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.
Moving on though, assuming that you decided to take that picture though and assuming you apologized the way you did the first time, another thing that you certainly could have done better was in your much more recent press conference. Interestingly, you were willing to blame the President for your demise as a comedian. According to the report in the Los Angeles Times, you said, “I don't think I will have a career after this. I'm going to be honest, he broke me.” (Full video here).
I have to be pretty honest with you right here. I didn’t listen to your comedy before, and I’m not going to listen to your comedy after. It simply is not my style. The fact that Donald Trump likes it or does not like it really makes just about zero difference to me. I don’t think I am alone on that. Maybe you know the statistics better than I do, but I have a feeling that most of the individuals who are your most loyal followers really do not care very much about what Donald Trump thinks.
You very well might not have a career after this. I fully agree with you, but you cannot blame that on Donald Trump. You have to blame that on the specific action you took when you participated in this photo shoot.
What you did is not about offending Donald Trump, but you troubled thousands of people around the country who apparently believe that you crossed the line. You know this. You apologized to them rather than the man that you very artistically beheaded. You know that it really does not matter if Donald Trump appreciates your comedy or not, and to be quite honest, I have a feeling that your brand among anti-Trump Americans is going to skyrocket after this if they do not find what you did offending the basic human truths that I already talked about above.
What will ruin your career is if Americans generally still hold somewhere in their hearts that decent people do not joke about the death of other people in the way that you did. If they find what you did not just anti-Trump but actually anti-human decency as I argued it was above, they are going to stop listening to you. It really has very little to do with the reaction of Donald Trump. For some reason, I don’t think that you and our President speak to the same target audience and demographic unless of course they suffer from extreme cognitive dissonance by holding these contradictory positions simultaneously.
I guess in summary, I again want to reiterate that no one should be threatening your life over this. You have the right to freedom of expression, and no one should be arguing that you do not have the right to exercise it. You have the right to do offensive things if you want to. However, take ownership for your offense. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t think you really believe what you did was wrong. I think that you apologized because you were trying to save your brand at that moment specifically because you apologized only to your own followers. You do not want to offend them because they pay the bills. However, that does not exactly say to me that you really understand what you did was indeed wrong and an offense to the human dignity of another person. I get it that you really do not like Donald Trump, and I am not a fan either by any means. However, he is still a person, and if we still believe in the fact that all people have this inherent right to life, then we really ought to not joke about gruesomely taking away any life. I don’t know if you believe in that right given the joke you made, and that troubles me greatly.
If the American people who actually listened to your comedy in the first place rise up and decide that is not something they want to listen to anymore, then the blame of that is certainly not on the reaction of our President. Your actions have consequences, and in this case, the consequence is that you offended even some of your own fans who I have a feeling have very little overlap with Donald Trump supporters. They are not going to listen to what he says anyway, so the truth of the matter is really that you managed to even hurt your own audience. You cannot try to pass this blame off on to anyone else; it was a direct consequence of your decision to participate in this photo shoot that offended basic human sensibilities no matter how they feel about you or our President.
Like I said before, it is obvious from the general response to your photo shoot that people are not defending the President from your attack, but they are saying that what you did is wrong regardless of their political position. Right and wrong are real things, and what you did was actually and objectively wrong. People recognize that, and withdrawing support from your shows is a consequence of people recognizing your violation of that truth.
I understand that we cannot rewrite history, so everything that is done is already done. You can’t unoffend the people that you already offended. However, going forward, perhaps in your offensiveness which I understand is entirely what you go for, you do not offend universal human dignity. It is not Donald Trump that will sink your career; it is only the decisions that you make that will do that. If you blatantly attack the common values that we have regarding human life, people are going to stop supporting you.