First, take a look at this cartoon.
Then, watch this commentary on that cartoon. If you have the time, be sure to watch the entire thing, because you won’t believe it.
No matter your political beliefs you will, I think, agree with me that the cartoon (assuming you actually look at the entire thing and not take one panel out of context, as O’Donnell did) is not “racist”. You may disagree with it. You may not find it particularly funny. Whatever. It is not racist.
But O’Donnell’s mischaracterization of the cartoon is not the most offensive thing about his “commentary”; it’s his call to action near the end of the piece. He actually calls for people to perform an “intervention” on the cartoonist and the writer. He calls out the cartoonist’s wife, by name, and pleads for her to make the cartoonist stop creating this weekly cartoon. He then goes on to tell the viewers where they live, and even suggests that his viewers approach the couple if they see them at their local Starbucks and “tell them to stop.” He suggests the mother of the writer, and anyone else with whom he comes into contact, do the same.
When I watched this, I could not believe my eyes and ears. A journalist, presumably making good money on MSNBC, is actually committing what can best be described as incitement to harassment, over a political cartoon? And this was done just weeks after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, the event that resulted in politicians and members of the media calling for “civility.”
Is there a double standard, such that only conservative or tea-party commentators are supposed to be “civil,” while leftist politicians and commentators can do as they please? Or has O’Donnell simply lost contact with reality?
And what about “incitement to harassment”? Is it actionable? Well, “stalking” is both a crime and a tort under the CA code, and “harassment” is part of the definition of these. For example, California Penal Code 646.9 defines “stalker” as “someone who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another (victim) and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place the victim or victim’s immediate family in fear for their safety.”
“Harassment” is defined as “…a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose. This course of conduct must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and must actually cause substantial emotional distress to the person.”
Here, O’Donnell is arguably inciting people to harass the writer, the cartoonist, and their families. He doesn’t say the viewers should “stalk” them, technically, because he doesn’t tell the viewers to repeatedly harass them. But, in the segment above, he does repeatedly call for his viewers to harass them. So maybe that could count? Probably not (nor do I think it should, however much I feel that something should be done about this injustice).