Punching Down

Sometimes, a headline contains all the information you need.

Scrolling through the headlines at YahooNews, I saw this one: “Woody Harrelson punched a man on a hotel rooftop after he lunged at the star and refused to stop photographing him with his daughter, police say.”

Now, I know headlines are often misleading and it’s bad practice to draw conclusions from them. But, still, I can’t help but reacting with, “Sounds like he was justified” and scrolling on to the next one.

FILED UNDER: Media, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies 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.


  1. CSK says:

    I read the story. It adds that the man lunged at Harrelson, apparently in an attempt to grab Harrelson’s neck, and the latter punched him in self-defense.

    So there was a bit more to it. Harrelson wasn’t just annoyed; he was fending off an attack.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: Fair enough. But if you refuse to stop photographing me after I ask you to and then lunge at me—especially if I’m with my kids—you’re getting punched.

  3. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    But you’ll agree that self-defense makes Harrelson’s case for punching the guy even stronger. Harrelson wasn’t charged. Some people might argue that Harrelson overreacted if it was just a case of being him and his kids photographed without his consent.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Don’t know the particulars of this particular rooftop, but the law is if you are in a public place, you can be photographed.

  5. de stijl says:

    Being a celebrity must truly suck. A living hell where you have no true peace ever unless you are alone.

    Everybody recognizes you. Many want a small interaction, an acknowledgement that they know who you are.

    It’s a twist on No Exit. Hell is other people who think they “know” you.

    I would not wish it for my worst enemy.

  6. CSK says:

    It was the rooftop of The Watergate, if that helps. I agree with you about being in a public place. It’s annoying as hell to have someone snapping pics, but it’s the price of fame.

    But this guy (who was apparently drunk, not that that’s an excuse) tried to grab Harrelson by the throat. So Harrelson was justified in defending himself. The cops seem to have thought so as well.

  7. CSK says:

    @de stijl:
    I got stalked by a fan and his father once. Not fun.

  8. Joe says:

    @de stijl:
    When I was young, I wanted to be rich and famous. Having seen how this works, I’ve decided I just want to be rich.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK: I’m not speaking about the particulars of this incident, just of the law in general. If somebody is taking your picture at a public place, you can request they don’t. If they do anyway, you can cover your face, but you can’t punch them just because they took your pic.

    I’m not sure how it works the Watergate. IIRC, it is a privately owned building at which public events may take place. Really don’t know. If it was Arlington Cemetery, there are no limits. A public street or park? No limits. The Federal Court House in downtown STL? No pictures allowed. (post 9/11 protocol) but I am unsure of the particular restrictions there. I think the restrictions apply to the inside but outside they just keep a close eye on anyone taking pics. If they think a person is acting hinky, they’ll stop them and ask questions. I think.

    I was in Jeff City a couple weeks ago and took dozens of pics both inside and out of the state Capitol. The cops said nothing to me. I am not surprised tho. This being Misery, there was a sign at the entrance saying concealed carry was allowed inside for those with a CCPermit.

  10. CSK says:

    Oh, I know. This incident took place at The Watergate Hotel.(I should have specified that.) It has a rooftop bar. Harrelson’s kids range in age from 15 to 28.

  11. de stijl says:

    One time I was purposefully wandering around in and taking pictures of an abandoned, derelict wheat milling building down by the river.

    I love abandoned places. They sing. Very sad and lonesome songs, usually.

    That day another person was there too. She was also taking pictures. She asked me if it was okay to take a picture with me in it. Asked me to sign a release. She was a pro. I was just being a tourist.

    Subtle wink. If you live in a big town there is likely a set of folks who live there that really like exploring abandoned places and the underground infrastructure beneath the city. It’s fascinating if you are into that sort of exploring I’ve heard.

    If you wanted to search “urban exploration + your city name” you might find an interesting result set. One could contact with such a group.

    (Beware urban exploration is technically illegal. You are trespassing even if you do not touch a thing. Every bit of property is owned by someone technically.)

    Another subtle wink. But it is so much fucking fun!

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @de stijl: I love abandoned places. They sing. Very sad and lonesome songs, usually.

    Me too. I love abandoned buildings. Yes they sing. they sing forgotten stories, lost dreams, unimaginable heartbreaks. Also joys, fulfillment, and love. The full breadth of human emotion.

    The girlfriend of a buddy expressed the desire to enter the abandoned Malcolm-Bliss mental health facility on the near South Side and I took her there. My buddy thought the cops would be all over us. I knew better. They don’t care, until somebody gets hurt.

    It was… a disappointment to me (I got some cool pics on the top floors where all the mechanicals were) but she thought it was the shit. The old city hospital was pretty cool tho (I could tell a story or 2 from when it was still open) I actually worked a job at the Carter Carburetor plant after it was abandoned but before it became a superfund sight. Some cool stuff there too, all gone now. Explored some abandoned stuff out at Weldon Springs where they processed nuclear fuel during/after WWII.

    But my favorite are still old farm houses. One has to be careful, the floors aren’t necessarily too good, but… Yeah, they sing.

  13. de stijl says:


    Imagine you were somebody like Emma Stone or Benedict Cumberbatch and you just wanted to go grab some Funyuns. It becomes an event, a process.

    You have to be prepared that many folks will want to get a selfie with you. You have to be prepared to smile on demand and perform. Bark. Roll over. Shake hands. Good doggie!

  14. CSK says:

    Woody Allen once said that the best way to be famous was as a writer, because people knew your name, but not your face. I could add to that that writers generally have a better class of fan–though not invariably.

  15. de stijl says:


    I did a solo road trip out west once. Rented a van. Drove hard and fast to get there which I never do until then. I was on a mission.

    Hit the Trinity test site. Walked the Jornado del muerto trail.

    I hunkered down with a good view of the explosion site at pre-dawn and waited until 5:29 am local rolled around. Imagined it in my head. It was very fulfilling and very sad.

    We unleashed the beast there in 1945. The beast that will likely kill us all one day. It hungers.

    I highly recommend that area of New Mexico. Stark. Empty. Beautiful.

  16. Monala says:

    Horrific story of punching down:

    Three police officers went to an *elementary* school in Tennessee & arrested four Black girls.

    One girl fell to her knees. Another threw up. Police handcuffed the youngest, an 8 yo with pigtails.

    Their supposed crime? Watching some boys fight — and not stopping them.

    Ken Armstrong
    2/ The police wound up arresting 11 kids in total, using a charge called “criminal responsibility.”

    The arrests created outrage. State lawmakers called the case “unconscionable,” “inexcusable,” “insane.”

    So how did this happen?

    3/ These arrests took place in Rutherford County, which had been illegally jailing kids for years, all under the watch of Judge Donna Scott Davenport.

    4/ Donna Scott Davenport is the only elected juvenile court judge the county has ever had.

    She oversees the courts.

    She oversees the juvenile jail.

    She directed police on what she called “our process” for arresting children.

    5/ In this deposition, a lawyer asks Davenport about taking the bar exam.

    It took her nine years and five attempts to pass.

    Three years after she got her law license, she was on the bench.

    6/ Davenport describes her work as a calling.

    “I’m here on a mission. It’s God’s mission,” she once told a newspaper.

    8/ Under Davenport, Rutherford County locked up a staggering 48% of children whose cases were referred to juvenile court.

    The statewide average was 5%.

    This graphic shows detention rates for juvenile courts in Tennessee. Rutherford County is on the far right.

    9/ Lynn Duke, appointed by Davenport, is the county’s head jailer.

    Tennessee narrowly limits when kids can be locked up. But Duke had her own way: the “filter system.”

    Her jail locked up any kid deemed a “TRUE threat.”

    As for what’s a “TRUE threat,” her handbook didn’t say.

    12/ The police officer who investigated this fight was Chrystal Templeton. She wanted to charge every kid who watched. She believed charging them was helping them.

    By the time of this investigation, Templeton had been disciplined at least 37 times, her personnel file shows.

    14/ One commissioner, who used to work in a post office, came up with the charge of “criminal responsibility for conduct of another.”

    The problem? There’s no such charge.

    These kids were charged with a crime that doesn’t exist.

    This is from a Twitter thread based on a story in ProPublica. Link

  17. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    “I’m here on a mission. It’s God’s mission,” she once told a newspaper.

    The only guy worse than the one who wants to rule the world is the one who wants to save it.

  18. de stijl says:


    I am kinda an addict now. Of forgotten places. It got inside my head with hooks. The singing places. I dream of them.

  19. de stijl says:

    A song I really like is Leave Me Alone by Joy Division / New Order. It fits the vibe. It pierces me. So haunting.

  20. EddieInCA says:


    After reading that article yesterday, I wanted to jump into my car, drive to that city, and personally take out each of those MutherFukkers personally. It enraged me. That was pure, pure flat out racist bullshite! Don’t read that article if you have high blood pressure.