July 31, 2020

Midsummer Night’s Scream

Offenses of the Month, July 2020
Yoo hoo, it’s Yoho.

This just in. I’m ripping up the lead on a piece about two sets of knuckleheads for the July Offense of the Month column because up popped Rep. Ted Yoho (R.-Florida). You’ve been reading about him the past week or more, likely watching him squirm after his celebrated and supposedly private tongue lashing of his colleague Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) landed him on the front pages following her tweeted response to his half-hearted non-apology on the House floor on July 22. Yoho, elected in 2012 to represent Florida’s third congressional district, which includes Gainesville, is retiring this year after four terms, so perhaps he felt liberated to insult his younger colleague from New York, but he proved himself neither classy at the insult nor adept in the apology.

It began when Yoho encountered Ocasio-Cortez on the Capitol steps, he departing and she ascending to enter the House chamber. He told her that statements she had made linking poverty and unemployment to a rise in crime in New York during the pandemic were “disgusting,” adding “you are out of your freaking mind.” They continued walking but then Yoho turned back and snapped into the wind: “fucking bitch.” His muttered imprecation was presumably not for public consumption but was overheard by a reporter for The Hill, a newspaper and website reporting on the inner workings of Congress.

Yoho took to the House floor “to apologize for the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York” but not for the slur, which he denied making. “The offensive name-calling words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleague, and if they were construed that way I apologize for their misunderstanding.” Makes you wonder what he would actually admit to saying if the two words could be construed in the way that they were reported. (He says he whispered “bullshit,” but that doesn’t seem likely to be misinterpreted in the way claimed). In the House, Yoho followed with a non-sequitur, that he would never apologize “for my passion or for loving my God, my family and my country.” For her part, Ocasio-Cortez accused Yoho of lying in claiming they had had a “conversation.” Rather, “it was a verbal assault,” she said. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said he wants Yoho sanctioned. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy bestirred himself to say he’d have a talk with Yoho.

The following day, July 23, Ocasio-Cortez took to the House floor herself to excoriate Yoho’s misogyny. “Having daughters is not what makes someone a decent man,” she said. “Treating people with dignity and respect is what makes a decent man. And when a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he does apologize. Not to save face. Not to win a vote. He apologizes, genuinely, to repair and acknowledge the harm done, so that we can all move on.”

There the matter seems to have ended. Ten days later, no further repercussions have been reported, nor, since Yoho had already bowed out, do any seem warranted. At least he’ll be remembered for something.

Wondering whom Yoho edged out for the honors of this column? Four redoubtable Colorado police officers. Erica Marrero, Kyle Dittrich, and Jaron Jones circulated selfies in which they mugged for the camera near a memorial to Elijah McClain, one of the many victims of police chokeholds during the past several years, this time in Aurora, Colorado, just about a year ago. Their mocking grins, sent to one of the arresting officers, Jason Rosenblatt, surfaced in early July when an uninvolved Aurora police officer brought them to the attention of the interim police chief, Vanessa Wilson, who fired Rosenblatt, Marrero, and Dittrich three days later for “conduct unbecoming.” Jones resigned.

Another worthy candidate for July’s offender-of-the-month was Hearst Magazine division’s CEO, Troy Young, who resigned on July 23, a day after The New York Times reported on his creating a toxic atmosphere within the division, centered on lewd and sexist remarks, including comments about sex toys and the mailing of pornography to a female senior editor. Hearst publishes Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and Good Housekeeping, among others. In an email to staff following the initial story, Young said: “I recognize that the incidents cited in the NYT article are particularly offensive to women and I want to make clear they do not represent who I am as a person nor do they reflect some of the most important relationships in my life.”

Strikes me he should have been fired for incompetence at the art of apology, using what has now become a tired cliche: in effect, “oh, that offensive thing I said or did, golly, that’s not really me; I’m someone else entirely. Gosh, I just don’t know how those words could have escaped my lips. More than once.” Same with the police officers: can anyone holding a public office be naive enough to believe that others, like say your boss, will think it funny to mock victims of your department’s malfeasance and that no one will discover that you’ve done so? Whatever happened to American ingenuity? It’s embarrassingly stupid. One might even say offensively so.