In sarcastic Facebook post, Virginia State Senator calls pregnant woman “hosts”

In a classic lesson of how you need to watch what you say on Facebook (or, that sarcasm doesn’t translate, depending on if you believe the Senator in question), a Virginia State Senator has found himself in hot water for referring to pregnant women as “hosts” in a Facebook post.

Senator Stephen Martin (R-11) is a strongly anti-choice State Senator.  He has supported numerous anti-voice measures, including requiring ultrasounds before abortions and tougher regulations on abortion clinics.  In response to his stances, the Virginia Pro-Choice coalition sent Senator Martin a Valentine’s Day card, asking Martin to not “break our hearts.” Martin responded with this:

Stephen Martin Hosts






The key line is in the last sentence of the first paragraph:  “However, once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.”

The reaction was swift.  NARAL Virginia and Planned Parenthood both took to Twitter to attack Martin:

Four Virginia Senators, all female and all Democrats, attacked Martin:

  • State Senator Barbara A. Favola (D-Arlington): “This statement demonstrates a total lack of respect for women and a lack of respect for their bodies.”
  • State Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax): “I’ve been called by a lot of titles in my life, but I’ve never been called a host.”
  • State Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton): “Charitably, I can say that this kind of comment is snide and doesn’t get us anywhere.  Frankly, it’s misogynistic or demeaning.”

  • State Senator L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth): “His remarks may have been a joke . . . but it underscores the point: He simply has no idea what he’s talking about.”

At the same time, Planned Parenthood and NARAL sent women to the Senate gallery wearing t-shirts that said “Not a host.”  Virginia State Democrats also seized on the remarks, with Virginia Democratic Party spokeswoman Ashley Bauman saying, “From ‘Personhood’ to the controversial ‘Ultrasound’ bill, Virginia Republicans have a long history of attacking women’s health and it’s time we send a clear message.”

After the condemnatory speeches and attacks from women’s and abortion-rights groups, Martin edited the post to remove the “host” line, instead referring to the “bearers of the child.”  He did not apologize, however, saying:

Since they took that out of context, I said alright, I’ve already made it pretty clear since I said calling them mothers, I changed it to bearer of the children. But I’d be happy to change it back. I think that the way in which they turned that and somehow used this as both a Valentine’s card issue and then to turn around say that I’m calling mothers and children who bear children hosts I think is a bit of twisting of the facts.

Two points here.  First, watch what you say, though that should be obvious.  Don’t expect to make a comment as controversial as the one that Senator Martin made and not get serious blowback.  Second, let’s say, for a moment, that Senator Martin really was using the word “hosts” sarcastically and didn’t say what he did in an effort to be derogatory towards women.  This incident proves a great point: for sarcasm to work online, has to be blindingly obvious.  For it to work in person, vocal tone is key – and clearly, you don’t get tone over the internet.  In other words, if you are going to be sarcastic in an online post, be very, very careful, because sarcasm just doesn’t translate well online.

Anti gay-marriage legislator accidentally tweets support for gay marriage

File this one under “check your tweets before you send them”:  A Texas legislator and candidate for Lt. Governor accidentally tweeted his support for gay marriage today, failing to add the letters “wo” to a critical word.

A Federal judge today ruled that Texas’ constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman is unconstitutional, violating recent Supreme Court decisions and the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The decision has been stayed, pending appeal.

Naturally, in conservative Texas, this decision was not well received by many members of the legislature, who were quick to put out statements opposing the decision.  One such legislator is State Senator Dan Patrick (R-7) (by the way, if you have a moment,  review Patrick’s official website, because it looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2004).  Patrick, who is also a candidate for Lt. Governor, attempted to tweet his opposition to the Judge’s decision.  As noted by Talking Points Memo, this went badly:







This was most certainly NOT what Patrick had in mind.  I am sure many people were favoriting the tweet, but for reasons entirely unrelated to what Patrick had in mind.

Anyway, TPM notes that the tweet was deleted shortly after being sent, followed by numerous follow ups:

Not the best handling by Patrick.  The joke is fine, but he re-emphasized, in five different tweets, the typo.  Just say one thing acknowledging the error and move on.  Oh, and check your tweets before you send them…then again, I had a bad typo in a tweet to a member of House Democratic leadership today, so who am I to talk?

I will add that, in down-ballot races, this could be a real problem for Patrick.  Voters typically don’t know much about races like this, and if all they hear about Patrick is that he’s the guy who supports gay marriage (which they may think from a typo and subsequent news stories), it could be a problem.  That, and the last time Patrick was in the news (a few days ago), he was fighting off accusations that he had once knowingly employed an illegal immigrant.  So, on the whole, not a good week for Senator Patrick.

Protesting a political decision…by unfollowing?

One of the more interesting forms of political protests took place in Turkey last week, with opponents of Turkish President Abdullah Gul encouraging others to unfollow Gul after Gul made a controversial decision to increase government control over the internet.

First, the background.  Last week, Gul took to Twitter to announce that he would approve of new laws that would tighten governmental controls over the internet.  The laws were allegedly designed, in part, to help Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who is currently enmeshed in a corruption scandal.  Gul did say that he would fight to amend the internet law, but this has done little to assuage its detractors, who say that the bill amounts to increase controls over free speech.

As a result, protesters took to Turkey to encourage others to unfollow Gul.  The result?  Nearly 80,000 less Twitter followers.  This is out of +4 million, so it’s not the largest dent in the world, but it is certainly a sizable number.

Is this an effective form of protest?  In and of itself, no. But it is interesting that the uniqueness of the protest has generated more media attention than it would have otherwise.  Social Media is such a hot, new topic that it is generating significant publicity.  As a result, this story is gaining more traction, and that can only be good for Gul’s opponents.  If viewed in the context of an overall opposition effort, this move could prove to be effective.

What is most interesting to me is that there is an organized effort to fold in real-world protests with Twitter protests.  We have seen with the Arab Spring that Social Media can play a huge role in toppling dictators and overthrowing governments, but the thing here is that people are actually protesting via Twitter usage – not just communicating their message.  This is the first time I have seen unfollowing as a form of protest – and I’d be very curious to see if this continues to occur.

Australian politician uses suicide of celebrity to make anti-abortion Facebook post

Charlotte Dawson, 47, was an Australian television personality who was a famous victim of of cyber bullying.  In 2012, after receiving a series of threats and nasty comments over Twitter, Dawson tried to kill herself and was hospitalized.  Unfortunately, Ms. Dawson was found dead in her home yesterday, after an apparent suicide.

In 1999, Dawson had an abortion as a result of a pregnancy with her then husband, Olympic swimmer Scott Miller, citing the fear of distraction leading up to the Olympics.  That promoted this Facebook post from Australian Member of Parliament, Fred Nile:

Fred Nile facebook post

Most people would probably agree that the suicide of an individual is not a good time to make an anti-abortion statement.  At least one commenter, Angela Williams, had her critical post deleted, and she responded with an open letter to Nile:

Since you choose to remove my dissenting comments on your Facebook post I am writing to you here to ask why you think it is appropriate to continue the bullying of Charlotte Dawson after her tragic death.

It shows that your core motivation is to drive forward your agenda, regardless of any harm that may cause her family and loved ones, or the impact it may have on anyone facing the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. It also shows your absolute lack of regard for anyone struggling with mental health issues.

When asked to comment on the story, Nile declined to discuss the abortion, saying, “Charlotte Dawson’s story is a sad tragedy as she, like many, is a victim of depression. Her story needs to be told because, if it could happen to a strong and successful woman such as Charlotte, it can happen to anyone. May she finally be at peace. Our sympathy and prayers are with her loved ones.”

The lesson here is obvious: there is a time and place for everything.  The time to discuss abortion is not in the immediate aftermath of a woman who happened to have one.  Also, from a social media perspective, don’t make a comment as controversial as the one above and start deleting comments.  If you are going to say something controversial, be prepared to deal with the aftermath.

Unreal: Kansas Senate candidate/doctor posts patient x-rays, with gholish commentary

This one could get campaign ending.

First, the background: Milton Wolf is challenging Kansas Senator Pat Roberts (R) in the upcoming 2014 Senate primary.  Wolf, who is a radiologist and distant cousin to President Obama, has argued that Roberts isn’t conservative enough for Kansas.  Wolf’s campaign was bollstered by the recent news that Roberts doesn’t even live in Kansas and is registered to vote at a home owned by two donors, while a recent poll showed Roberts favorability numbers falling.

Any momentum generated by Wolf, however, will surely be stopped by this incredible story, first broken by the Topeka Capitol-Journal.  In posts on his personal Facebook page, Wolf posted the x-rays of patients, complete with comments mocking the dead and the tragedies that befell them.  The comments are sure to call into question Wolf’s judgement, while also potentially raising ethical and legal questions.

As noted by the Capitol-Journal, Wolf made a series of Facebook posts that featured x-rays, all while making a series of insensitive comments.  Examples include:

  • X-rays of a dead man who had been shot in the temple.  When asked about the awkward positioning of the man’s head by a commenter, Wolf responded, “Sheesh Melissa. It’s not like the patient was going to complain.”
  • While discussing a person who had been decapitated by a gunshot wound, Wolf said, “One of my all-time favorites. From my residency days there was a pretty active ‘knife and gun club’ at Truman Medical Center. What kind of gun blows somebody’s head completely off? I’ve got to get one of those…it reminds (me) of the scene from ‘Terminator 2’ when they shoot the liquid metal terminator guy in the face at close range and it kind of splits him open temporarily almost like a flower blooming. We all find beauty in different things.”

Wolf then compounded the bad situation by walking away from an interview with the Capitol-Journal when they declined to show him specific posts.  He also refused to answer whether or not he still makes such posts, saying, “I’m not going to play these kinds of gotcha games.”  Games Wolf apparently is going to play: the game where he makes fun of dead people’s x-rays.  That game is okay, by his rules.

Wolf, meanwhile, said that he made the posts to show “evil lurking in the world.”  Yes, that’s why he made fun of people who had been shot.  To show evil lurking in the world.

Wolf has said that the uploading of the x-rays were legal since personal information was redacted.  Multiple individuals in the Capitol-Journal article, however, question that claim, and say that Wolf could be facing ethics violations as a result of the posts and comments.

“The dignity and privacy of the individual should be protected,” said John Carney, president of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Mo. “It doesn’t sound like they’re being protected if they’re, obviously, on Facebook.”

Roberts’ campaign, naturally, attacked Wolf for the pictures and comments, calling them “unthinkable.” The National Republican Senate Committee accused Wolf of engaging in “freakish behavior.” Wolf’s response?  A Saturday statement in which he said that Roberts’ was launching an attack on his character that, “…will not only target me, but will, through its implications, cast a wider net to vilify all doctors.”  By Sunday, however, Wolf had changed his tune and released a more apologetic statement:

Several years ago I made some comments about these images that were insensitive to the seriousness of what the images revealed. Soon thereafter, I removed those images and comments, again several years ago. For them to be published in a much more public context now, by a political adversary who would rather declare war on doctors than answer serious questions that Kansans have, is truly sad.  However, my mistakes are my own and I take full responsibility for them.

I don’t even know how to conclude this.  Obviously this is a judgement failure of epic proportions.  Put it this way: would you ever want your x-ray taken by this doctor?  You never say things like this if you are in a position in which trust and confidentiality is required.  Speaking of confidentiality: never, ever break someone’s trust like this, so publicly.

UPDATE (2/13, 7:10):  Invisible Mikey makes an accurate clarification: Just to clarify, Radiologists never take x-rays. They only interpret images acquired by Radiologic Technologists, acting under the orders of other physicians or licensed providers. (I’m a Rad Tech.)

Mississippi State Senate retweets racist account

A Mississippi State Senator retweeted a message of support from a blatantly racist twitter account the other day.

State Senator Chris McDaniel (R-MS), who is also running for the U.S. Senate against Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), retweeted this message:

McDaniel Racist Tweet







The tweet has since been deleted.

The account, rrsray, has a bio that reads, “Nationalist, staunch proponent of 2nd & 10th Amendment, GoldenDawn & Southern Nationalism. In Unity we find Nobility & unconquerable Strength.”  Golden Dawn is a right-wing political party in Greece whose party leader has “openly identified [the party] as nationalist and racist.”

Among some of the other, more racist tweets from the rrsray account:

According to Talking Points Memo, McDaniel’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.  The same article also notes that McDaniel had previously blamed a rise in gun violence on hip-hop and defended waterboarding.  McDaniel had also previously attended neo-Confederate/pro-secession conferences.

So, by retweeting such a racist account, does that mean that McDaniel agrees with its content?  Hard to say, but if he didn’t agree with it, you’d really think that a spokesperson would have said, “The Senator does not condone the racism in that tweet.”  It’s an easy enough fix, and when you combine this tweet with some of McDaniel’s previous history……

One of the additional problems is that McDaniel lent himself wide open to that particular line of attack.  The lesson is that yes, sometimes, an RT does = an endorsement.  If you are an elected official, as I have said before, your Social Media use is held to a higher standard.  If you retweet favorable content from a racist twitter account, it does appear as if you are endorsing that content.  So, be careful with what you retweet.

Not one, but two ridiculously racist Emails found from Governor Walker’s staff

First, some background: Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) has a problem with racist staffers.  First, during his campaign, two staffers sent out a racially tinged tweet in response to their opponent and President Obama’s support for a high-speed rail line in Wisconsin.  Then, an employee of Walker’s in the Department of Transportation was fired after comparing illegal immigrants to Satan in a Facebook comment.  Most recently, a Walker campaign staffer was fired after old tweets revealed that she would “choke that illegal Mex.”

Walker’s racist staffer problem just got a whole lot worse.  As part of an investigation into one of Walker’s former aides, Kelly Rindfleisch, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals unsealed 25,000 Emails.  Among other things found in the Emails: not one, but two racist Emails sent via government accounts to Walker’s inner circle.

The first came from Walker’s former Chief of Staff, Thomas Nardelli, who was with Walker during his time as Milwaukee County Executive.  The Email was entitled “The Nightmare” and about a man who woke up “black, Jewish, disabled, a fairy with a Mexican boyfriend, a drug addict, HIV positive, bald, orphaned, unemployed, an invalid with one hand, and having a bad heart, I live in a crappy neighborhood.”  Full text available here.

The second racist Email came from Kelly Rindfleisch, who is the target of the investigation that caused all of the Emails to be unsealed in the first place.  In the Email, which Rindfleisch called “hilarious” and “so true,” people on welfare are compared to dogs because both are “mixed color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who the r Daddys are.  They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care, and feel guilty because they are dogs.”

Walker Racist Email

Two lessons here, on top of the obvious one: don’t be a terrible racist.  First, why on earth are you sending out racist Emails via a government Email system…in fact, why on earth are you sending on racist Emails at all?  A general rule of thumb when it comes to the internet: never type up and send anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable seeing on the front page of the New York Times.  Anything sent digitially can go public, regardless of who you send it to.  Walker’s staff has failed this lesson time and time again.

Second, and this one is for Governor Walker: do you even check your staff?  Do you have any sort of policies at all that would prevent such racist people from being on your staff?  Or from using government resources to spread the “funny” version of their hate?  Governor Walker truly has a massive HR problem and is incapable of solving it…or, what is more likely, he doesn’t want to.