Free speech. It works both ways.
Trump ralliers in Tampa last week were perfectly free to boo, "shoot the bird" and hurl verbal insults at CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
But so was POLITICO Florida's Marc Caputo, a reporter outraged by the incivility of the crowd toward Acosta, just as free to call the insulters "garbage people" in a tweet.
Without having to walk back his words.
I feel a little disheartened that Caputo, one of the fairest and most well-respected reporters by Democrats and Republicans alike in Florida, is taking a battlefield of flack from faux-outraged Republicans -- generally my ideological brethren who I thought understood and appreciated the meaning of free speech under the First Amendment.
Let's look back at the July 31 Tampa rally for a moment.
Just a sample of the sad scene we faced at the Trump rally in Tampa. I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy. pic.twitter.com/IhSRw5Ui3R
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) August 1, 2018
Acosta had tweeted footage of Trump supporters jeering at him. He claimed he was “very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt.”
Reacting to Acosta’s video and remarks, Caputo tweeted, “If you put everyone’s mouths together in this video, you’d get a full set of teeth.”
So sue me, I laughed.
One Twitter user shot this back to Caputo: "Not your best tweet, Marc.” To which Caputo replied, "Oh, no! I made fun of garbage people jeering at another person as they falsely accused him of lying and flipped him off. Someone fetch a fainting couch.”
Caputo, by the way, wrote all this not in a story on the POLITICO Florida website, but on Twitter. Medium preference of President Trump.
The same medium the president used this weekend when he tweeted, "The Fake News ... purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! ..."
Really? What war is that? When did the media ever cause a war? CBS' Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan asked White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway to reply to the president's tweet Sunday morning. After a long pause, Conway pivoted, referring to reporters "who aren't always telling the truth," then singled out Caputo by name and repeated his comment word-for-word -- as if he were talking about all Trump supporters instead of Acosta's hecklers.
And even if he weren't, who cares? The Founding Fathers and authors of the Bill of Rights wouldn't give a hoot. This is America.
Plus, Caputo, whose influence, at best, is limited to hundreds of thousands of readers, apparently is to be publicly humiliated for his tweet; meanwhile, the president, whose tweets reach hundreds of millions, gets a hall pass for alerting the world the media can cause war.
A prolific Twitter merchant, Caputo, author of POLITICO's Florida Playbook, later felt the need to take his original tweets down and write a three-part apology "for causing confusion and feeding anger." See the apology reproduced on this page. It smacks of force. Somebody pushed him to say "sorry."
It's classy. Classier than I could be. And I suspect classier than anything CNN's Acosta will get from Trump supporters in Tampa.
True, I've written about CNN's slanted coverage myself. I get it -- ralliers' anger and their decision to exercise free speech. But thousands ganging up on one reporter -- encouraged by the president of the United States -- struck me as medieval, the treatment a condemned man got on his way to the chopping block in the 13th Century. All it did is leave me cheering for the passion and biting wit of Marc Caputo, who clearly had something to say about group bullying.
Here is one Republican who wants Caputo to take down the apology.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith