Air America Under Investigation for Bush Gunshot Skit

AIR AMERICA RADIO INVESTIGATED AFTER BUSH ‘GUNSHOTS’ (Drudge Report)

The red-hot rhetoric over Social Security on liberal talkradio network AIR AMERICA has caught the attention of the Secret Service, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned. Government officials are reviewing a skit which aired on the network Monday evening — a skit featuring an apparent gunshot warning to the president!

The announcer: “A spoiled child is telling us our Social Security isn’t safe anymore, so he is going to fix it for us. Well, here’s your answer, you ungrateful whelp: Just try it, you little bastard. .”

[…]

“Even joking about shooting the president is a crime, let alone doing it on national radio… we are taking this very seriously,” a government source explained.

AIR AMERICA President of Programming and co-COO Jon Sinton said in a release: “We regret that a produced comedy bit that was in bad taste slipped through our normal vetting process. We do acknowledge that it was an internal error and internal discipline will be enforced.”

Rhodes apologized for the skit on her show today. “It was a bit,” Rhodes said. “It was bad. I apologize a thousand times.”

My word, this is asinine. I seldom find jokes about assassinating political leaders funny, and this is certainly no exception. I can even understand why, under circumstances where there is a proximate harm possible, why joking about assasinating the president would be criminal. It’s more than a bit of a stretch, though, to interpret a national radio show skit as a legitimate threat.

Drudge provides a link to a fan site’s mp3 of the skit. Not surprisingly, doing so has overwhelmed the servers and the file in unavailable.

Update (1911): Eugene Volokh clarifies:

Joking about shooting the President certainly isn’t a crime as such; threatening to shoot the President is. Threats (whether against the President or not) are indeed constitutionally unprotected, but to be a punishable threats, a statement must at least be understood by a reasonable listener as a true threat, rather than just hyperbole (or humor).

He cites and excerpts the relevant case law, especially Watts v. United States (1969) and Virginia v. Black (2003).

The upshot is that, while people who make jokes about killing the president or bombing an airplane may well be subject to harrassment, they’re not subject to criminal penalty under current law.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. billy says:

    it would be a real stretch, if that were true, to call that a threat. and probably a first amendment violation too. the secret service should stop looking into art exhibits and comedy routines and get into doing its real job.

  2. Ugh says:

    Volokh has more. I think it is the Secret Service’s (was going to abbreviate SS but brrrr) policy to investigate all such comments no matter how obvious it might be that it’s a joke.

  3. billy says:

    exclllent update. at least one blog on the internet has been informative on this issue.

  4. adonai says:

    another link to the idiotic parody…click the nickname while it lasts, the guy just renamed the file

  5. Frank says:

    The file was obviously RENAMED because all you morons jumped on that link from Drudge’s site to hear it and caused a considerable jump in the fan’s bandwidth usage. Was it even linked to with his permission? I doubt it. As many times as Ann Coulter and the rest have made remarks about killing public figures, it’s really sick that you all suddenly take this seriously.

  6. John Thacker says:

    The Secret Service had the same policy of investigating all threats against Clinton. Usually just a brief visit or phone call to make sure it was a joke. Was a running joke on USENET as a result.

  7. billy says:

    who exactly is this “anonymous source” from the government who doesnt know the law.

  8. Jason says:

    What a joke! Why would the SS waist their time. Oh! Wait did I say SS? You know these neonazi’s need to get a life, or I mean neoKKK, come on who’s running the WHITEhouse anyway. We’ve had real honest threats coming from claim “born-again” with worse notes than AirAmerica. Judges have already been murdered because a Delayed fire and brimstone. Perhaps, he just feels like wasting your tax dollars, or appeaing like everyone is out to get them.

  9. Considering the high level of mental instability it takes for a person to be a regular listener of Air America, it’s irresponsible for them to make jokes like that. Someone may decide he wants to impress Jodie Foster.

  10. Kevin says:

    “If the bit was understood to be a threat against the president,” Rhodes explained, “I need to apologize to the president of the United States, and I do. I also need to apologize to the Secret Service [which] has a very, very serious job. If they had to take two seconds out of their day to look into me, I apologize for that. … But where is the apology when they threaten judges from the Senate floor or from the House floor? Or where’s the investigation into [WND columnist] Ann Coulter’s mouth? …

    “[My apology] is sincere. I feel bad that anybody would feel threatened by comedy. That’s one thing, but I also feel bad that it wasn’t funny. And I also feel bad that there could be a perception that I would be advocating violence against anybody, let alone the president of the United States of America. It’s no secret that I think he’s a terrible president, but I don’t think that anybody should have violence advocated against them in any way, shape or form ever! … That [skit] will never see the light of day again. It was bad.”

    Rhodes received numerous calls of support over the matter, including one from Andrew, who identified himself as a conservative Christian in Long Island, N.Y.

    “We don’t agree [politically],” Andrew said, “but there’s no reason why – for something like that – you should get in trouble.”

    Rhodes said she’s been contacted by producers of NBC’s “Today Show” who want her to provide them the skit to air on national television, along with an appearance by Rhodes.

    “How in the world could a bad bit be worthy of a ‘Today Show’ segment, but the 15 years of talk radio in the wilderness of the conservative AM dial means nothing?” Rhodes asked rhetorically. “You don’t become a media whore because now there’s an opportunity to get your mug on the freakin’ TV. It’s not what I’m about.”

  11. Arlene Montemarano says:

    FYI – Liberal Talk Radio

    There are some programs on Air America that are worth paying attention to. Here is a website for the archives of one of them (no commercials, and you can download and listen to any of her programs any time at all.):

    http://www.randirhodesarchives.com
    She is a very smart lady who uses original documents as her source material most of the time. It would be hard to listen to an entire program from these archives and not be impressed by her.

    Arlene Montemarano
    Silver Spring, Maryland

  12. Matt Sharkey says:

    A threat is a statement to a targeted individual backed by the capacity to carry out the malicious intent of the statement. If I say that I am going to kill some person on the other side of the world, I have very little capacity to do so, and I have spread the message of my intent to a single person here on my side of the world. We have here a company with hundreds of employees and lots of resources airing a message to all of the peers of this individual threatening malicious and deadly intent to him. Now, I intent to vote against every Republican in every election from now until I die, but Air America has actually made a threat on the life on the President of the US.