By Tom Cardella
OK. This is not a defense of Kathy Griffin and her Trump-bloody head video. If you insist I will parrot the words of everybody else and agree the video was tasteless, disgusting and, worst of all for a comic — not funny. A personal note — the bloody head really bugs me because I dreamed of John Kennedy’s bloody head rolling down the street the night before he was assassinated.
You can call me ultra-sensitive about what the bloody head symbolizes. But Griffin is a comedian. An edgy comedian. She may not be your cup of tea. I’ve never found her particularly funny. She crossed the line. Edgy comedians often do. Since Griffin’s bloody head video went viral, her career is being systematically destroyed. For all I know, since this piece was written, she may have been forced to wear a scarlet letter in the middle of her forehead. In the land where we supposedly revere free speech — our nation’s founders made it the very first amendment in our Bill of Rights — I find the over-the top persecution of Griffin infinitely more offensive than her stupid bloody head video. And the case of Kathy Griffin isn’t the only example of the erosion of freedom of speech in America.
We have gun groups who worry about losing our Second Amendment rights. Where are the lovers of free speech who will stand up and defend the sanctity of the First Amendment? And please don’t throw that exception at me either — “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” That famous exception to the right of free speech has been opened so wide it seems to say, “you can’t say or do anything that might offend some group out there.” As conservative columnist and commentator George Will once wrote, “There is no constitutional right not to be offended.”
When the French satirists at Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon that offended Islamist extremists, they invaded their office and murdered some of their employees. Thankfully, we don’t murder folks for offending us in this country, we just assassinate their character and take away their livelihood.
Another edgy comedian, Bill Maher, ran into his own censorship problems recently. Maher made the mistake of using the n-word while adlibbing a joke during an exchange with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb) on his HBO show “Real Time.” The n-word is understandably egregiously offensive to African-Americans when uttered by whites, no matter in what context. A local newscaster was drummed off the air a while back for reading a news story that included a quote using the n-word. I don’t pretend to understand why some of the same people are not offended when some African-Americans routinely use the n-word in conversation and in rap lyrics. I’m not part of that conversation and happy to be excluded from it. Suffice it to say, if there is a third rail in American language for caucasians, it’s the n-word. You can say anything else on HBO, offend anyone else (Maher does both with much frequency) and get away with it. But this time, the usually smug Maher was forced to apologize.
What gets me is that some of the white people who were outraged by Maher’s use of the n-word never watch Maher, had no idea of the context in which the word is used, and can seldom be seen or heard defending the rights of black folks. These are people who don’t like Maher’s anti-religious or political views. Their outrage stems from a different place. Ironically, Maher lost his network gig with ABC years ago after he offended some Americans when he disagreed with those who called the 9/11 assassins “cowardly.” Maher’s contention was it took courage, not cowardice, to die in the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers. He did not survive that comment, but HBO rescued him. It remains to be seen whether his “apology” saves him on cable where no sponsors are involved.
Many of Griffin and Maher’s critics share a belief that’s contrary to Will’s comment. These people act as if they have a constitutional right to not be offended. And that this right supersedes the First Amendment. This view is prevalent on all parts of the political spectrum.
Many of the same people fuming over the Trump bloody-head video uttered not a peep when former President Barack Obama was hung in effigy. College campuses across the country are no longer a haven for free speech. Remember the Free Speech Movement founded at Berkeley in 1964? Apparently, free speech did not apply to the appearance of Ann Coulter on campus, so they disinvited her. Likewise, those students pouted and threatened not to eat their green vegetables so the same university had to also cancel the appearance of Milos Yiannopoulis. Violent protests extended to little Middlebury College as well when author Charles Murray appeared. No word whether they also burned his books.
Some years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union fought for the right of American Nazis to march through the streets of a predominantly Jewish community in Skokie, Ill. I’m sure the Jewish citizens of Skokie were not happy, but tolerance of free speech won the day.
If Jews could handle Nazis parading in their neighborhood without their world crumbling, we can get off Kathy Griffin’s case already.