Facebook pic shows Obama speechwriter groping Clinton in effigy
The Washington Post obtained this undated photo of Barack Obama's recently-appointed top speech writer, Jon Favreau (left), groping Hillary Clinton in effigy. The picture appeared on Facebook for about two hours before it was removed.
It's not clear who originally uploaded or tagged the image. I find it hard to believe that Favreau, a 27-year-old veteran of two presidential campaigns, would have been foolish enough to post that picture. The media reports are studiously vague about where the picture came from. I'm going to assume for the sake of argument that someone else put it up.
Favreau has since apologized to Clinton, prompting this funny reply from her adviser Phillipe Raines, "Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon's obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application."
It seems that Favreau won't be fired for this. I'd say that the public humiliation is probably punishment enough for a sexist photo that caused a stupid scandal.
Dee Dee Myers thinks Favreau deserves something much worse. "But there is a larger issue at stake. At what point does sexist behavior get taken seriously? At what point do people get punished in ways that suggest this kind of behavior, this kind of thinking, is unacceptable? At what point do we insist there will be consequences?" she writes in Vanity Fair.
I think it's important to recognize that the picture was taken at a private party. Yes, it's in incredibly bad taste and sexist. But I don't think Favreau deserves to be fired because someone posted a picture of him making an offensive gag in private. By that standard, nobody in Washington would have a job.
The internet is creating ascertainment biases of epic proportions.
We can assume that today's senior decision makers were at least as foolish and dickish as our generation is. But they didn't grow up with cheap digital cameras documenting every social gathering from multiple angles.
The tacit assumption is that silly pictures on Facebook are representative of how someone behaves in public an professional capacities, or even how they usually act in private. I don't think that leap is necessarily justified.
I'm prepared to give Favreau the benefit of the doubt. This case raises some interesting questions about how we interpret the flotsam that inevitably leaks out of Facebook.
Everyone has flashes of idiocy from time to time. I assume that everyone has a certain background noise level of stupidity, venality, debauchery in their private lives. Nowadays, the chances of having one of those lesser moments preserved for posterity is exponentially increased.
If you heard an eyewitness describe the "groping" incident at the private party, it would reflect badly on Favreau, but I doubt the incident would even become a widespread rumor, much less a career crisis.
It would be totally different if Favreau did the same thing at an official function, or on the street, or posed like that for the press. Those would be firing offenses.
In the age of Facebook we need social norms that reaffirm the distinction between private and public behavior. Context should matter. Technology has made every private moment potentially public.
I don't think it's always morally or epistemically fair to treat glimpses of the private sphere as equivalent to public behavior.
The picture is sexist and Favreau deserves to be criticized now that he's been caught making an ugly joke. He is a public figure and he should have been more discreet. I'm sure he got reamed by his supervisers, and deservedly so.
But if Clinton is willing to bygones be bygones, so should we. It's not reasonable to expect everyone to act above reproach 24/7. No previous generation has ever been held to that standard.