Anatomy of a Takedown

I made a stupid gaffe on the radio last week.

While hosting a national radio show, I said that, in general, the liberal professors who have turned higher education into the toxic stew that produced porn star “Belle Knox” needed to be “taken out and shot.”

This was a figure of speech; I certainly did not mean it literally. It is a figure of speech, I suspect, that everyone reading this has used, and everyone who clamored for my ruination has used also.

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.

My gaffe went up immediately on Right Wing Watch. They have a whole file on me over there. The folks at American Family Radio told me Right Wing Watch posts AFR shows faster than AFR puts them up on its own site.

And then it went to the Daily Kos, and to various liberal blogs, one called Joe.My.God and another called Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters run by a guy calling himself Black Tsunami. Emails poured into my organization all calling for my head. 

And then the story went up on the Huffington Post. You may not be aware of it, but the Huffington Post is one of the most trafficked sites in the world. According to the traffic-measurement service, Huffington Post is ranked twenty-first in the United States and eighty-fourth in the entire world. And they all came my way. The good news is by the time my face went up on Huffington Post, I had taken down my Twitter feed. It was beeping all night long with vulgar comments and even death threats.

The situation was not helped by the fact that I am a readily identifiable Catholic. “Who would Jesus shoot?” I got that a few million times. The left is nothing if not original. Lots of people told me this was why they left the Church a long time ago and are never coming back.

I issued a formal apology. The apology was not accepted, to say the least. It was mocked and derided and only added fuel to the fire.

The funny thing is I am a virtual nobody. I am not Rush Limbaugh. I run a small NGO with a tiny budget and only six employees. I am the smallest of fish in the center-right ocean. I am known by Right Wing Watch and also by Media Matters – that I already knew – but they obsess about everyone on the right. It baffles me still that my gaffe became any kind of scandale de l’Internet.

One unfortunate thing among many is that none of these people seemed the least concerned about the thing I was addressing when I made the stupid gaffe, which is how so-called higher education massively failed and created a Belle Knox, poor girl, the Duke University porn star. She couched her porn in the language of women’s studies.

Is that what they are teaching at Duke University? Duke’s Vice President of Student Affairs actually said the university was supportive “of all student identities.” This is what I was thinking of when I made my comment, the people who have ruined higher education and souls. I think they should all be taken out – and hugged. 

And what lessons have I learned? First, be more careful. It is hard to fill a radio show with your own voice for an hour or more. Still, be more careful.

But further than that, my mind went to public takedowns. After all, that is what has been happening to me.

Oddly, I thought of Vince Foster, the Clinton lawyer who came under attack from the right and who killed himself. I do not compare my situation with his. But mine has been awful enough to make me deeply sorrowful for what happened to him.

And then I thought of my own work. In my day job, we have named names of individuals who have done wrong. We named a young diplomat who went against his government in negotiations at the U.N. on life issues.

I have also exposed a young man who runs a “homopunk” band that makes misogynistic videos and who was the official blogger for the Girl Scouts. To me, it shows the leftward spiral of the Girl Scouts and their tone-deafness toward traditional moms and dads.

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.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.