A few years back a good friend took a job with the then-fledgling Catholic website The Catholic Thing. He didn’t last long; he soon quit in a dispute about Catholic social teaching. I don’t remember if it was the site’s support of the Iraq War, or its favorable treatment of Fr Sirico and the Acton Institute. But while he was employed there he signed me up to be on their email list.
The other day I received one of their emails which began “I made a stupid gaffe on the radio last week.”
That was one Austin Ruse. He had been discussing a story that has been circulating in the media, the sort of thing the Distraction Machine likes to keep us preoccupied with: a young college student at a prestigious university had been starring in pornographic movies to pay for her tuition.
Oh, and she is majoring in Women’s Studies.
Mr Ruse’s “gaffe”? He suggested that the “liberal professors” who contributed to the moral situation that would engender such a manner of financing one’s education “should be taken out and shot.”
He entitled his essay about the ensuing uproar “Anatomy of a Takedown”, if that gives you any idea of the flavor of the thing. But best to let Mr Ruse speak for himself:
The reaction was swift, massive, and unforgiving – first playing itself out on Twitter but then exploding outward. At first, I tried to take them on. On Twitter, I went after them hammer and tongs. Big mistake. Blood was in the water and the chum only brought more into the swarm. They wanted to know if I intended to pull the trigger myself. They wanted to know, besides liberal professors, did I also want to shoot gays and blacks. I was accused of calling for murder. These were from self-identified university professors. I went on the radio the very next day and went into a long explanation of how it was a figure of speech. I quoted long passages from Wikipedia and gave examples of figures of speech. And I went on the attack. I called the left “dumb.” I didn’t mean that either. Of course, they knew it was a figure of speech. Of course, they knew I did not mean it literally. It did not matter. It was a gaffe and one they delighted in exploiting.
It continues in this vein; Mr Ruse considers himself the victim of well, practically a lynch mob. Just because he said that liberal professors should be executed.
There are a handful of largely unspoken rules of public discourse, ones that generally need not be spelled out. But Mr Ruse apparently lacks some basic understanding of these, so let me explain:
*Even in heated argument one does not threaten physical violence, nor suggest that anyone deserves a violent death.
*One does not threaten to rape anyone, nor suggest that anyone “needs” to be raped.
*One never attacks anyone’s mother, spouse, or children.
That’s really about it, Mr Ruse. That you don’t get this, even after your “gaffe” drew so much attention, is alarming. Not only that, but your reaction – go on the offensive, then “explain” your “figures of speech”, while calling your critics “dumb”- betrays a density that is somewhat awe-inspiring.
He does go on to say that after all this he did apologize, but his persecutors would have none of it.
No, I’m afraid not. “I’m sorry I said your daughter needs raping” is not likely to be received graciously. Nor is an apology for a threat of violence.
As for his argument that this is a common figure of speech, imagine for a moment if some agnostic blogger said that Catholic bishops should be “taken out and shot”. EWTN and the internet would explode with outrage, as well they should.
In fact, Mr Ruse, you have demonstrated your complete lack of suitability for public discourse. You were an asshole on the radio. No one wants your (eventual) apology. They want your resignation.
And if your “gaffes” were not enough to merit this, your lack of imagination surely does. Facing a situation so ripe for sarcasm and mockery – a coed paying her high tuition by, well, doing what porn stars do- the best you can do is say someone needs to be shot?
Your lack of wit, quite aside from your journalistic Asperger’s, should justify your dismissal.
You do not say which radio program you were on, or whether you were the host or the guest. But if you are still the host, or if you are ever invited again as a guest, the managers of the network or station should be taken out and….given a stern lecture about civility.
If there is one bright spot in all this, it is Mr Ruse’s last paragraph:
We live in an age of political take-downs. Sadly much of the Internet fisticuffs are deplorably ignorant, nothing more than playground mockery and bullying, and I guess I have done a bit of that myself. And so, I am chastened and will have to figure out how to avoid all such rash judgments myself in the future. I have a lot of thinking to do. Praying, too.
Be assured of our prayers, Mr Ruse. And good luck in your new job.