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…