Saturday, November 4, 2017

Costly Publicity

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Last week, ESPN anchor Jemele Hill loaded her 140-character Twitter super soaker and hosed down 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with this political torrent: “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/other white supremacists.” 

Whoa now.  Using Twitter against Trump is like deploying the Batmobile against Batman or Thor’s hammer against the son of Odin himself.  No one insults, creates controversy or manufactures chaos with the Twitter toy like the Trumper.  No one!

Oh, but Hill did and, predictably, sent the impulsive and proudly un-presidential Trump into a tizzy.  
Channeling The Dude from The Big Lebowski (doubtful Trump’s seen the iconic flick), you could practically sense The Great Comb Over exclaiming, “This aggression will not stand, man…especially from an African American woman!!!”  In true “kiss the ring” fashion, Trump demanded something he’s never offered to any group he’s offended (like African Americans and women) – an apology. 

And goodie for him.  We needed our leader to pause and corral this brazen ESPN personality while Caribbean islands are uninhabitable, Houston is rising from its knees, people in Florida are homeless or living in darkness and North Korea is firing missiles every other day. 

I trust the sarcasm is palatable.  As Hunter S. Thompson said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  So I’m taking my big league hacks.  How else to navigate this demoralizing post-election world, eh?

At the root of this latest Trumpian Twitter-war is a legitimate and increasingly pertinent issue: understanding the intersection between First Amendment rights and the consequences of constitutionally bequeathed free speech liberties.  Freely expressed thoughts are a decidedly American right (one of the few things left with overwhelmingly bipartisan support), but in this amazing(?) social media age, they can have lasting impact on relationships, reputations and, in Hill’s case, employment. 

CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin attempted a discussion on the topic during a recent edition of her show.  To support the segment, Baldwin had two guests aboard: former ESPN writer Keith Reed and Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis.  Baldwin opened the dialogue by questioning why Trump, who has received similar criticism from numerous sources, chose to engage with Hill and ESPN and cued Travis for comment.  Less than a minute into his salvo, Travis dropped this gem: “I’m a First Amendment absolutist.  I believe in only two things completely: the First Amendment and boobs.”  When Baldwin asked for clarification, Travis confirmed the statement and added that the First Amendment and boobs are “…the two things that have never let me down in this country’s history.” 

This from a married father of three. 

The obvious: Travis’s statement was incredibly immature, demeaning and horribly misplaced.  To mock such a serious issue and reduce Hill’s struggles with this president, struggles she shares with many people from various walks of life, with a throw-away, frat-boy-around-a-keg comment is confounding.  Was Travis lost in self-promotion?  Did he feel emboldened by this administration to bring adolescent chatter onto a national stage?   

In a weird confluence of circumstances, I read a piece last week by Melissa Jacobs ( on former Rams QB Jim Everett.  A long time ago, a one-time provocative radio and television talking head by the name of Jim Rome had Everett on his show.  Rome, in what was then typical Rome fashion, sought to provoke Everett by calling him “Chris”, a childish reference to Chris Evert, the great female tennis player of similar surname. 

Everett took offense and warned Rome against furthering the charade.  Rome, with an irritated Everett in his midst (exactly what he wanted), pressed on with his “Chris” shtick.  Everett snapped, tipped over table and knocked Rome to the ground.  It was an embarrassment for all involved.  Testosterone run amuck. 

Rome has had a long career in sports media, but he hasn’t completely out-raced that moment.  It remains front and center on his resume, a self-inflicted antagonist typecast that’s pigeonholed his work into something forever short of serious journalism.

Clay Travis committed a similar error.  He’ll forever be “First Amendment Boob Guy”, a label he earned while goofing off during a conversation about the consequences of free speech.  The irony is omnipresent.    

My fellow Americans, speak freely…but wisely.   

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