Dear Ms. Griffin,
I guess this has been somewhat of a roller coaster week for you. Let me first of all condemn anyone who is threatening your life at this point. I pray that the authorities will take whatever necessary and appropriate action is required to protect your life. No matter what you did, vigilante justice applied by Internet trolls is never a good way to go about solving any type of problem. I do not write this letter at all to wish any harm on you or attempt to justify any of the ridiculous death threats that are being brought your way. These people need to be caught and punished for threatening your life.
That being said, I decided to write this letter because there were many ways that you could have handled this entire photo situation better. To be entirely honest, I never listen to your comedy, so I do not really have much of an opinion on what you have done in the past one way or the other. I think that gives me a somewhat objective perspective on this one situation in isolation in a way that perhaps your fans or your detractors might not be able to achieve.
For the record before we begin, I am also not a Donald Trump supporter. I support him in as far as he supports policies that I believe will be for the benefit of the United States of America just like I did for Barack Obama. When any President makes good decisions, our country will thrive. Obviously I support him in that regard, but I did not vote for him specifically because of many horrible things he said during the campaign, so I am certainly not in the Trump camp either. In fact, he has a right to freedom of speech and expression just as much as you do, but I chose not to vote for him because of the way that he exercised that freedom. I only mention this to be entirely transparent in regards to any bias some readers might believe I have.
On with my suggestions.
The first obvious thing that should have taken place in this situation is that you should have had the discernment to not participate in this photo shoot. It is not really rocket science that joking about the death of a specific person is obviously insulting, demeaning and bullying behavior. In your most recent press conference, you complained about being bullied by our President, but a little bit of discernment clearly shows that your behavior was also bullying. That just is not the way that civil Americans act towards each other. I would hope that you would have known this, but apparently you did not. As the old proverb goes, two wrongs don’t make a right (and this also ought to be directed toward any bullying that is now coming your way as a result of your photo shoot). Bullying someone who you perceive to be a bully does not make the situation better.
Certainly you have freedom of expression, so producing a particular photograph is not against the law. Being a comedian, I understand that your entire brand is based around shocking people. You have the freedom of speech to say what you want. That’s not the question at all. The question is whether or not you should have done it, and any person with any type of discernment would know that portraying a specific person's death is not something to be taken lightly or joked about.
I wish I would not have had to say that, but clearly I had to because in your apology video that you made as soon as people started complaining, I did not hear you say anything about really being sorry for portraying the beheading of another human being. I heard you apologize for “crossing the line” and the fact that you “went too far.” To your credit, you did say that you were indeed “wrong.” However, you seem to imply that you were wrong for offending your fans rather than for doing something that was objectively wrong in and of itself.
Let’s say that hypothetically nobody was offended by this image. Let’s say that our entire society became so numb to poor taste that nobody was upset by this photograph whatsoever. In that case, you certainly would not have crossed society’s line or gone too far, and your fans, the only ones interestingly that you decided to apologize to rather than the man you were portraying the beheading of, would not have responded with outrage because hypothetically, you would not have crossed the line of perceived decency.
As far as I can tell then, in that hypothetical world, you seemingly would not have apologized. After all, you apologized in response to the outrage rather than the act itself. You apologized for crossing the audience’s line, but if there was not that line of cultural acceptability for you to aggressively burst through, then I really don’t know that you believe that your participation in this photo was actually wrong. You gave no reason to based on the apology you presented.
The obvious issue with your apology is that it only came after outrage. Taking this picture would still be wrong even if no one complained, and I hope that you know that deep down inside. It is wrong to joke about another individual’s death. We are all people, and we all have the innate dignity that comes with that. As we all recognize in our founding documents, we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We do not joke about taking away someone’s life specifically because, as you and I are both Americans, we recognize that people deserve to have their lives. Through this image, you were implying that the life of a particular American did not even have that basic level of dignity that includes the right to actually be alive. We were apparently supposed to find it funny that someone could be killed, and that simply is wrong.
Our society holds together because even though we are incredibly divided right now, there are certain things that we agree upon, and the fact that murder is a bad thing is a pretty universally affirmed truth in American society today. The fact that we do not glorify assassinations or the portrayal of assassinations at least used to be something that brought us together.
In fact, it is not hard to go on Twitter and find large amounts of condemnation for this photo shoot from the left and the right. With just a little searching, I found condemnation from rather diverse sources like Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien and Mitt Romney among many, many others. Nobody can legitimately criticize your right to take this photo if you wanted to, but that doesn’t mean anyone has to approve it or celebrate your decision. In fact, because of this recognition of the basic human dignity of even a very controversial man, the condemnation seems consistent across the board. Apparently, many people on the left and the right still recognize simple decency.
Therefore, the obvious first thing that you have done better in this situation was to not even take the picture in the first place. You could have recognized that it was wrong even if there was not the fear of public outrage. It was wrong when the French revolutionary forces carried the heads of their victims through the streets on pikes even though everyone was cheering for them.