A gruesome photo of Kathy Griffin hoisting the fake, severed head of President Trump was met with swift, bipartisan condemnation within minutes of her tweeting it Monday night.
It was a grotesque, terribly-misjudged stunt that cost Griffin her job as co-host of CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve program with Anderson Cooper, who said he was “appalled” by the “disgusting and completely inappropriate” image. And it was ultimately a PR victory for the Trump family, who had trotted out the president’s youngest son, Barron, to hammer home just how repugnant Griffin’s stunt was.
Griffin had targeted President Trump with the aim of “mocking the Mocker in Chief,” as she put it. But the Trumps made it clear that young Barron was the innocent victim. For those who argued that the image hadn’t actually hurt anyone, here was proof that they were wrong. For Barron, the photo was apparently all-too-real.
Griffin’s photograph was awful. She was quick to admit she went “too far,” apologizing for the gag and deleting it from her Twitter feed.
“I understand how it offends people. It wasn’t funny—I get it,” she said in her video apology on Tuesday night. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my career…And I beg for your forgiveness. I went too far. I made a mistake and I was wrong.”
Early Tuesday morning, the president tweeted that his 11-year-old son was having an especially “hard time” after the incident.
In a string of tweets shaming Griffin and calling on CNN to cut ties with her, Donald Trump Jr. referenced a TMZ report from “Trump family sources” claiming a traumatized Barron “panicked and screamed, ‘Mommy, Mommy!” when he saw the image on TV Tuesday morning. First Lady Melania Trump released a statement suggesting Griffin was mentally ill.
“As a mother, a wife, and a human being, that photo is very disturbing,” Mrs. Trump said, effectively repackaging her husband’s tweet on Tuesday morning (“Sick!” the president wrote). “When you consider some of the atrocities happening in the world today, a photo opportunity like this is simply wrong and makes you wonder about the mental health of the person who did it.”
Not satisfied with condemning Griffin’s stunt as morally reprehensible and in poor taste, Mrs. Trump thought it appropriate to impugn the comedian’s mental health—this from someone who has vowed to combat online bullying in her role as first lady.
The Trumps’ message was clear: in promoting graphic, bloody images of a dead President Trump, Griffin traumatized innocent children like Barron. (There has been no independent confirmation of Barron seeing the image, and/or his response to it.)
Conservative television host Liz Wheeler took to Twitter to say she was was “heartbroken” by TMZ’s report about Barron. “He thought it was his dad,” she wrote. Don Jr. retweeted her remarks on his own account, as if to confirm the report.
Back in January, after an SNL writer was fired for making fun of Barron on social media, the White House issued a statement underscoring a “longstanding tradition” in America “that the children of Presidents are afforded the opportunity to grow up outside of the political spotlight. The White House fully expects this tradition to continue.”
Given that sober direction you’d think the Trump family would lead by example. So why, in fighting Griffin, did they jettison their own off-limits rule—and the “longstanding tradition” of keeping children of Presidents outside the political fray?