When I was host of a radio talk show, someone asked me what kind of comments were inappropriate for the airwaves. There had been some controversy like the one that blew up this past weekend, involving a Maryland state employee named Arthur “Mac” Love IV, and it sparked a conversation about what you can’t or shouldn’t say on the radio or anywhere in public.
Obviously, racially insensitive remarks would have ended my career in broadcasting, though, of course, they never stopped Rush Limbaugh. I heard the syndicated radio host mimic and mock Magic Johnson’s manner of speaking on the air in the early 1990s. While his ridicule of the former NBA star made me a permanent Limbaugh boycotter, it did not hurt his career in the least. In fact, this year Donald Trump awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But back to the question and my answer: You don’t make jokes about things people can’t control — their skin color, disability or sexual orientation, for instance — and you don’t make cracks about tragedy of any kind.
Which brings me to the weekend firing of Love from his job in state government because of his dark views on the recent tragedy in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Love shared Facebook memes in support of the 17-year-old boy who went to Kenosha, hung a rifle over his chest and allegedly used it to kill two protesters and wound a third.
Love’s postings defended that kid, denigrated the demonstrators and endorsed the police brutality they were in Kenosha to protest after the shooting — seven times, in the back — of Jacob Blake. One of the memes featured a smiling white cop giving two thumbs-up, with the admonition: “Don’t be a thug if you can’t take a slug!” But the main thrust was support for the armed teen, Kyle Rittenhouse.
The website created since Love was fired sugarcoats his position: “While Love neither called for violence and/or endorsed the concept of shooting others, he expressed what he felt was a reasonable conversation many American’s (sic) are having about social unrest and senseless violence that is plaguing our communities.”
Give me a break. Love and others clearly subscribe to the notion that Kenosha had gone completely lawless and citizens with guns were needed to back up police.
I don’t agree at all and find that view repugnant. But I don’t think Love or anyone else should be prohibited from expressing it.
These days, most Americans are in bubbles, or tribes, and most comfortable among the like-minded. All Love did was second the motions of others who support the accused Kenosha killer.
The problem is that, after three decades of Limbaugh and many other right-wing commentators who have made ad hominem attacks and caustic language the standard, after years of snarky sniping, that “reasonable conversation” mentioned on Mac Love’s website doesn’t exist.
The dominant conservative voice today is that of the president of the United States, who offers aggrieved, angry and sarcastic rhetoric every day and who tweets personal attacks to please the like-minded. Trump is not the cause of coarsened discourse, but that’s his wheelhouse. And, facing reelection, he’s pushing harder than before, with fearmongering in overdrive, to fire up his base. On Monday, he claimed without evidence that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.
So here we are.
Love called a press conference on Monday to cry foul at his firing and to point out that another state employee — Len Foxwell, chief of staff of Comptroller Peter Franchot — had kept his job after suggesting on Facebook that people who resist social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic be locked in a warehouse to “let Darwin work his magic.”
Love has a point. It looks like a double standard, though mocking people who defy stay-at-home orders doesn’t quite reach the level of supporting someone actually accused of murder.
Still, I can defend Love’s right to express his opinions. What I can’t defend is his failure to predict the possible consequences of expressing them in public.
Stating your views or endorsing those of others on Facebook or Twitter is a public act. You might think your words are safe among Facebook friends, but they run the risk of offending people with less vitriolic sensibilities, including prospective employers or the person you work for now.
Love was deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives. Its mission is “to serve as a coordinating office for the governor that connects Marylanders to economic, volunteer, and human service opportunities through government, business, and nonprofit partners.” It is also responsible for “faith-based outreach, and the governor’s ethnic and cultural commissions.”
That’s touchy-feely stuff, as government offices go. It sounds like the job put Love in contact with a diverse group of people who, I’m guessing, might be offended by his support of a teenager who walked into a fraught situation with a rifle.
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Is it unfair to fire an employee for openly expressing views that run contrary to the mission of a government agency or counter to the goals of a private company? I don’t think so. There are people boycotting a local crab shop whose owner posted racist comments on Facebook. As a taxpayer, I don’t want to pay the salary of a police officer who beats up people, or a deputy director of a state agency — or a president — who defends a kid with a rifle who went looking for trouble.