Katie Rich, a joke writer for Saturday Night Live, was fired after tweeting on inauguration day: “Barron will be this country’s first homeschool shooter.”
Her job was to write plentiful jokes for the producers to choose among to air on the show. This one would presumably not have been chosen, but making it public drew a storm of adverse comment and she quickly apologized.
A New York Times article, “Chelsea Clinton and Others Say: Leave Barron Trump Alone” by Johan Engel Bromwich, 1/23/17, points out that the Carter, Clinton, Bush and Obama children were not spared in the media.
So what makes this case different? Is it:
1) because NBC and other media outlets are afraid of Trump’s vindictiveness and want to stay out of the line of fire? or
2) because there was something special about this particular message?
Fear of Trump would set a worrisome precedent, because then the media would be telling their employees to keep their heads down and pre-censor themselves.
Besides the inaccurate statement that Barron is being homeschooled, it’s the gun reference that really puts Rich’s tweet over the top, for two reasons:
1) Any humorous reference to the numerous school shootings this country has suffered in the past few years is unacceptable.
Gun violence is a really serious matter. The fact that Trump the father favors further circulation of deadly weapons, in keeping with his NRA patrons’ desires, makes this an important subject of policy debate, and protecting school children is part of the equation. Not funny at all.
2) The tweet seems to be suggesting that Barron would be shooting other members of his family, possibly his father.
When Obama was president, his foes were advertising and selling t-shirts transparently calling for his death by citing or quoting psalm 109. Verses favored by the anti-Obama t-shirt distributors were:
May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
Why the Secret Service and other agencies charged with protecting the president and upholding laws against “terroristic threats” did not shut down those purveyors of hate is a mystery. They should have.
The Rich tweet falls into the same category: appearing to envisage the death of a president (or anyone else) has no place in the public marketplace or social media.
Criticizing a leader’s policies, alliances, personal characteristics does belong in open discussion and is exactly why the founders created Freedom of Speech. So let’s use it!