Update: Wonkette’s editor responds later in the post, but also, a reader hilariously bought the domain name JackStuef.com, which now redirects to the National Down Syndrome Society donation page. Lemons into lemonade.
Political humor website Wonkette has long been trending toward nihilistic snark for snark’s sake, but Jack Stuef‘s column “honoring” Trig Palin’s birthday is about the most irredeemably vile, unfunny thing I’ve ever seen. As if jokes about Trig’s Down Syndrome aren’t bad enough on their own, Stuef goes the extra mile to pen kneeslappers about incest, child rape, and fetal alcohol syndrome. I don’t want to reproduce too much of it here, but this quote is fairly representative:
Today is the day we come together to celebrate the snowbilly grifter’s magical journey from Texas to Alaska to deliver to the America the great gentleman scholar Trig Palin. Is Palin his true mother? Or was Bristol? (And why is it that nobody questions who the father is? Because, either way, Todd definitely did it.)
Hey, that’s really funny, calling Trig a gentleman scholar because he has Down Syndrome. And the speculation that Todd Palin may have raped his daughter? Pure comedy gold. You know what will be even funnier? The first time Jack Stuef runs into Todd Palin. That one practically writes its own punchline.
When I first heard about this, I was, of course, outraged. Who wouldn’t be? I’ve read a lot of offensive things in my career (and even been fired over them), but I am hard-pressed to think of anything that comes close to this. If there is any expression of disgust that I have failed to convey, consider this my signature on it.
That is not to say that edginess, and even poor taste, have no place in political writing. One of the most famous pieces of political satire ever was basically one long dead baby joke. George Carlin set out to prove that cancer is funny, and succeeded. Those examples, though, had redeeming value beyond their shock value.
I emailed Wonkette Chief Editor Ken Layne to see if he had any comment, or if Wonkette intended to take the post down. Here was his response:
On whose account are you requesting that Jack Stuef remove a post mocking Sarah Palin’s well-documented use of her special needs child as a political prop? Is this coming from Mediaite? Which editor?
Apparently, Layne (and presumably, Stuef) think it’s okay to attack a baby if they have a good reason not to like his mom. The logic seems to be that by attacking Trig, they’re demonstrating why Palin shouldn’t have put Trig “out there.” It’s definitely not a cheap pretext to do retard and rape jokes.
I responded, “I’m not asking THAT you remove it, just if you’re going to.”
He hasn’t answered back, so I guess that’s a no. That’s not surprising. Wonkette’s entire brand is staked on pure, unapologetic id, so taking down a post because people found it offensive would be completely self-canceling. (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.”)
The beautiful thing about the First Amendment, though, is that everybody gets it. Wonkette gets to publish what it wants, and people get to express what they think about it. On principle, I’m not even in favor of campaigns like the one that was mounted against Playboy when I was fired from Politics Daily. I don’t want anyone to censor themselves based on public pressure, but rather, to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.
If Ken Layne really believes in retard jokes as a vehicle for the public good, he should absolutely stand by them, and I’ll stand where I stand.
Update: Layne responds to my second email:
So Mediaite wants you to encourage political satire websites to remove items that offend those who support the targets of the mockery? That seems awfully strange for Mediaite. Which editor is encouraging this, is what I’m asking.
Well, Ken, I’m not doing that, and I find it strange that you think a baby has supporters and opponents, but I get your underlying question. This story was not assigned to me, I chose it. I asked you for comment, and whether you were taking it down, in the interest of presenting your side of the story. You can reach my editor here
Great. I guess I’m in a feud with Ken Layne now. Get in line, pal.
Update 2: I’ve received another reply from Ken Layne, and in the interest of fairness, I’m going to include my response to him. Two things about that: First, there’s some strong language.
Second, I divulge to Layne that I’m the parent of two special needs children. I don’t generally include that information in my commentaries (and didn’t intend to here) because I don’t wish to use that fact to gain moral authority, or to be emotionally manipulative. I believe an argument should stand on its own merit. I include it here because it would be unfair to Layne to publish his responses, and not my own.
Here’s Ken Layne’s response to me:
But there’s already a Mediaite story, which is why I’m asking what Mediaite’s interest is in having a post taken down.
You *honestly* don’t know of the Palin fanatics’ Cult of Trig? I find that hard to believe, if you’ve been on the Internet before. In any case, spend a day at Team Sarah and then try to tell us there’s no Cult of Trig. Where do you think the pictures and poems Jack always mocks comes from? (He links to them.)
And my response to him:
I told you, I’m writing a piece of commentary, and wanted to present your side of the story. I guess you have. My interest in writing commentary is that I was deeply offended by the piece, and as the father of two special needs children, felt compelled to write about it. You and Jack think your satirical point redeems the vile child-fucking and retard jokes, I disagree.
Update 3: Ken Layne responds again, and concedes that targeting Trig was wrong, but isn’t all that apologetic, otherwise. Here’s his response in full. I will add my response once I’ve sent it:
Oh I didn’t follow this very well, sorry! Trying to read mail on my phone.
Well, you should obviously write your opinion about it. I don’t care for Jack’s reaching here, because whatever the meta-satire it’s going to be lost with Palin fans riled up about Trig. I have, in fact, admonished Jack about this. Write about Sarah Palin, yes. And we should always — it is a *moral duty* — show how reprehensible it is to be using *any baby* and especially a special needs baby as a political prop. That is gross, and sane people know it’s gross. It is not even worth mocking the very creepy “Cult of Trig” on the Team Sarah website, because how can you do that and *guarantee* that you’re not mocking the kid? Who will vouch for such a guarantee? Nuance is not exactly a common reading-comprehension skill in this country. So I have told Jack to cool it with that, you just have to make things so clear when writing about *certain subjects* because who wants to waste 3 hours on email about this? It’s not like those people are readers of Wonkette. It’s not like they’re going to suddenly become fans of a leftist website utterly dedicated to mocking the fringe right.
I have been editing and writing for political satire websites for 15 years, including on AOL where not a single AOL subscriber ever had *any idea* what I was doing and the whole point was to drum up as many insane comments as possible. People are going to act outraged about things on the internet. I’m pretty sure you are aware of this, if you work on the internet. And with two kids of my own and another on the way, I am obviously a great fan of children, especially mine. And I respect the rights of children to not be mocked on the internet just because their mom is a cow-demon. It’s not the kid’s fault. Who gets to pick their parents? I sure didn’t.
As for taking down the post, as you know on the internet there is no “taking down the post.” Why even try that? So people like you can get another freelance internet column out of it by feigning outrage again? (“They tried to take down the post, but we found it on Google cache!”) There is nothing in “political media” approaching even the most basic intellectual honesty, so why would any website fall for that “You should take down the post” thing? Wouldn’t that be crazy? So of course you never take down a post. But in this case, like all such cases over the decades, you sometimes put a note on the post apologizing for offending anyone, and making it clear that your target is Sarah Palin, an empty grifter and dollar-chaser and tabloid-fame monster with a delusional following of poor white people who somehow think her interests converge in any way with their interests. It is certainly not about her innocent child.
By reading this email, you agree to post the entire thing in your Mediaite post.
Update 4: My response to Ken Layne: (again with the language)
I want to thank you, sincerely, for responding. The outcome you’re suggesting is just about perfect. I could give a shit what you do to Jack. If your response, and his punishment, are merely to avoid wasting time on email, rather than out of a suddenly-learned sense of decency, then this will surely happen again. I don’t think that’s really the case, though. Being who you are, and writing where you write, you have to stay “in character,” so you can’t very well go all Jimmy Swaggart on me. I think (or hope) that despite your Wonkettitude, you and Jack have learned some empathy today.
I also agree that most of the people who were offended by this probably don’t read Wonkette. I do, or did, but most probably do not. I’m also not a big fan of advertiser boycotts, for the same reason. I don’t want a bunch of people who hate what I love deciding what I can or can’t see on the interweb, or the TeeVee, or those paper thingies. I think ideas should liver or die on the merits. As a longtime satirist myself, I understand the special thrill you can derive from people who don’t get the joke. They’re better than the ones who do. Just so we’re clear, I got the joke here. I just found it lacking. Lacking in humor, decency, or even a coherent satirical premise.
You’re also right, there is no “taking down the post,” and even though I realize you’re in character, fuck you very much for this: “So people like you can get another freelance internet column out of it by feigning outrage again?”
Imagine it was a child just like one of your two (soon to be three) kids who were attacked here. Maybe if I was a dick Wonkette writer, I’d think you were an oversensitive pussy for getting your booty-shorts in a twist, but as a fellow parent, I wouldn’t assume you were just a craven opportunist. You think I relished the thought of emailing a former colleague like this? You think I want to be in a feud with the Inglorious Basterds of internet dickheads? I don’t. Whatever you think of my outrage, know that it is sincere.
That said, thank you for responding, and good luck with your website.
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