Offense of the Month: July 2016
I never supposed a top Republican could outdo Candidate-Presumptive Donald Trump in offending American citizens with political rhetoric, but I’m willing to name Newt Gingrich as just that man, and declare him to have delivered the Offense of the Month in calling for a national test of “every person” in America “who is of a Muslim background,” to be deported if “they believe in Sharia.”
On the face of it, this repulsive call, issued on Fox News on Bastille Day, is unconscionable and unconstitutional in equal measures, and across the board. It’s unconscionable in inciting hatred of innocent people — and on the basis of fuzzy religious criteria. It’s unconstitutional, by violating five major provisions: Continue reading
Offense of the Month: June 2016
He’s back — well, at least in my columns. He’s been daily on your other screens, I know, though we can pray that two or three years from now today’s junior high school students will wonder who he was. But at least for this month he’s back, having taken the art of offending to Olympic proportions.
The offense: explicitly asserting that a federal judge cannot be trusted to rule impartially because of his ancestry.
If you’re reading this years after the event, you can be pardoned for not remembering what is vivid to any American reading the newspapers or watching the evening news in June 2016. The Donald, we learned, doesn’t like Federal District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is handling two civil class actions brought against him by former “students” of “Trump University,” an unaccredited institute of lower learning that granted no degrees. Continue reading
Offense of the Month: May 2016
Have you heard the one about the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan? No, that’s not an insult; that’s his name. But just about anything else said of him can land you in hot water in Turkey, where it’s a crime to insult the Turkish nation or government institutions. Erdogan has used the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code more than 1,800 times to prosecute critics for insulting him. Sometimes not even critics — he went after a TV news network for running a headline “‘Dictator’ under Investigation” about name calling by an opposition leader (the news program put the word “dictator” in quotation marks to indicate it was simply reporting a statement made by somebody else). Made no never mind to Erdogan.
In early May he sought a preliminary injunction in Germany against the release of an open letter from the CEO of Axel Springer, one of the country’s leading media firms. The letter, written by Mathias Döpfner, supported the right of a comedian to ridicule Erdogan. The comic, Jan Böhmermann, mocked Erdogan in a long, sexually crude poem. Döpfner’s letter repeated some of Böhermann’s language. Erdogan’s lawyers pointed to an archaic provision of German law, paragraph 103 of its penal code, prohibiting insults to foreign leaders, a remnant of the old crime of lèse-majesté, once widespread, that counted as treason offending the dignity of the ruler. Continue reading
Offense of the Month: April 2016
Richard Emery, chairman of New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, which oversees actions of the police department, stepped down (“resigned abruptly,” as the New York Times labeled the move) on April 13, a day after the board’s executive director sued him for gender bias, specifically for uttering a misogynistic phrase.
The squeamish Times did not report the language, but the more colorful New York Post trumpeted the line cited in the lawsuit: “I don’t know why everyone is acting like a bunch of pussies.” (The New York Daily News managed to point to the offensive word, rendering it as “p—y.”)
Executive director Mina Malik claimed Emery’s plaintive cry was aimed at her and a female staff attorney in a conference call last September, during a heated discussion about disciplining two police officers for punching a man on a gurney. Emery insisted that the line had nothing to do with the women; it was, rather, aimed at police department officials who were on the call. That seems the logical explanation. And one wonders what would have happened had he had the discernment to call the department folks “dick heads.” But the entire brouhaha is an example of taking someone down for what he’s said rather than for what he’s done. Continue reading
Offense of the Month: March 2016
Whatever you do, don’t do it. At least if you’re a retailer that, let’s say, sells bathing suits, polo shirts, mittens, and whatnot.
Lands’ End thought to boost sales by touting in its catalog legendary people who would smile on the brand in return for a nod to their causes. Nothing really controversial. Feel good stuff that large numbers of potential customers would appreciate. Sure.
The first such Legend (and now probably the last) was Gloria Steinem, who talked very briefly about working on behalf of women’s equality. Not a word in the published interview about abortion rights. Nevertheless, customers complained that Steinem was an inappropriate designee because of her pro-choice stance over the years. In late February, to quell what she feared was growing outrage, Lands’ End CEO Federica Marchionni apologized, disavowing any intent “to raise a divisive political or religious issue.” But when she erased all digital traces of the interview, the company was flooded with even more angry messages from shoppers who vowed to buy their clothing elsewhere. Said one: “I don’t intend to teach my children that anyone should do business with a company that is ashamed to even talk about feminism.” Continue reading
Offense of the Month: February 2016.
Must be the silly season in Iowa. On January 1, Stanford University, the football team, beat the University of Iowa football team in the Rose Bowl, 45–16. But the Stanford marching band lost during half-time, judging by the howls of outrage from Hawkeyes fans. The band featured the typical smorgasbord of demeaning gestures, sendups, and mockery of the visiting institution, including a dancing cow. Nothing that anyone who regularly watches college football hasn’t seen before.
But these antics incensed Iowa state senator Mark Chelgren, Republican of Ottumwa. He introduced a bill that would prohibit the three state universities in Iowa from “collaborat[ing] or cooperat[ing]” with Stanford “until Stanford university officials publicly apologize to Iowa’s citizens and to the University of Iowa for the unsporting behavior of the Leland Stanford junior university marching band.” I’m unclear whether the senator’s sloppy capitalization was meant as a payback dig at Stanford: did he mean to insinuate that it’s but a “junior university”? (Stanford was named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr.) But Chelgren’s bill has a howler: it exempts from the ban all “sporting events.” In other words, the activity that caused the supposed offense is off the hook. Play football with Stanford all you want, including, apparently, leaving the band free to multiply its mockeries. But scholarly activities? Not on your life. They must pay the price. That’ll show them.
Offense of the Month: November 2015.
A little hard to classify, this one. You’ve probably already read the story. A black woman in a hoodie is taking morning exercise in the street in her neighborhood in an affluent Dallas suburb. Cue white cops. They suggest she walk on other side of street, or even sidewalk, to better see traffic, to be safer. They ask to see ID and radio police station for a “name check.” All in three minutes. Police leave. A few days later, woman, a professor and dean of the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism, publishes angry op-ed in the Dallas Morning News, claiming racial profiling: Continue reading
Offense of the Month, July 2015: The most widely remarked offense of the month was Donald Trump’s bad-mouthing Sen. John McCain for being held captive in a brutal North Vietnamese POW cell. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
The only reason that the McCain trashing trumps Trump’s Mexican bashing for July is that his declaration that Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists came in June.
Trump argued that he was justified in calling McCain out because McCain had earlier offended him, and others, in saying that Trump had “fired up the crazies.”
Photo by Gage Skidmore
Do politicians really take offense at remarks that are so far over the top they are likely to go into orbit (where the headlines went to meet them)? Apparently most of Trump’s rivals did, some of them using the fracas to screw up their courage to demand that Trump apologize, and others called on Trump to drop out. Fat chance.
Too early to tell if this moment will ultimately be called TrumpGate, but probably not, since four months later his poll numbers are high enough that, though slipping, it will likely take some other offense to topple him.