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On May 31st, CNN declared that Kathy Griffin, one of the long-time hosts of its New Years’ Eve program, will no longer be employed at the network. The news came following Griffins released controversial photos in which she held a fake, decapitated head resembling Donald Trump.
Although the network’s actions have sparked backlash, which have been deemed ot harsh by certain viewers, I believe CNN’s firing of Griffin is valid for numerous reasons. Griffin nonverbally threatened to harm the president. She negatively impacted the wellbeing of persons besides Trump. Perhaps most importantly, this is not the first instance of inconsiderate behavior on Griffin’s part.
Let me preface this all by saying that I do not support Trump’s presidency or even necessarily like him as a person. However, I do value the constitution and laws of the U.S.. With this in mind, when assessing whether Griffin’s firing was grounded, one must address the glaring fact that threatening to harm the president (or even a member of his staff) is illegal.
Indeed, according to Title 18 of the U.S. Code, section 871, an individual who makes a verbal or written threat against the leader of the free world has committed a class E felony. Griffin’s photo does not technically constitute a verbal or written threat, but as the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Griffin’s social media post certainly could be interpreted as a menacing visual statement.
Unfortunately, malicious remarks against president are nothing new. According to the Secret Service, the number of threats received per month by Trump thus far has not differed from the quantity of threats received by former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush during their months in office. But what sets apart this photo stunt is its extremely high publicity and celebrity affiliation. Griffin is a public figure with an enormous influence, and what she says and does is seen by millions. It seems this is why her controversial photo has been deemed so serious: other threats simply don’t receive the same amount of media coverage.
Next, one must consider not just how Griffin’s photo affected the “Head” honcho himself, but others who are a part of his life or look to him as an authority figure.
The President tweeted about how the disturbing photo has given both him and his family, including his 11-year-old son Barron, a “hard time.”
In a press conference Griffin expressed that it was never her intention to hurt a child. While this is a nice sentiment, as an adult, she should understand that her actions have consequences. Given that anyone can see social media postings, Griffin could have surmised the likelihood that Barron and other American children who may look to the President as a role model are exposed to publicity surrounding the figure. In the information age, nothing posted online is private or temporary. Hence, Griffin’s choice to spread such a perturbing photo was a truly ill-made decision.
Lastly, this is not Griffin’s first case of offensive behavior. For the majority of her career, she has been known for saying and doing controversial things. From a 2007 Emmy award acceptance speech in which she tactlessly denied any gratitude towards a higher power, to coarsely titled comedy specials (e.g. She’ll Cut a Bitch), to her Bravo! series My Life on the D-List, Griffin has made a name for herself as an outspoken—and often overly blunt—comic.
Overall, this photo scandal should be seen not as a solo incident, but as the straw that broke the camel’s back. If Griffin had had no prior offenses, I could see her being let off by CNN with a warning. However, given her long history of tasteless humor, this “joke” was the tipping point where Griffin crossed over from poor comedy into unforgivable jest.
Lauren Willson can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @LaurenKealani