When the cameras roll, hyperbole reigns. No one wants to be forgettable. All the wonks are hoping to create enough buzz to get booked on more shows or at least garner enough interest to be asked back.
When the cameras roll, hyperbole reigns.
No one wants to be forgettable. All the wonks are hoping to create enough buzz to get booked on more shows or at least garner enough interest to be asked back.
The attempt to be noticed forces comments to the extreme. Often these extremes exist in a dangerous gray area where few free-speech advocates dare to tread.
Free speech is one of the most closely guarded American rights. The First Amendment secures that right, along with freedom of the press, the free exercise of religion and the right to peaceably assemble.
However, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote in a World War I-era ruling that free speech was not without limitation.
“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic,” he said in 1919’s Schenk v. the United States.
“The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”
A proliferation of on-air gaffes recently demonstrates the need for the freedom of speech to be balanced with the great responsibility to use it wisely. Many have tested the standard of creating a clear and present danger.
Hillary Clinton stated the roil by revisiting the assassination of Robert Kennedy. She claimed that his assassination was evidence that calls for her to step aside were premature.
Obviously, she was not suggesting that she should continue to run based on the possibility that Barack Obama could be shot by a man whose last name was the same as his first.
She was merely noting the timeline by using an unfortunate parallel.
Of course her error in judgment brought out the scavengers.
Liz Trotta, a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Washington Times, took her turn at analysis of the comment by taking Clinton’s error and adding her own spin.
She told Fox News anchor Eric Shawn, “And now we have what some are reading as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama, um uh, Obama -- well, both if we could.”
Not only did she rehash the standard Osama-Obama blunder, she compounded it by expressing a desire to “knock off” both “if we could” through a wry grin and nervous laughter.
The anchor knew the conversation had been pulled into the abyss and offered her a chance to mollify the situation by offering this comment, “Talk about how you really feel.”
But the interview continued with no change in tempo or tenor.
Trotta later apologized by calling it a “lame attempt at humor” and excusing herself by adding, “It is a very colorful political season, and many of us are making mistakes and saying things we wish we had not said.”
In my opinion, the apology didn’t seem as serious as the joke saying someone should “knock off” a candidate if they can.
Sen. Ted Kennedy has been a lightning rod for almost four decades. Many champion his work in Congress, but many more remember his unfortunate accident at Chappaquiddick where a woman lost her life as a result of his driving. He has also been widely purported to be a frequent consumer of adult beverages. Many assumed that this habit was the cause of his recent stroke-like symptoms. It turned out to be related to a deadly malignancy in his brain.
One sports radio host in the Pittsburgh market certainly hit a foul ball when he offered his comments on Kennedy’s diagnosis. Mark Madden of ESPN radio said he had hoped Kennedy “would live long enough to be assassinated.”
Those comments got Madden fired.
But where do these comments come from? It is usually an attempt at irreverent humor.
Even Frank Keating, while governor of Oklahoma, quipped that the best way to deal with his state’s teachers union was “homicide.”
The problem with sarcasm is that it often acts a vessel for actual belief veiled in a form of humor. Danish entertainer Victor Borge once said, “There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth.”
Comedian Sid Caesar agreed that humor is often based in something more real.
“Comedy has to be based on truth. You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end,” he said.
We are left to hope that these “jokes” are merely based in truth and not an expression of base desires.
Either way, it is time for political discourse in this country to regain a more civil tone. The satire and humor should be left to the faux news shows on the Comedy Channel.
News requires dignity and integrity in its delivery. Otherwise the messenger and the court jester will hold the same estate.