If anyone was wondering how far over the line someone must go in today’s polarized political climate to draw unanimous condemnation, we may have finally received an answer this week.
On Tuesday, just about everyone across the political spectrum blasted comedian Kathy Griffin for posing for a photo with a fake severed head of President Donald Trump.
It’s good to see the widespread condemnation — we could easily run through a dozen adjectives to describe how vile and out-of-line Griffin’s stunt was — but have we really reached a point in this country where it takes someone pretending to decapitate the president to unite this country?
We have to ask because, frankly, we were disheartened to see some of the reactions to an altercation involving then-Congressional candidate (now Congressman-elect) Greg Gianforte in Bozeman, Montana, last week.
Gianforte is a Republican and, a day before last week’s election, a reporter from The Guardian newspaper tried to get Gianforte to speak with him about a new government analysis of the Republican Party’s Obamacare replacement.
The reporter, Ben Jacobs, interrupted an interview that Gianforte was preparing to do with a crew from FOX News and apparently put a recording phone in Gianforte’s face.
If you followed the race in Montana at all — and how could you not, with all the political ads online and on the airwaves? — you probably have heard the differing accounts of what happened next.
Jacobs says Gianforte “body-slammed” him; members of the FOX News crew said Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him ... then began punching the reporter.”
Gianforte’s campaign, meanwhile, issued a statement saying the candidate had asked Jacobs to lower his recorder after he’d asked “badgering questions” and that they’d both gone to the ground when Gianforte tried grabbing the device.
“It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ,” read the final sentence of the statement.
It’s the inference from that last sentence that really bothers us — as if everything can be explained away by the reporter being a liberal.
This is no defense of bias and no defense of what’s derisively referred to the “mainstream media.”
Let’s assume for a minute that Jacobs is a liberal journalist and, as the Gianforte camp suggests, was looking to write something that portrayed the Republican in a negative light. Does it then somehow follow that responding to a “hit piece” with an actual hit is an appropriate response?
We have to ask, because there were plenty of people who suggested the reporter had it coming — from fellow Westerners to conservative talk show icon Rush Limbaugh, who offered a sarcastic condemnation of Gianforte’s actions.
“The manly, studly Republican simply didn’t realize that on the big stage you can’t do this kind of stuff and kicked the guy’s ass to the ground,” Limbaugh offered on his show last week, describing Jacobs as a “Millennial Pajama Boy” and a “125-pound thrown-away dishrag reporter.”
Washington Post correspondent James Hohmann — yes, one of those “liberal” publications — mentioned Limbaugh’s remarks in a column that suggested Gianforte’s win after the reported assault “reflects rising tribalism in American politics.”
Indeed, what’s more tribal than suggesting it’s all right for a big, strong member of your own tribe to physically put a member of another tribe in their place?
For those who’ve sought to justify Gianforte’s actions, we would ask, what if the hands were on the other neck?
One commentator on FOX News, Rachel Campos-Duffy, said the reporter “got a little bit of Montana justice,” prompting Republican pollster Frank Luntz to post the following rhetorical question on Twitter:
“If Obama had done the same to a persistent journalist, would it have been accepted as ‘Chicago justice?’” Luntz asked. “If you check the party affiliation of someone who commits assaults before deciding how you feel about it, you’re what’s wrong with America.”
Luntz’s second comment applies equally to both parties, which are often as interested in scoring political points as they are in standing up for what’s right. While Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan called on Gianforte to apologize, some Democrats wasted little time in demanding that Gianforte drop out of the race, blaming the blow-up on President Trump’s rhetoric about the media and seeking to portray it as indicative of the right.
Meanwhile, in this week’s fiasco, Democrats condemned and distanced themselves from Kathy Griffin’s over-the-line photo shoot, while some Republicans called for Griffin’s figurative head and charged that her photo shoot exemplifies liberals.
“This is the left today. They consider this acceptable,” Donald Trump Jr. posted in a tweet. “Imagine [if] a conservative did this to Obama as [president]?”
(We feel confident predicting Griffin would have realized the photo shoot was a horrible idea a whole lot sooner had the “head” belonged to President Obama.)
Incidents like these — and we can think of many others — highlight senses of justice and decency that come second to loyalty to one’s “tribe.” We’d suggest a better approach would be to try following the Golden Rule, treating others as you’d want to be treated.
People will always see things differently, but surely we can all agree to do better than body slams and simulated beheadings.