Kathy Griffin and the nature of real forgiveness

Once the pitchforks come out, it’s very hard to stand up to a mob.

After taking a stand for forgiveness, Sen. Al Franken couldn’t withstand the pressure to cancel an appearance with Kathy Griffin, the comedian who was stupid enough to be photographed holding a bloodied head that obviously was meant to portray President Donald Trump.

Disgusting? Of course. Few reasonable people argue with that. Even Kathy Griffin acknowledges that now.

Griffin did all the right things after doing the wrong thing. She also lost her job with CNN on New Year’s Eve because the network didn’t want to be associated with her. Fair enough; the brand must be protected.

Griffin apologized quickly and accepted responsibility. What’s supposed to be next once that happens?

Political opportunists — pretty much all politicians anymore — seized the outrage and Franken initially resisted.

“Kathy is a friend and she’s a terrific comedian, but this had no business being in our public discourse,” Franken told CNN on Wednesday. “And I talked to her. She has apologized… she actually begged for forgiveness and I believe in forgiveness.”

It was a gutsy stand for the concept of forgiveness at the cost of political capital. Republicans are much better than Democrats at making outrage stick to opponents. See Nugent, Ted.

Last night, Franken caved, releasing this short statement.

“I believe what Kathy Griffin did was inappropriate and not something that should be be anywhere in our national discourse. I consider her a friend and I’m glad she realized she crossed the line and apologized.

“After hearing from many Minnesotans who were rightfully offended, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be best for her not to participate in the event we had previously scheduled. I understand why Minnesotans were upset by this, and I take that very seriously.”

Politically, it’s hard to argue with Franken’s decision. Though repentant, Griffin is politically toxic.

At the same time, though, it’s unclear what people think should happen to someone who acknowledges wrongdoing beyond being ruined forever.

Forgiveness is a courageous act of character, like that shown when the parents of murdered Amish schoolchildren showed up at the home of the parents of the killer in October 2006 to offer forgiveness.

Or when Mary Johnson of Minneapolis, whose son was murdered by Oshea Israel in 1992, forgave him and befriended him.

Forgiveness is hard. Caving in to a mob is easy.

  • Rob

    So much for the idea that Franken isn’t a typical politician. Disappointing, but not surprising, to see him professs forgiveness, then walk it back. No moral courage here after all.

  • AL287

    Mob mentality is hard enough to fight in and of itself and too often these days, it doesn’t lead to good outcomes. Add Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to the mix and it becomes nearly impossible.

    Kathy Griffin was a very polarizing figure already. Her comedy often bordered on the edge of incivility. I didn’t care for her particularly.

    It’s good that she apologized but I wonder about her mindset for doing it. Did she do it for the shock value? If that was her intent, she certainly succeeded.

    What she didn’t take into consideration was the Internet’s power to disseminate information in a nanosecond.

    She’s not the first comedian to suffer the slings and arrows of social media outrage and she probably won’t be the last.

    • I have to admit: I’d never heard of her. I don’t have cable and don’t watch much TV anymore anyway.

      • Rob

        You have the courage to confess that you weren’t a “Suddenly Susan” fan?! : )

        • Jerry

          Bob must not like Brooke Sheilds.

          • The popular culture references don’t connect for me.

            Can you put it in West Wing terms?

          • Is that a show of some sort?

          • Of the intelligent sort, yes.

          • Rob

            Now, now. Brooke Shields is a Princeton grad; having majored in Romance languages, she also likely speaks more languages than the rest of us.

          • Right. I know who she is. I just haven’t paid any attention to anything she’s done since Blue Lagoon.

          • Rob

            You let Blue Lagoon scare you off? ; )

          • I had a life to get to.

      • Jerry

        Her high point of fame, until this, was 20 years ago.

  • Mike

    I find these rituals of public abasement to be tedious and insincere, and it makes me lose whatever respect I might have had for the artist in question. I’ve never been a big fan of Griffin, but clearly her job is to be provocative and make people laugh. If the symbolic severed head went too far, that just means her art failed – at least in the eyes of her customers. Her apology is nothing more than an attempt at career preservation, and not a convincing one at that.

    The greatest artists are often the ones who are completely unrepentant in pursuing their vision, regardless of who it offends. I might or might not appreciate their particular vision, but I’ll pay more attention to it when the artist doesn’t much care who approves or doesn’t.

    The surrealist artists of the early 20th century (e.g., Salvador Dali) offended many. I’m not aware of their ever apologizing for their bold statements against the Catholic Church, bourgeois sexual repression, warmongering politicians, or any of their other targets.

    It’s laughable that in our era we expect artists to be both bold and respectful of middle-class tastes. It’s often an resolvable contradiction.

    “God and Country are an unbeatable team; they break all records for oppression and bloodshed.” – Luis Bunuel (surrealist filmmaker)

  • Gary F

    Sure wished Al would have toughed this one out.

    • Right, but not because you believe in forgiveness or the concept of extending it, but because it would’ve been a political opportunity for your party. Let’s be a little bit honest about that. There’s no consistency of character here. You need a pitchfork.

      The character flaw is ours.

      • Gary F

        Just playing the same game as the left does. Kathy Griffin has never been on the center-right s radar EVER. It’s just fun watching Trump Derangement Syndrome causing the snarky left to eat it’s own.

        • Right. I know. We all must be entertained. Whatever the cost.

        • Jerry

          I’m not sure Kathy Griffin has been on most people’s radar regardless of political orientation, besides confusing her with Vicki Lewis.

    • Rob

      Gloat-based wishes are not applicable.

  • Dude (Not Sweet)

    Thanks, Bob. I appreciate that you point the way to listening to our better angels, during these decades when picking up pitchforks is too commonplace.

  • AmiSchwab

    i say bfd about the foto. trump is an evil nasty soulless a–hole who’s always bragging about not being pc. he can and no one else is allowed? trump is a mean man who deserves no pity.

    • You don’t think the people who hung effigies of Barack Obama could give you a reason that they felt justified it?

  • Thinkling

    Interesting discussion. Perhaps though there is a little equivocation on “forgiveness” here, which may lead to the lack of clarity.

    Personal (as opposed to legal or civil) forgiveness is not for benefit of the contrite wrongdoer, but rather to those wronged. It is for the purpose of healing from the hurt caused, and moving on. It is not for the purpose of forgetting the incident happened (which would be ignoring important evidence).

    Thus it is perfectly consistent to forgive someone, but to acknowledge that person’s mistake as part of one’s thought process about the future. Pretty sure we all understand this deep down: A woman might (indeed should) forgive her abusive ex. But no one would fault her if she felt she had to not tear up the restraining order.

    As to mob rule, frankly I can’t stand it, no matter whether it’s Kathy Griffen, Charles Murray, Brenden Eich, Tawana Brawley, etc etc

    • I think people confuse “forgiveness” with “approval” quite often. Which is unfortunate.

      It’s an amazing act of grace in the context you describe. Such as when the daughter (I believe it was a daughter) of one of Dylan Roof’s victims forgave him.

      In this age of pitchforks, grace has a hard time surviving the demands of the social media world.

  • lindblomeagles

    I actually don’t think it’s too hard to forgive Kathy Griffin, even for Trump supporters. The issue here are Republican talk show hosts (Sean Hannity) and white nationalists (see Iowa Rep. Steve King) who cry “double standard” every time a person making racist comments is fired from their job, forced to resign, or lose advertising dollars from American corporations (Paula Dean comes to mind). Obviously, these individuals have made racist comments before, and aren’t genuinely sorry (see former Clippers owner Donald Sterling or Pat Buchanan). But the hosts and nationalists want to give these individuals a free pass. When they don’t get that pass, they seek instances where a liberal says or does something offensive, and scream bloody murder when that person is forgiven. (See Hillary Rodham Clinton) That’s why Franken had to pull out even though Griffin’ s gaffe was in poor taste.

    • No, Franken didn’t HAVE to do anything. He chose to. As I indicated, politically the decision is a sound one.

      • lindblomeagles

        Al Franken wants to represent Minnesota in the U.S. Senate at least for one more term. Franken is also promoting his new book, which he hopes will appeal to lefties, moderates, and maybe even a few righties. Franken also publicly condemned offensive remarks from people on the right throughout most of his career, first as a comedian, then as a senator. Let’s say, for the sake of semantics, he CHOSE to support Griffin by continuing to have her at his book event. The level of risk to Al Franken, given the polarization of our country, given the right’s desire to see a lefty expelled from the public square for offensive remarks, and given his Senate campaign relies on financial contributions just as part of Griffin’s income relies on advertising dollars from corporations, would have been exceedingly enormous, especially at a time in American politics where the Democrats will have a difficult time gaining seats in Congress. Combine all of this with a white nationalist Trump supporting group that has taken up violence to make their point (see Portland, again, and Gabby Gifford, Arizona) who certainly would have protested Franken’s book tour, there’s just no way Franken could make the other choice. Sometimes Bob, true courage is knowing when to walk away from a conflict. We teach our kids this in schools when another student threatens to fight them. We tell them to “Go find an adult,” instead of going blow to blow with the rough neck. There are other ways to publicly forgive and support Griffin. President Barack Obama tried it twice during his Presidency – inviting a Cambridge police officer to the White House after his engagement with Gates at Gates’ home, and hosting a town hall meeting after the Dallas police shooter. If choice, courage, and civility is the goal, then its up to us and Franken to find the other way to do that instead of being disappointed when Franken’s choices is one sound option and chaos.

        • You’re correct, of course, that it was politically wise for Franken to backtrack.

          But you also highlight the nature of things today in which we excuse the actions of people we are politically aligned with by citing previous actions of those with whom we disagree.

          The point of the post isn’t so much to point out a character flaw in Franken — I don’t believe backtracking constitutes a character flaw in this case — but to point out the character flaw in ourselves.

          We talk a good game. But we are mostly all talk.

          • lindblomeagles

            BINGO! You’re 100% correct. And, if I might throw some more credit your way, we’re also the reason why Democracy, one of your earlier posts from this week, is in peril today too. We’re all talk.