, there’s more: yet another comedian getting into a Twitter spat with a CNN reporter.

This has got to be the worst reality show ever

As for the notion that Roseanne Barr’s dismissal from her eponymous show is some liberal media payback against conservatives, let’s start unpacking that by noting conservative does not equal racist. And, let’s recall how Kathy Griffin was tossed from CNN’s New Year’s Eve hosting gig for posing with an effigy of a decapitated President Trump. There are still lines people cannot cross without losing work.

If any employee of a good company walked into the office advocating presidential assassination or calling black people apes, they would be shown the door. And not because the employer wants to be politically correct. It’s because places of business maintain community standards and no one wants to be offended, scared or horrified while conducting business. Entertainers are in business too. If a media company doesn’t want them around, so be it. A business needs revenues and if advertisers balk or walk, revenues are lost.

Add to the lovely mix Samantha Bee’s comments about Ivanka Trump and the Trump administration strategy to dissuade illegal immigrants by separating them from their children upon crossing the border. Bee used a foul epithet for the female sex organ and suggested the president’s daughter flirt with her father to change his mind on policy matters. If, in response, Bee loses work because her show loses advertisers, so be it.

But, a distinction must be drawn. Griffin, who revolted many (including myself) by posing with a mockup of a bloody Trump head, piped up on Twitter today to argue with a CNN reporter that the White House press secretary should not have asserted, on behalf of the president, that Bee’s remarks are unfit for broadcast. I’ll give Griffin this: the government should not tell anyone what speech is allowed in this country. Granted, Sarah Sanders did not say Bee should be completely silenced or punished by the government. She just said the comments were unfit for broadcast. Oh, wait, Bee’s show is on cable, not broadcast over public airwaves! Nonetheless, I’ll agree with Griffin that Sanders’ remarks skirt a little too close to appearing as if the government seeks to shut down free speech. That doesn’t mean that Bee’s use of the c-word is not an affront to women or that Griffin’s assassination depiction is not insulting to our democracy (he was elected and no one should want to see a president of the United States killed).

Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech

The government cannot regulate speech in the U.S. But the marketplace can decide it doesn’t want to pay for speech it doesn’t like.

As for government’s duty to the citizens, I’m still waiting for Trump to apologize for bragging he likes to assault women by the p-word, for mocking McCain’s heroism, for a White House staffer mocking McCain’s terminal illness, for questioning a judge’s legal impartiality in a fraud case against Trump because of his Mexican heritage, for mocking a reporter’s disability, for encouraging rally attendees to menace the working press, for calling all Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, for falsely accusing Special Counsel Mueller of trying to meddle in the midterm elections while actually investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, for twisting a call for racial justice into unpatriotic actions, and for changing his positions like a weathervane in a hurricane. He also owes us all an apology for butchering the English language.

The tone is indeed set at the top and he is, in effect, forcing all citizens to watch his reality show, in which the president lurches from one policy position to an opposing one and back to the original one; calls himself pro-law and order despite disparaging our criminal justice system (while it investigates his campaign); arbitrarily threatens or imposes tariffs on trade partners, and, each day, scorches more earth (see presidential pardons), etc. Unfortunately, that list of incompetency and antipathy is growing too.

Next blog: Will government social media accounts be forced to retain dissenting posts or other negative comments?