Tag Archives: Fred Phelps

Wednesday Word of the Week, June 15

15 Jun

The 3 e-Stooges

Today’s word is: CONSEQUENCES

the outcome of an event especially as relative to an individual – Macmillan Dictionary Online

This has been a fascinating week to look at the ACTIONS

something you do, especially something that seems wrong or unusual to other people – Macmillan Dictionary Online

of famous or powerful people and see just what the OUTCOMES

the possible or likely result of something – Macmillan Dictionary Online

of those actions have been.

Let’s start with the unfortunately-named Representative Anthony Weiner and his sexting scandal, which was significant enough to the blogosphere that it has its own Weinergate page on Wikipedia.

  • What was his action? Sending at least semi-lewd pictures of himself to women he barely knew (or knew only virtually) via Twitter and yfrog.
  • What was the outcome? He got caught because of one careless Tweet.

Had it ended there, I think most people would agree with my assessment that it was a matter between the Congressman and his family. Foolish? Perhaps. Criminal? No. Cause for resignation? No. Sadly, he decided to engage in another round of consequences.

  • What was his next action? Flat-out denial of the events and accusations of hacking and sabotage.
  • What was the outcome? He got backed into a corner and had to recant the accusations and admit what he had done.

As a result of this, he has lost credibility and power within his party, where he was something of a rising star. Many believe he should resign; I believe that is overkill, but some sort of censure for publicly lying and an investigation of whether or not he used House wireless equipment are certainly in order. At the end of it all, he took a leave of absence to regroup and to heal with his family, a very sound decision.

Next, let’s look at the Gay Girl in Damascus blog. Millions followed the life of this oppressed lesbian freedom fighter in Syria. Her fate seemed tenuous at best and her passionate posts about the situation there were very compelling. The only problem with this situation being? It turns out that Gay Girl was a straight guy from Georgia living in Scotland.

  • What was his action? Creating a fictional person who became such a sensation that it grew out of his control. So out of control, in fact, that he tried to kill her off more than once.
  • What was the outcome? The blogger was uncovered and had to make an abject apology as he closed down the blog.

In what may have been an honest attempt to raise awareness and sympathy, Tom MacMaster exploited and trivialized the gay community, the freedom fighters, and the legitimate blogosphere. He will probably pay no real price other than shame for his actions, but the ripples contribute mightily to the pervasive cynicism of the digital age.

Finally, we have the amazing consequence chain of Tracy Morgan.

  • What was his action? Believing himself immune to criticism because he was practicing his typical, offensive brand of humor, he engaged in a rant against the gay community.
  • What was the outcome? Much to Morgan’s surprise, an offended audience member posted a reaction to his screed on Facebook and that reaction went viral.

The outcry was enormous, and Morgan found himself confronted with the horror of his actions. The story became more interesting however, when more consequence chains arose. Enter Chris Rock:

  • What was his action? He released a knee-jerk tweet that defended Morgan, apparently on hypothetical free speech grounds.
  • What was the outcome? Rock got hammered by the blogosphere (including TSM), some of the press, and very notably Wanda Sykes.
  • What was Rock’s next action? He looked more carefully at Morgan’s rant, retracted his support, and apologized for his initial reaction.
  • What was the outcome? Overall, people were supportive of Rock taking prompt action and admitting his mistake quickly and honestly. His long history of support for the LGBTQ community gave him the credibility he needed to weather the storm.

Disappointingly, many progressives defended both Morgan and Rock on free speech grounds. As we have emphasized on TSM before, this is no defense for either man. The U.S. Constitution promises no government interference with free speech. This First Amendment protection covers the despicable Fred Phelps when governments try to stifle his horrific expression. Private citizens, employers, and corporate sponsors, however, can choose to impose consequences on offensive actions. Two fairly recent examples illustrate this point effectively:

  • Juan Williams violated his contract with NPR and was dismissed. He had the right to speak (action) but lost his job (outcome).
  • Kobe Bryant was sadly just one athlete to utter offensive words during a game. In this case, his sponsor, Nike, chose to stand behind him, so action was taken by the outraged members of the public, who maintain a boycott against Nike.

Unfortunately, it looks like Tracy Morgan’s case is going much more the way of Kobe Bryant. Despite fellow comedians Chris Rock and Wanda Sykes pointing out the harm of his words, NBC and producer Tina Fey have offered tepid apologies for their 30 Rock star and moved on. What will the consequences be for Morgan? It remains to be seen. Will he lose his job, possibly his career, like Michael Richards, Juan Williams, and Isaiah Washington? Or will his media pals give him a slap on the wrist and a public service announcement like Kobe Bryant? Let’s hope his actions will have an appropriately stern outcome.

Looking at all three of these examples, I am struck by one common thread that strikes me as a cautionary note. Weiner got caught by Twitter; MacMaster pushed out too many lies on his Blogger page; Morgan got caught by a Facebook post; Rock got slammed for a thoughtless Tweet.

In the highly-connected age of social media, our instincts turn to quick action. Sadly, the outcomes of those actions are magnified by the size of the audience and made permanent by the digital record. We need to learn from these examples and be more thoughtful in our actions. How many others have been stung by their careless actions or the virtual mistakes of someone else and paid the price? The lineup of the famous leads one to assume that there are thousands of victims less well known.

Actions have outcomes. Everyone should know that their behavior may have consequences. In this day and age, the ripples are large and fast. A deep breath and a careful pause are our best allies, as the best preventative for consequences is

a moral duty to behave in a particular way – Macmillan Dictionary Online

RESPONSIBILITY.

(P.S. – We can only hope, of course that this parade of yahoos is forced to take responsibility for their actions come election day…)

Wednesday Word of the Week: March 9

9 Mar

The Face of Profanity

This week’s word is: PROFANITY

Language that is offensive because it is rude or shows a lack of respect for God or religious beliefs – Macmillan Dictionary Online

One of the hottest news topics over the past week was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Snyder v. Phelps. In a rare display of unity (other than Justice Alito, whose contempt for the Phelps family’s behavior created a resonant dissent), the Court ruled in favor of the members of the horrific bigot cult known as the Westboro Baptist Church. For anyone with a sense of humanity who is also an ardent supporter of free speech, this is an agonizing dilemma.

As we’ve noted on this blog before, free speech is a bedrock principle of this country and even people with distasteful messages have that right. From a strictly legalistic perspective, relying on significant precedent, Phelps seemed the most likely victor in this case. As Salon.com noted, however, there is an interesting, debatable point in the central argument put forward by Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion:

“The protest was not unruly. There was no shouting, profanity or violence.”

Westboro protests are notorious for adhering to the letter of the law. It is true that they do not shout (anymore) or practice physical violence. They also follow any local guidelines about protest and assembly assiduously. So far, so good. But no “profanity” in their protest? That is highly debatable.

Westboro is also notorious for signs that state baldly “God Hates Fags” or that bear cartoon depictions of anal sex (usually with the universal “no” sign of the red circle with a slash.) That is certainly rude and disrespectful. It is fairly clear from the majority opinion that the use of the word “profanity” really activates one of the slipperiest areas of free speech, that of OBSCENITY

Indecency, lewdness, or offensiveness in behavior, expression, or appearance. – American Heritage Dictionary Online

Obscenity is often not protected under the First Amendment. Are Phelps’ signs obscene? The Salon.com article does a good job of analyzing the legal issues here, and the most probable answer is “not quite” since courts tend to put pretty narrow walls around free speech exceptions. Enough uncertainty exists, however, that local jurisdictions wanting to put tighter controls on certain kinds of protests could probably construct laws that would restrict Phelpsian hate speech while not violating the First Amendment.

Freedom is tricky, and speech is one of its trickiest elements. There are clear exceptions (such as speech while on the job) and there are muddy areas like Westboro’s technically legal and morally abhorrent actions.  It is interesting to note the somewhat counterintuitive reactions to the decision. Former Phelps counter-protestor Romaine Patterson wrote a wonderful editorial supporting the decision. Some strict constructionists on the Far Right, however, have reacted against the ruling, typically lacking any sense of history or irony. NOM’s odious Maggie Gallagher rails against a ruling protecting hate speech, even though she is a regular practitioner of such speech. The perpetually confused half-governor Sarah Palin blasts the majority opinion and then backpedals confusingly.

In the end, I am deeply torn by this decision. I’m grateful that a conservative court did not take advantage of this situation to chip away at free speech. I truly believe that we must protect everyone’s speech or the freedom is illusory. Nevertheless, I find Westboro so repellent that any ruling which supports their actions – even tangentially – makes me ill.

Taking solace in the knowledge that democracy is hard, I’ll offer one word for Phelps and his ilk that is much less slippery than “profanity” or “obscenity”…

Extremely unpleasant or offensive – Macmillan Dictionary Online

REPUGNANT.

Bigot of the Week Award: December 17, 2010

17 Dec

Well, I think we all knew that Fred (I’m a closet Queen) Phelps would eventually take the BWA.  I have been hesitant to give this dubious award to Phelps because it just seemed too obvious and too easy.  However, his protesting Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral and posting signs that said: “God Hates Elizabeth Edwards” inspired my ire.  Phelps is probably best known for his anti-gay campaign and his website God Hates Fags–my but he is a charmer.  He has devoted his entire life to following us homos.  He first hit my radar when he protested Matthew Shepard’s funeral in 1998.  What kind of man, what kind of human being protest a funeral where a boy of 21 has been brutally murdered?

Elizabeth Edwards was an amazing woman that spoke her mind, and I loved her for it.  In my humble opinion she was the best candidate for the office of President.  Edwards talked about the poor and the great class divide in the United States.  Unlike her husband, she was also a supporter of gay marriage/marriage equality.  Honestly, what human being with any type of soul could protest her funeral?  For more on this story, click here.

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