Cancel Culture Ethics: Two Gaffes, Two Polls

Chuck Bonniwell and Julie Hayden, a husband and wife team, co-hosted the “Chuck and Julie “show  on KNUS AM TalkRadio in Denver. Riffing about the impeachment this week, Bonniwell said,  “All right, here, a little after 1:30, talking about the never-ending impeachment of Donald Trump. Then he added, chuckling, ” You know, you wish for a nice school shooting to interrupt the impeachment news….”  Julie quickly jumped in, saying, “No! No! Don’t even — don’t even say tha!. No, don’t even say that! Don’t call us. Chuck didn’t say that!”Still laughing,  Bonniwell tried a save, finishing his handing sentence with “in which no one would be hurt.”

Jason Salzman of the Colorado Times Recorder, who said that after hearing Hayden’s plea for listeners not to call their complaints about her husband’s joke, he “called anyway.” Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter in the Aurora theater shooting, posted on Twitter: “This guy should be fired. Total ignorance. Shootings hurt us all … just ask witnesses and first responders. You don’t have to be shot to be wounded.”

Bonniwell isued an apology the next evening after 24 hours of criticism on the “Chuck & Julie” Twitter feed, saying,  “I made an inappropriate comment meant as a joke. I’m sorry it was not received that way.”  Too late. KNUS fired Chuck and Julie later that evening:

Was this a fair decision?

I’m not sure it was. As I have held here on other occasions, those who take extemporaneously for a living, especially when they are expected to be amusing, are constantly walking a high wire. Occasional gaffes, including moments when certain metaphorical landmines are tread-upon or lines are crossed, are inevitable, and the more creative and bold the talent, the more likely such events are. A no-tolerance policy is unreasonable, and it is virtually always the ethical approach to treat the first such error with a warning or punishment short of dismissal. Virtually, because there may always be single gaffes that are so terrible and potentially destructive to the talent’s employer that firing is the only response.

Thus the question here is whether Chuck Bonniwell’s comment falls in the latter category. My view si that it does not:

  • It was obviously a joke. He was not wishing for a school shooting.
  • “How dare anyone joke about that!” is a slippery slope, and my inclination is that it needs to be discouraged lest all humor vanish into fear and and an abundance of caution,
  • Admittedly, a radio talker needs to be aware of his community and the sensitivities of his audience, and on this score, Chuck was inept. Would he have made the same joke in Sandy Hook, Parkland, or Houston?
  • I also think the pair deserved some consideration because of Julie’s efforts to reject Chuck’s ill-considered joke.
  • The impulse to punish individuals for not matching the sensitivity levels of others ought to be rejected as the Golden Rule breach that it is.

Here’s your first poll:

The second controversy involves Robert Hyde, one of three Republicans running for a chance to challenge U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. When Kamala Harris dropped out of the Democratic Presidential sweepstakes earlier this month, Hyde tweeted, “She went down, brought to her knees. Blew it. Must be a hard one to swallow ….”

Classy. After a lot of criticism, the head of the state Democratic Party, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, and State Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano have demanded that Hyde withdraw. Said Fasano said in a statement,

“This type of behavior and these words are flat out disgusting and morally reprehensible .I am calling on Mr. Hyde to step down as a candidate for office. His comments are beyond disgraceful and offensive and his actions are not representative of the Republican Party at all. He needs to remove himself as a candidate immediately.”

Piling on, Democratic Party Chairman Nancy Wyman said in a statement,

“Robert Hyde’s social media comment about Senator Harris’ decision to end her political campaign is simply disgusting. And the fact that it was made by a Republican candidate for Congress and remained online until today is even more concerning. This kind of insulting commentary, as well as others on his Twitter feed, has no place in any public discourse and any candidate who engages in it has no business seeking elective office.”

Hyde texted  that he won’t withdraw, and didn’t apologize. Of course, when he turns back into Dr. Jekyll , that may change. In his current persona, however, he is taking a page from the Trump playbook and doubling down. He wrote that Harris “literally destroyed a great man” on national television, referring to Harris’ questioning of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing (He didn’t literally destroy him, because he’s alive, well, and on the Supreme Court.). In another  defiant tweet he asked, “And I’m the bad guy over a tweet that was in poor taste that I posted a month ago? It’s ok for dems, right? Quick question, do you think I’ll ever quit,?”

Mr. Hyde should withdraw. The tweet at issue was not appropriate language or humor for a public official, It’s signature significance: no fit and trustworthy candidate with functioning ethics alarms would say such a thing, never mind tweet it.

One tangential note: I learned about this from this article by the Associated Press. No where in the story are we told what the offensive tweet was, just that it was “crude.” That’s useless, and incompetent journalism. If the words someone uses are the basis of a controversy, then the news media has to report the words, not just allude to them. I see this constantly, and it is incompetent and insulting.

Time for poll #2…

31 thoughts on “Cancel Culture Ethics: Two Gaffes, Two Polls

  1. The first joke was just funny. Over-sensitive people should be protected from ever having to make hiring/firing decisions. Perhaps the proper response to these sort of listener complaints should be to forcibly remove the listener’s car radio to protect him from having to hear anything else which might cause him to veer suddenly in traffic. Maybe his whole car should be confiscated…

    The second was just tasteless. In fairer times, I’d agree the candidate should step down. Right now, it’s more like a weird, bloodless war. I’d only agree if another viable candidate were immediately available who could perform his task to equal or better degree. When the red army is approaching, you don’t care if the general holding the line is a salty character so long as he keeps the line. We can promote people to modern Major General based on button-shining and uniform-pressing for all I care after the current threat is dealt with. In the meantime, I’m just satisfied with anyone who isn’t a Democrat [ptui] and doesn’t do those of us who aren’t more harm than good.

  2. Having done some talk radio, I think the firing was appropriate. As Jack notes: everyone who talks for a living is always right on the edge – but you have to know where that edge is. The school shooting gag, particularly in the Denver market, was way, way over it.

    And no, Hyde shouldn’t withdraw. He should get his ass kicked at the polls.

    • Would the first joke had even caused a ripple if Howard Stern had made it? It’s a perfect comment on the kabuki theater that is the current “impeachment.”

      • An excellent question!

        First of all, I don’t think Stern would have said that. Second, he DID get into hot water more than once for things he said back when he was still on terrestrial radio. He was the beneficiary of the King’s Pass back then; he generated boodles in revenues back then – even though Denver is a pretty big market, it’s nowhere near as big as Stern was back in his syndicated terrestrial days.

        But the key is this: Stern is now exclusively on SiriusXM, which has different (as in, just about NO) standards. People listen to Stern with the idea that he’s going to say something outrageous – and they always have. Terrestrial talk radio is a totally different format, and while hosts are expected to be provocative and sometimes controversial, there are limits. This clown blew past those limits, IMO.

    • And no, Hyde shouldn’t withdraw. He should get his ass kicked at the polls.

      Shouldn’t Republicans have the opportunity for a viable candidate to be on the ballot?

      (Aside, I thought it was surprising another state had a Nancy Wyman as head of their Democratic party – I thought it was Hyde v Hyde and didn’t realize this was in Connecticut…)

      • Hyde is contesting with two other Republicans for the nomination to run for the office – voters would still have the opportunity to vote for a viable candidate if Hyde were to lose the nomination over this joke.

        • I wonder if enough folks in this district are TIRED of the Democrats hypocrisy, and send this dude to Washington anyway… as a ‘screw you’ to Democrats who get away with just this sort of thing?

  3. I don’t think the second one should withdraw at all. It is better to know the character going to the polls then to see it after they are elected. If they are not elected it should be a firm understanding that is not what Americans want. If they are, well… ISpa res loquitur.

    • I think he should withdraw and not soil the electoral process. That joke was just way too demeaning to women and inappropriate for political discourse.

      • That’s kind of my point. If people agree with you, he won’t be elected. If they don’t, they deserve what they get. It’s better to know up front then to find out later.

        • No, because voting the party line on a ballot translates into very little regarding one’s personal opinion about a candidate. Someone asleep today may never hear of Hyde’s joke, and blindly vote for him – trusting that the Republican Party did its due diligence. It is a dereliction of duty for a candidate to set his constituents up for embarrassment.

  4. People who think Chuck and Julie are funny should be allowed to listen to their show. People who don’t think they’re funny should listen to something else. What justification is there for ruining the careers of two entertainers and spoiling the fun of an audience that feels well entertained? Are we pretending that their joke will inspire future shooters? Or are we pretending that past victims have forgotten their loss but will now be cruelly reminded by this joke? It’s all horseshit. Just Another outrage mob of people who are in. I way harmed by the joke but love to make trouble.

  5. 1) It’s a joke. But it falls under a key competency. If it can be reasonably argued that he should have known it would hurt his employers reputation and harm the bottom line, then the firing is ethically justifiable.

    Keeping him on, however, would not be inherently unethical because of that.

  6. The first one is the seemingly unstoppable creep of cancel culture, outgrowth of PC culture. Yes, bad joke, but that’s all it was. Grow up.

    As mentioned, Howard Stern has to have had said both and worse while he was on public airwaves. Half the public ate it up, the other half were horrified. Life in a free society.

    I agree that a public official should never have said that, but agree with Benjamin at this point; stem the tide of leftism on our legislative branches now. If they won’t fight to win on the campaign trail, they won’t roll back the stupid legislation or regulation when they get in to office.

    Conservatives wouldn’t fight to win, and that’s why Donald Trump is in office.

    As Lincoln said of Grant, he wins.

    As I read the Fox News story this morning about the guy who got 15 years for stealing a LBGblahblahblah flag and apparently burning it in front of a strip club, I wonder what kind of time all those people did for burning an American flag, or vandalizing their neighbors political yard signs?

    Oh, that’s right, the only time they got was on the evening news.

    • As I read the Fox News story this morning about the guy who got 15 years for stealing a LBGblahblahblah flag and apparently burning it in front of a strip club, I wonder what kind of time all those people did for burning an American flag, or vandalizing their neighbors political yard signs?

      Whaaaaaat? This is still worse than I estimated when I put acid pen to figurative paper before. Now I think that laws passed by and supportive of Democrats should just simply be disregarded. I’m burning the next rainbow flag I see and disregarding all ensuing court dates. When ultimately arrested, I’ll behave as one kidnapped by lawless criminals. The social contract is void. Lawlessness and Hobbes’s state of nature is preferable to a vast enterprise actively suppressing you with force of arms in favor of evil. In anarchy, at least the good gets the same fighting chance.

      Uuugh, if only modern men weren’t so addicted to pleasure and vice, there could be a glorious counterrevolution. Even if the schmos we’d have to work with could be bribed into action with internet porn and Twinkies, they’d put a pretty, vacuous pop-star on an all-powerful throne. What a deplorable mess. There’s no Earthly hope at all.

      Good thing I have all those Catholic mystic visions of global near-annihilation set to come due in the next decade or so to look forward to. I think France is supposed to go first.

    • “As I read the Fox News story this morning about the guy who got 15 years for stealing a LBGblahblahblah flag and apparently burning it in front of a strip club,…

      I saw this today and was intending to note it (and may still do) on Jack’s post for COTD for A.M.Golden, as it is in the same vein as the problem he addresses in his first sentence; “When did Americans start thinking that destroying someone and/or that person’s livelihood is acceptable behavior when it comes to a difference in opinion?’. Well, perhaps when the government started effectively participating in the same behavior.

      To be completely fair, there is a bit more to the story than one might imagine from some of the (meager) coverage. To be even more fair, I’ll note that our old friend Snopes gives some details that allow them to rate the story as “mixed”. But even they have to confirm (at the very end of their article, of course) that what would have been a maximum 3 year misdemeanor sentence for the flag-burner’s act, was multiplied five-fold for the “bad thoughts” that allowed it to be classified as a “hate” crime. This is not the first incident in the U.S. where laws have allowed the punishment for a thought crime to be overwhelmingly more severe than what would be reasonable for a fairly minor act. It’s a scary trend, and it’s proving those who opposed the idea of enhanced penalties in these cases correct in their fears of where it would lead.

      • It’s all about the political power they seek to gain, and have. The irony for the rest of us is that liberals/leftists are not opposed to LBGx or strip clubs, or sexual banter or innuendo, but don’t burn a flag that represents their ideals, and don’t make suggestive comments unless you believe like they do on everything else.

        What’s scary is how much of it is now codified (this, the Colorado commission, etc…).

        I can’t believe that sentance multiplier will stand, but I guess we’ll see.

  7. Relating to #2…
    Here in CA, some have already said that she withdrew because she couldnt figure out just who she was supposed to sleep with to get the job, given her past proclivities.
    Bad taste, OK, to many it is.
    But a grain of truth exists…

  8. I thought the second joke was far funnier than the first one. I wish you had that option in the poll.

    I grew up with my Mom working at a hospital, in the pharmacy, and when I got older one of my first “real” jobs was at a hospital. If you have spent any time with hospital people you will find that they have often what might be considered a morbid sense of humor. Not so surprisingly there is a difference in humor between people in the Pharmacy vs. the Laboratory vs. Surgery vs. the Emergency Room. A regular person walking by and overhearing might be rightly offended, but you have to understand that what these people see on a daily basis would be horrifying to most people. You are sticking your hands in peoples bodies, taking samples of their shit, sticking cameras up their butts, making cancer treatments for little kids who frankly have little chance of living. If you cannot temper that with some humor, you will end up in the psych ward (where even weirder jokes will be made).

    I think people need to understand that different people have different senses of humor, will find different things funny and be offended by different things. If we start firing nurses and paramedics because they make fun of horrifying situations then we will be left with no one to care for us when we need it.

    • Gallows humor is a coping mechanism for jobs such as those you mention. Emergency rooms, police departments, motherhood…. They all require a certain amount of gallows humor to keep from going insane. Gallows humor, however, is far different from locker room humor; the latter of which the candidate clearly engaged in. I would argue that locker room humor also has its place; just not in the tweet of someone running for office.

  9. #1: A “whose ox was gored” thing. People listen to shock-jocks & such partly (mainly?) because their repertoire includes outrageous hyperbole and sometimes grimly sardonic comments. They like it just fine until one of the comments touches their particular tender spot, and then suddenly they’ve “gone too far”.

    #2: Somewhat similar to #1, although we could hope for better from those from whom we expect serious representation. Perhaps Hyde should volunteer that he’ll consider withdrawal as soon as the dems censure and demand resignations from Tlaib, et al., for their vulgarities.

  10. I sympathize with the first joke, even though I agree it was a bad idea. The nonsense of the impeachment is a constant, depressing mess dragging our nation further from sensible government. Mr. Bonniwell’s joke obviously meant that even a horrifying tragedy would be a welcome change from that garbage. His choice of a shool shooting was stupid, but not irredeemable.

  11. #1. How is someone to determine what might make someone thay do not know, and in this case can’t see, upset. The job is “news and comment”, the news being the straight line, the comment the laugh line. Not everyone laughs at every joke. Grow up.
    2. Interesting that people on both sides of the aisle are well aware of Harris’s formula for success in the political world. Without that knowledge, there is not a bit of “bad taste” in that comment. The fault is Harris’s past behavior not the comments it spawns. Sane people who have such a history would avoid the national stage. Be happy to be Senator, and shut up.

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