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December 10, 2008

Facebook pic shows Obama speechwriter groping Clinton in effigy

Favreau Clinton Grope
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.

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Comments

People have some strange values. There's something wrong with this, which is just a joke, but it's ok to have a major war criminal and war profiteer in charge of American foreign policy? Kind of strange. Hillary is not entitled to the least amount of respect. She is an object of national ridicule, who is lucky she isn't in jail for war crimes.

Sexist? What's sexist is Hillary's profoundly misogynistic foreign policies, which have destroyed the lives of countless Afghani and Iraqi women, forced them into burkas, and put them in daily danger of being raped and abused. That's true sexism, true misogynism, not this harmless party prank.

How is this sexist?

Should Barack Obama really be President Elect?
I'm a Brit and these little legal things intrigue me.
Will it get in the way of his inauguration?

Yes, I would like to know how this is sexist as well? And please explain how the steamrolling of Sarah Palin and extreme mockery she encounters is not?

(Disclaimer: I am not fan of Sarah Palin.)

Not surprised -- it's exactly the sort of vibe I already got from him, a trashy guy who can write. Of course Obama's going to put his self-interest over character.

I think that posting this image online with the intent of reducing Hillary Clinton to a sex object would be sexist. But if he didn't post the image, how is him fondling an image of Clinton at a private event even sexist in the first place? With just this image, there is no evidence that he was trying to demean Clinton, and if he was simply demonstrating his attraction to her, how is that sexist?

You guys are family with the symbolism of burning a figure in effigy, right?

Violating the likeness of someone is a standard way to express contempt for the person themselves.

Favreau is pretending to sexually touch the image of his vanquished political opponent. He wasn't doing this in private for his own amusement, he was showing off for his friends and the camera.

Holding up a likeness of your opponent like a trophy and pretending to touch her sexually is a put down. They've won and now they're having their way with Hillary Clinton. It's a pretty tame joke, as these kinds of antics go, but there's no mistaking the sexism.

Do you think there are other pictures of these guys grabbing the crotch of a cardboard John McCain? Somehow I doubt it.

Lindsay writes:

".... By that standard, nobody in Washington would have a job."

You that like it's a bad thing, Lindsay! No, but seriously, Lindsay also writes:

".... I'm prepared to give Favreau the benefit of the doubt."

After the campaign Obama ran, I'm not. And imagine if I'd put that photo up on my own blog, but translated to racist instead of sexist -- say, a lynching instead of a groping. We'd still be hearing the reverberations!

I don't think Favreau should lose his job. The correct punishment is to mock him mercilessly for acting like a sexist fratboy and a political amateur.

Clinton's adviser hit exactly the right note in the email.

Strange comments thread, including an Obama birther troll, just for the hell of it. I completely agree with Lindsay. And I'm not sure how well the lynching example plays because, let's face it, lynching is a much more serious crime than groping. (No I am not defending groping, but lynching is worse) That said, some students have done really stupid things at my alma mater, like wore blackface to a party and had a noose with them, and I don't think they should be banned forever from polite society because of that.

It has a photoshopped look about it but who knows? Is he admitting he did it?

Nowadays, I'm pretty sure the only people who equivocate groping and lynching are PUMAs and perhaps Gloria Steinem.

And please explain how the steamrolling of Sarah Palin and extreme mockery she encounters is not?

It depends. Bashing someone for being ignorant and for holding contemptible policy positions isn't sexist. The way the feminist movement piled on Palin for opposing its agenda wasn't exactly sexist as well - it's a tendency common to all interest groups, especially civil rights-oriented ones, to hate anyone who they think they represent but who doesn't support their platform.

And please explain how the steamrolling of Sarah Palin and extreme mockery she encounters is not?

Because people weren't making fun of Sarah's vagina, they were making fun of her brain.

What a non-starter of a story, a very weak attempt of TRYING to attack Jon Favreau who is a very talented young guy to get at Our PRESDIENT ELECT BARACK OBAMA and it has not worked!

Bitter Petty People who can't except reality, so they will search for anything no matter to embarrass The New Administration and it is not working, because in fact PRESIDENT ELECT BARACK OBAMA is gaining popularity and winning over many that supported John McCain.

I have known and respected Jon Favreau since he first started working with John Kerry on his campaign, he is a dedicated hard working youNG guy who is very talented and he will continue to play a vital role for OUR PRESDIENT ELECT BARACK OBAMA!

What a dull place the world will become if we all have to worry about our friends uploading our silly pictures from the past! It's a funny picture; let's laugh at it then forget all about it.
Technically, you can't grope a cardboard cut-out, you can only pretend. Groping requires three dimensions. It needs perspective, as does this non-story.
A sense of humor transplant please for everyone who thought this was serious!

….I'd say that the public humiliation is probably punishment enough ….
Sexism from the Obama supporters and his media allies was central to his campaign. If you are foolish enough to accept it, it will never stop.
Hillary's profoundly misogynistic foreign policies….That's true sexism… not this harmless party prank. mike at 04:18 PM
Are you also referring to Obama's votes to fund and continue those wars, because, according to your standards, those votes are a sign of Obama's deeply misogynistic beliefs. In fact, he is promising more war in Afghanistan and offering Israel a nuclear umbrella for its foul treatment of Palestinians.

If someone equally high from the McCain campaign were seen treating a cutout of Michelle Obama like this, you would both be cool with it? This is a person high in the Obama team who is an expressing of a deeply dehumanizing and degrading disregard for a highly accomplished person who happens to be female. This is symptomatic of the misogyny that fueled the Obama campaign against Clinton and Palin. No one should tolerate this crap from anyone.

When he ignores this, Obama is telling the world that they can crap on his Secretary of State because his team does; that President Obama doesn't respect any nation enough to send a S of S that he respects.

People like Favreau should not be rewarded for their bigotry.

I'm not "cool with" what Favreau and his friend were doing. If I'd been a guest at the party I would have told them so to their faces.

I just don't think they deserve to be fired for taking liberties with a Hillary Clinton cutout at a private party. Hillary Clinton obviously doesn't want to see them fired, or she wouldn't have directed her surrogate to laugh it off.

She's not shy about defending herself against sexism, so I think if she's not gunning for these guys, nobody else should be either.

I really think this reaction is going too far into the realm of thought policing and prudishness. You can`t grope a cardboard cutout. The humor in it depends on it being a friggin cutout. Ýou could in fact be very respectful of Hillary and still do this harmless little act in a private setting. It`s just lighthearted humor. Not everything having sexual connotation is sexism. Jebus lighten up, there are more important things to deal with or haven`t we noticed?

Republicans would get all upset at sex (when they`re not busy with prostitutes and wide stances) ... oh my he touched her cardboard titty. Oh noes.

Some progressives get all upset ... oh my that`s sexist ... give me a break.

It`s a joke. It`s meaningless.

I must confess, I can’t say I’ve got room to pass judgment, having spent a happy afternoon a while back using photocopies of Bush & Cheney’s mugs to tune a bow.

(Secret Service guys: don’t get your skivvies in a bunch, I’m not going any further than paper targets.)


What’s with the baseball hat on backwards? Will we ever see the end of teenage boy styles?

I must confess, I can’t say I’ve got room to pass judgment, having spent a happy afternoon a while back using photocopies of Bush & Cheney’s mugs to tune a bow.

(Secret Service guys: don’t get your skivvies in a bunch, I’m not going any further than paper targets.)


What’s with the baseball hat on backwards? Will we ever see the end of teenage boy styles?

And please explain how the steamrolling of Sarah Palin and extreme mockery she encounters is not?

Because people weren't making fun of Sarah's vagina, they were making fun of her brain.

So calling a woman a "dumb blonde" wouldn't be sexist by your lights, TB.

"I don't think Favreau should lose his job. The correct punishment is to mock him mercilessly for acting like a sexist fratboy and a political amateur. Clinton's adviser hit exactly the right note in the email."

I agree 100%. I thought that e-mail was one of the most awesome things I'd read in a good while. It was pithy and biting, yet still showed good humor.

"I don't think Favreau should lose his job. The correct punishment is to mock him mercilessly for acting like a sexist fratboy and a political amateur. Clinton's adviser hit exactly the right note in the email."

I agree 100%. I thought that e-mail was one of the most awesome things I'd read in a good while. It was pithy and biting, yet still showed good humor.

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