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Update: Wonkette Deletes Trig Palin Post As Advertisers Leave Site

Update: Wonkette has deleted the post, and replaced it with this message: (h/t Little Miss Attila)

Rude Post Deleted By Editor; Author Apologizes

A post on this page satirizing Sarah Palin using her baby as a political prop was very badly done and sounded like the author was mocking the child and not just Sarah Palin/Sarah Palin’s followers.

The writer, Jack Stuef, has apologized for it. And we have decided to remove the post as requested by some people who have nothing to do with Sarah Palin, but who do have an interest in the cause of special needs children. We apologize for the poor comedic judgment.

Wonkette‘s Jack Stuef published a vile post “celebrating” Trig Palin’s birthday on Monday, which drew widespread outrage, and caused several advertisers to desert the site. After some pushback from Wonkette editor Ken Layne, Stuef’s byline was deleted from the post, and an apology was later added. Sincere or not, Stuef’s apology hasn’t stopped a Twitter campaign to target Wonkette‘s advertisers.

In the run-up to Stuef’s apology Wednesday, Wonkette editor Ken Layne was characteristically defiant in emails to Adweek, Slate‘s Dave Weigel, and to me (full disclosure: Layne and I worked on the same blog a few years ago, AOL’s Political Machine. Ironically, his column was called “Ken Layne’s Outrage”).

Over the course of those conversations, Layne’s viewpoint softened a bit, some would say because a handful of advertiser had already pulled their ads from the site over the post. He “admonished” the writer, and shortly thereafter, Stuef added the following apology to the post:

I regret this post and using the word “retarded” in a reference to Sarah Palin’s child. It’s not nice, and is not necessary, but I take responsibility for writing it. For those who came and are offended by this post: I’m sorry, of course. But I stand by my criticism of Sarah Palin using her child as a political prop.

Stuef’s apology probably hasn’t mollified anyone, but least of all a Twitter group that continues to target Wonkette’s advertisers.

To the extent that anyone cares, here are some of my thoughts on the issues surrounding this story, apart from the revulsion I have already recorded at length.

Keeping Score

I didn’t bring this up at first because I did not want to distract, in any way, from the reprehensible nature of Stuef’s attack, but now that it has been duly registered (and remains the top priority in any discussion of this story), I feel compelled to bring this up. In the initial wave of outrage over this, Newsbusters had this to say:

What has become of today’s liberalism that makes it acceptable to attack the mentally handicapped if they or their parents are conservatives?

Despite the fact that my own website (in the person of my respected and beloved colleague Alex Alvarez) called this a “reasonable question,” I take issue with this, and with subsequent efforts to finger-wag at “the left” for allegedly failing to denounce.

Set aside the factual deficiencies in this premise, such as the fact that Wonkette is not run by a liberal, but a left-leaning libertarian. Set aside the fact that many prominent liberals (and the liberal you’re now reading) have denounced this. (Keith Olbermann, with whom I have recently feuded, has said that he plans a “Worst Persons” segment on this, and hopefully, Stuef’s targeting of Trig will affect a change of heart in him about targeting SE Cupp’s parents. Either way, it’s to his credit that he chooses to stand up for children, rather than to remain silent and chuckle at the evisceration of Sarah Palin.)

Set aside the fact that neither side had much to say about their own when the “retard” controversy was hitting Rahm Emanuel and Rush Limbaugh.

My problem with this is that, as someone who cleverly tricked himself into revealing that he has some skin in this game, I find that the mere effort at political scorekeeping reveals a cheap motivation that’s nearly as offensive as what Stuef did. My kids are not a bloody shirt to be waved by the right, or the left. Or by me, which is why I never intended to bring them into it.

Doesn’t Palin Use Trig as a Prop?

Regardless of your opinion on this question, Stuef’s post was still vile and irredeemable. Still, there are some on the left whose hatred of Palin is so irrational that they grasp at any possible means to discredit her, like her parenting skills. This is a small subset, and one which has been pushed back against by prominent liberals (and me).

I’m not sure what the logic is here. Was Palin supposed to leave Trig on the side of a mountain to die? All politicians are photographed with their families, and if Palin is somehow empirically proven to show Trig off more than normal, it could be to prevent the criticism that she’s ashamed of him. Or it could be that she’s, y’know, proud of him.

There are examples of Palin politicizing aspects of her family life (unrelated to Trig) that I do find objectionable, but not nearly as objectionable as the way some Palin critics have tried to exploit Trig Palin to shame his mother. Not only is it disgusting, it undermines legitimate criticisms of Palin.

Targeting Advertisers

The First Amendment cuts in every direction, so nothing I say here should be construed as a wish to quash any of what anyone is saying. There are great arguments in favor of targeting advertisers, chief among them that it seems to have worked.

That said, I personally oppose the idea. As a general rule, I think the best way to respond to objectionable speech is with more speech, not less. I also believe that ideas should live or die based on their merits, and I don’t like the idea of people who hate something ruining that thing for people who enjoy it. For example, I don’t think liberals should try to pressure Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers, but rather, channel that energy into supporting decent liberal radio shows.

I think this kind of campaign is counter-productive to the larger goal of encouraging empathy for special needs kids. Stuef’s apology is obviously a bit self-serving, but I suspect that no amount of dissected flesh would satisfy the anti-Wonkette crusade. Point having been made, what is left to accomplish? Will running Wonkette out of business help special needs kids? Will getting Jack Stuef fired from his non-paying job help them? Or will it make this campaign appear to be exploiting them as a pretext to destroy Wonkette?

Despite their outward bravado, I think Layne and Stuef have learned their lesson, and are likely to be more empathetic to our kids in the future, which should be enough. Again, have at it if you want, but at a certain point, you cross over from concerned advocate to vengeful jerk.

There’s one final, hilarious irony to this story, which is that the group targeting Wonkette’s advertisers is using the obviously-never-said-out-loud hashtag #TrigsCrew. How badly do you suppose Jack Stuef wants to write a post about that?

Update: Wonkette has deleted the post, and replaced it with this message: (h/t Little Miss Attila)

Rude Post Deleted By Editor; Author Apologizes

A post on this page satirizing Sarah Palin using her baby as a political prop was very badly done and sounded like the author was mocking the child and not just Sarah Palin/Sarah Palin’s followers.

The writer, Jack Stuef, has apologized for it. And we have decided to remove the post as requested by some people who have nothing to do with Sarah Palin, but who do have an interest in the cause of special needs children. We apologize for the poor comedic judgment.

On the subject of Wonkette’s deletion, I am of two minds. Layne’s original decision to leave it up had the benefit of being both journalistically transparent, and a permanent shame-monument.

On the other hand, it also served as a sort of perpetual frag grenade, injuring anew every time it would be viewed. For that reason, I suppose the deletion is a good thing.

What’s not so good is Layne’s description of the post, which may be honest in his own  eyes, but is far from accurate. That’s the downside of this approach, but there’s nothing preventing Wonkette from adding a fairer description.

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