Jeffrey Lord had a very specific role on CNN. While his bonafides were intact, he was typecast as the conservative, Trump-supporting pundit making some outrageous statements, who defended Trump’s outrageous statements, and who, because he was older than most of the rest of the panel members he sat with, was propped up to be dismissed as an antiquated, out-of-touch conservative.
No need to drill down on this one — a term I despise because it’s become so stock, so easy. Jeffrey Lord was hired to be a punching-bag for the liberals who sat around him. And kudos to Lord, he took the insults and the mocking with a smile that was never malicious.
He knew his role and accepted it. He seemed content to defend the president even when it seemed he knew the president was indefensible.
Thursday of last week (Aug. 10, 2017) Jeffrey Lord was fired from CNN because he broke his appointed role. Instead of acting the punching bag, he punched back at what he believed were bullying tactics by Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, an organization working to shut down political shows they don’t like, most recently and notably Sean Hannity’s show on Fox.
According to the head honchos at CNN, the very people who hired Jeffrey Lord to be the brunt of mockery, Lord overstepped his bounds when he ironically (and there’s no doubt about his intended tone) tweeted a mocking "Sieg Heil!" to Carusone. Lord was using the ultimate fascist’s words to highlight what he saw as fascist behavior by Media Matters.
I’ve disagreed with just about everything Jeffrey Lord has said on CNN, from the start of the 2016 presidential race to Trump’s first 200 days in office. I saw him as a throwback (from the Reagan days) who would soon be an anachronism. And all the while I recognized the role he was hired to play. It was tough to get angry at Jeffrey Lord because he took the punches from those around him with good-humored grace, easily parrying the tired ire of David Gergen, blocking Ryan Lizza’s snarky jabs, absorbing Van Jones’ hyperbolic hooks.
But on Thursday, instead of smiling at an ideological opponent in the CNN ring, Jeffrey Lord tweeted an ironic comment (I can see Lord smiling as he typed out the letters) to an ideological opponent outside the CNN ring, and CNN brass drew its foolish line with two foolish lines, "Nazi salutes are indefensible. Jeffrey Lord is no longer with the network."
I’m a Jew, and I’ve experienced anti-Semitism growing up in a small town. I’ve had family members suffer from anti-Semitism in the Russian pogroms. I’ve visited Matthausen, gone to memorials, felt the horror and the loss in my guts. I’m so unaccepting and unforgiving that when I hear Germans speaking German, especially Germans older than Jeffrey Lord (Germans alive when "Sieg Heil" came into fashion), I’ll sometimes say to them, out loud, one of the few German words I know — vernichtungslager: concentration camp.
I’m not protesting too much here; I’m simply saying I’m sensitive to what Sieg Heil means.
But I also have a sense of humor. I’m also able to put most things into context. I know irony when I see it. What Jeffrey Lord tweeted was a comic, ironic shot at a man who, Lord believes, takes himself too seriously — which is what bullies often do.
Lord saw Media Matters as using bullying tactics. He responded as free speech allows. And CNN, which hired Lord to be a punching bag for bullies, was bullied by the bullying reputation of Media Matters — and got rid of Jeffrey Lord. "You’re fired," they said, with the arrogance of a Donald Trump.
Their choice to terminate Jeffrey Lord for this non-transgression was knee-jerk easy and pitiful and humorless. No wonder CNN is failing in the rankings.
Humor, at its best, puts life in a bright light — the best of life and the worst of life. Free speech, at its best, protects humor. CNN is a private company and they have every right to hire and fire whom they like. But in this instance, CNN brass should be called out, not as heroes, which will be the kneejerk reaction of most Trump haters (and Lord haters), but as weaklings.
Something smacks of the politically-correct scapegoat here. CNN hired a man to represent Trump so he, a stand-in, could be mocked. Perhaps sick and tired of getting berated as a second-rate news organization, CNN got rid of Trump’s stand-in because they couldn’t get rid of the real problem — a president who mocks them, and a president’s followers who dismiss them. Yes, perhaps Jeffrey Lord was a scapegoat. And we all know what connotations that word has.
In the film "The Great Dictator," when Charlie Chaplin, portraying Hitler right down to the postage-sized moustache, bounced a beach-ball-sized globe around his office, the audience recognized the comic and cutting implications of that iconic moment. Hitler wasn’t off limits when it came to comedy in 1940 America. "Sieg Heil" shouldn’t be off-limits in 2017 when the term is used comically and ironically.
And now, in the spirt of Norman Mailer, who had his own bullying ways, I’m going to advertise myself. My first poetry collection will be published by Finishing Line Press and the pre-sale period just started. The title of the collection is "The Standing Eight." The epigraph is from "Waiting for Godot." The poems all touch boxing, at least tangentially.
And the poems point beyond boxing and go to those between-round places where an eight count is both reprieve and curse. I hope you’ll google the collection and consider getting a copy for the boxing fan or poetry fan or conservative or liberal in your life.
An eight count. If CNN needed to take a stance against a comment they felt was reprehensible (which it wasn’t), if CNN brass felt they had to assert their horror at Jeffrey Lord’s tweet to retain the network’s liberal viewership (a weak-willed, disingenuous motivation based solely, if they’re honest, on profit) they should have given Jeffrey Lord a standing eight count instead of knocking him out. Eight seconds is all Jeffrey Lord would have needed to explain his true intentions and smile his annoying smile.
To his credit, Jeffrey Lord has shown grace under pressure. He’s making his exit quietly, the opposite of what a bully would do. Perhaps the real reason Jeffrey Lord hasn’t bothered to go down swinging is because he recognizes how foolish CNN’s solution for this ironic tweet was. The network is not a worthy opponent, so not worth punching back.
Adam Berlin is the author of "Both Members of the Club" (winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize), "The Number of Missing,” "Belmondo Style" (winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award), and “Headlock." He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and co-edits "J Journal: New Writing on Justice" (AdamBerlin.com). For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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