Oh, Fine. Now I have To Defend Kathy Griffin…

Hahaha! Boy, this just fractures me every time…

From LawNewz:

Comedian and actress Kathy Griffin has reportedly been interviewed by the U.S. Secret Service for more than an hour. The investigation is connected to a recent photograph which showed her holding the bloody head of Donald Trump.

Griffin’s attorney contends that the actress was just exercising her constitutional rights.

“She basically exercised her First Amendment rights to tell a joke,” Dmitry Gorin, a criminal defense attorney representing Griffin said. “When you look at everything in the media, all the times entertainers make videos or express themselves in other ways, you’ve never seen an entertainer, let alone a comedian, be subject to a criminal investigation.”


Griffin’s attorney doesn’t have to “contend” that she was “exercising her constitutional right” of free speech, she was exercising that right—-irresponsibly, recklessly, unethically, stupidly, hatefully, but she was still exercising it. There is no question that her disgusting photo was inappropriate and pure hate posing as humor, but never mind: people choosing to be hateful and irresponsible in their public speech should expect consequences, but not from the feds. Of course it chills freedom of expression for Griffin to be subjected to this kind of secret police-style grilling. It is a matter of public record that she is a comedian. It is a matter of public record that she is a professional jerk. Thus it is a matter of public record that she is a no threat to the President….just to a civil culture and good taste.

On the other hand, as Captain Hook ( Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg…Luke Skywalker…) used to say—what kind of responsible policy would allow the Secret Service to ignore that photo? What if a non-comedian posted exactly the same image, but with him, not Griffin, holding the head? What if he was an aspiring comedian? An aspiring comedian with a criminal record? Should not the exact same expressive speech be protected from negative government action, no matter who expresses it? If Kathy Griffin can hold up the President’s severed head without being seen as a true threat, why can’t I?

You know how the secret Service thinks, though: if, in some wild, unexpected occurrence, an established comic who has held up a bloody model of the President’s head did attack him, would anyone excuse the Secret Service for not investigating what turned out to be a real warning, and not a “just a joke? I can’t blame them for thinking that way, because they are quite correct.  Consequentialism, as illogical as it is, and hindsight bias, as unfair as it is, are both the norm when disasters occur, not the exception.

As a citizen under the Constitution’s protection, Kathy Griffin should not have to face the intimidating experience of a Secret Service interrogation. Beyond question, this is government action that impinges on free speech. (On Instapundit, Prof. Glenn Reynolds calls the Secret Service’s actions “silly.” Silly? Just as Griffin’s stunt wasn’t funny, the government working her over in response isn’t “silly.” It is serious and ominous. ) Yet the Secret Service is not wrong to use a broad rather than a narrow standard for interpreting what is a threat on the life  of a President.

This is an ethics conflict, where two or more ethical principles point us in different directions. Like all ethics conflicts, the solution is careful balancing. My inclination is that freedom of speech and expression has to prevail, but it will only take one “joke” that turns out to be a genuine threat to flip that result, to the detriment of our liberty.

Lincoln was murdered by an actor, after all.


29 thoughts on “Oh, Fine. Now I have To Defend Kathy Griffin…

  1. I don’t have any problem with the Secret Service interviewing her; that seems like a natural consequence of her actions. I’m unclear what the “investigation” refers to. I can’t imagine anything happening in that interview that would make the Secret Service think they need to spend more time trying to figure out whether this was a true threat.

    • Agreed, Chris. I bet the ‘investigation’ has adminis-trivia to be performed in order to close. This IS the government, after all. 🙂

      Otherwise, what is left to do? Track down those who liked the post?

      Sorry, that is in the realm of CNN and not the Secret Service… #cheapshot@CNN

  2. Would progressive’s opinion change if it was Obama’s head she (or any comedian) held up? Would conservative’s opinion change?

    I posit that conservatives likely would feel the same regardless (excluding the fringes.) Progressives would likely lose their collective minds.

    This is based on the more and more common false outrage the left shows, depending on who said or did something.

    For the record: this was wrong whoever it was intended to be (including Joe citizen’s head.) Islamic extremists use this atrocity because it IS visceral, and intended to shock in order to get the message across. “Don’t mess with us or this will be you”

    The left knows this. This is why they have defended it.

  3. Just how hard is “don’t do anything in public that threatens, or may to the Secret Service appear to threaten, the life or well-being of a sitting president” to understand and place into practice? Doesn’t common sense trump ethics or the protections of the First Amendment at times?

    • And isn’t the photo a clear reference to “Salome” and her “bring me the head of John The Baptist” line? Can’t it be pretty easily read as an incitement to violence and thus not protected speech? Sure seems so to me.

      The Feds could ask her whether she’s received any offers by any third parties to fulfill her request.

      • Incitement is hard to prove, for good reason. One can reasonably hold Griffin ethically responsible for any violence that befalls Trump, just as one can reasonably hold Trump ethically responsible for any violence that befalls journalists. But legal responsibility is a whole other issue, and it would set a very dangerous precedent to declare speech such as theirs as illegal.

        • All we’re talking about is conducting an investigation. But for argument’s sake, let’s say someone, say, an opera lover, saw the photo and successfully harmed Trump. Analogous to someone falsely shouting “fire” in a movie house resulting in the stampede death of a movie goer or three. Would her posting the photo then be protected and absolve her from any criminal or legal liability?

          • Yes. The photo is in no way equivalent to shouting fire in a crowded theater–one causes imminent danger, the other does not. Imminence and intent both have to be proven in order to prove incitement.

            • But you agree the Feds talking to her was reasonable and foreseeable.

              You really do need to get a law degree.

          • Griffin may be chick, but I disagree that she is Salome. Where is the platter holding John the Baptist’s head? And Griffin is wearing a blue dress and not a billowy red toga/wrap thingy. See:

            Your thoughts?


            • John, I think the pose she has struck is the key. She’s affecting a look of mystification, almost to the point of faux regret or at least mixed emotions. Remember, Salome was in love with The Baptist and went nuts once he was dead. I think she’d love to be as sexy as Salome. If she were an ISIS decapitator, wouldn’t she look nearly orgasmic with glee?

          • People on the left have been screaming for more than a year that Trump hates all Muslims, is a xenophobe, etc… There’s no way, in that context, that Griffin’s photo was meant to evoke a minor Biblical story. The ISIS reference is the obvious one, and Kathy Griffin is an extremely obvious person. She’s a shock comic, not a subtle satirist who digs deep for historical references.

            • She’s also a good, Irish Catholic school girl. John the Baptist getting killed by a sex maniac was not a minor biblical story with the Nuns. You’ll have to trust me on that.I’m sure she knows the story well. That and Mary Magdalene’s vocation.

  4. Hypothetical question: What if John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor, had displayed a similar photo of Lincoln? Do you ignore it?

  5. I have a hunch Kathy Griffin knew what would happen once the photo was published. She expected the backlash and has wallowed in the self-righteous trope that she is being persecuted for her First Amendment Free Speech rights. If she had bothered to research the Secret Service’s reactions to similar stunts, she would have discovered that Ted Nugent had been investigated (or interviewed) by the Secret Service for similarly idiotic comments he made about Pres. Obama. Both instances were overhanded, in my mind, especially when Nugent did not directly threaten the president – he said that either he (Nugent) would be dead or imprisoned if Obama won reelection. But, the Secret Service investigated it nevertheless.


    • “he said that either he (Nugent) would be dead or imprisoned if Obama won reelection.”

      Is that was he was investigated for? He also told Obama to “suck on my machine gun,” and said that both Obama and Clinton should be hanged. I would think both of those would come closer to threats than the statement you pointed to.

        • No you’re wrong. One way is just as dumb, the one with hyperbolic violence against a president. The other way, the one you suggest would be punishing political speech that doesn’t mention violence with an interview.

          Which are you accusing the secret service of?

  6. Of course the secret service had to investigate. If Bill Burr, a real comedian had done it, they’d have to investigate. I just wish they’d done it weeks ago so we wouldn’t have to be reliving the whole mess. She’s getting way more publicity than she deserves.

  7. There are people out there floating back and forth across the thin line of sanity, all threats should be taken seriously! If you don’t take threats seriously, your being naive.

    Yes, the Secret Service needed to interview Griffin and everyone that was part of producing and publishing the photo to determine if there was any nefarious intent. My perception, your perception, and the perception of the guy sitting next to you isn’t irrelevant, it’s the perception of the Secret Service that counts; it’s their job to protect the President even if the act doesn’t turn out to be a perceived threat.

    If you utter a joke in a bar that could be remotely considered a threat to the President and the Secret Service catches wind of it, you are subject to being tossed in jail anytime that that President is with 200 miles of your location. I’m not sure what happens to those that actually live within 200 miles of the White House. A long time ago, I knew a guy that this happened to over a bar room joke that someone in ear shot took seriously and reported it, a bunch of people were interviewed. They take these things quite seriously regardless if someone is “just joking” or not.

    The point is that no one should do things that could be perceived as being threatening to President, Vice-President, or members of Congress; there are consequences – period.

    Griffin is not the victim here, she earned her short visit to an interrogation room.

    • Griffin was really threatening the president like the President’s wrestling video was really calling for violence against journalists. Obvious, in both cases. At least the Secret Service has an argument that it HAS to treat Griffin otherwise.

      • Jack Marshall wrote, “At least the Secret Service has an argument that it HAS to treat Griffin otherwise.”


        Let’s face it; it was an interview (or interrogation whatever people want to call it), it was not an arrest with charges which would have really been way, way out in left field.

  8. It had to be done in the same way doctors have to do medical tests and teachers have to avoid hugging students. We live in a time and place when failing to take even ridiculous preventive measures is cause for huge damage awards. In the case of politics it’s even more intense and thus more important.

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