May 9, 2009

Swing And A Miss

David Feherty might have been only joking, but his controversial remarks in a recent magazine article are no laughing matter

David Feherty has already apologized for saying many U.S. troops would want to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

David Feherty has already apologized for saying many U.S. troops would want to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Soon after the O.J. Simpson situation had played out, radio shock jock Howard Stern appeared on Late Night with David Letterman wearing a football jersey bearing Simpson's No. 32. After several attempts at jokes failed to provoke even a smile from Letterman, Stern asked why he was so poker-faced. "I just don't find double murder all that funny," Letterman replied.

That's pretty much how I felt when I read the comments about Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi by CBS golf commentator David Feherty. I have known David a long time, and I like him and enjoy his television work. But I just don't find the suggestion of political assassination all that funny. And it angers me that Feherty has placed golf in a position of having to explain itself. These comments hurt the game.

Here is the offending passage from an article Feherty wrote in D magazine:

"From my own experience visiting the troops in the Middle East, I can tell you this though. Despite how the conflict has been portrayed by our glorious media, if you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it, and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden, there's a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death."

Now, I am old enough to have lived through the murders of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy as well as attempts on the lives of George Wallace, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. Those six people represent a broad range of the political spectrum, from left to right with center included, but they have one thing in common: The people who attacked them were wrong. They were criminals.

Sadly, political assassination is part of the American story, beginning with Abraham Lincoln and including James Garfield and William McKinley before John Kennedy -- all four of them presidents. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but advocating physical harm of those with whom we disagree is just not funny. This is not about what some like to derisively dismiss as "political correctness." This is about taking a stand against violence.

What makes Feherty's comments -- and remember, they were written and not spoken and therefore considered and thought out -- so upsetting is that the United States is still trying to recover from eight extremely divisive years. Given the history of political violence in this country, there is reason to be fearful that America could once again sink to its basest instincts. Why validate violence by making a joke of it?

My first thought was that Feherty, who is known for his humor, may not be as sensitive to this issue because he did not grow up in the United States. But then I remembered an interview I did with him more than a decade ago in which he talked about growing up in Northern Ireland during "the troubles," the political violence between Catholics and Protestants centered around English rule of the North. David should know better. He saw first-hand the bloody results of extremism.

CBS was quick to distance itself from Feherty: "While outside his work for CBS, David Feherty is a popular humorist. We want to be clear that this column for a Dallas magazine is an unacceptable attempt at humor and is not in any way condoned, endorsed or approved by CBS Sports," spokeswoman LeslieAnne Wade said. Fortunately for CBS, it was not the network televising the Players this week and Feherty was not on site to field questions from reporters.

The PGA Tour also weighed in quickly: "David Feherty is an insightful and sometimes humorous commentator for CBS Sports' golf coverage. However, his attempt at humor in this instance went over the line, and his comments were clearly inappropriate. We hope he will use better judgment in the future."

Feherty, who has gone to Iraq over Thanksgiving the past two years to visit with U.S. troops, issued this apology on Sunday after two days of silence:

"This passage was a metaphor meant to describe how American troops felt about our 43rd president. In retrospect, it was inappropriate and unacceptable, and has clearly insulted Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid, and for that, I apologize. As for our troops, they know I will continue to do as much as I can for them both at home and abroad."

In trying to gain as much information on this matter as possible in order to develop the most measured response possible I scoured the Internet all weekend. I came across this comment posted on one website:

"Wow, as a soldier ... this just blows my mind. A soldier would never speak this way about members of congress, at least to a media man. It's actually covered by the Uniform Code Of Military Justice. Disrespecting members of congress is a punishable offense. Obviously, most of my buddies lean to the right ... but they're not insane. I can't believe that guy ... "

I found that extremely troubling. It made me doubt whether any American serviceman or servicewoman said anything to Feherty anywhere near like what he wrote. My fear is he was expressing his political feelings and hiding behind those brave enough to wear the uniforms of this nation by putting words in their mouths. That possibility is just as disturbing as the lame joke itself.

Have we evolved into a society that sometimes takes itself too seriously? There is some of that. But that is also the excuse used by those who do not feel the pain of their jokes. Racism hurts. Sexism hurts. Bigotry in all its forms hurts. There are victims. Hatred is hatred even when it wears the mask of humor. Letterman was right: There is nothing funny about double murder.