Who among us has never commented on an article’s headline before reading the article itself? Unfortunately, even congressmen make the mistake.
Early this morning, Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) chose to respond to a Hill story in which Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) revealed her office has received “pretty ugly voicemails, threats” regarding Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court amid Christina Blasey Ford’s allegations of attempted rape.
Swalwell tweeted the link to the Hill article and wrote (in a now-deleted tweet):
Boo hoo hoo. You’re a senator who police will protect. A sexual assault victim can’t sleep in her home tonight because of threats. Where are you sleeping? She’s on her own while you and your @SenateGOP colleagues try to rush her through a hearing.
However, his criticism was unwarranted because — in the same interview — Collins had called for ensuring Blasey had sufficient protection.
Collins was speaking to Maine radio station WVOM-FM at the time she made the comments, in which she said the following:
I think we need to provide her with any protection that she may ask for, for herself and for her family. I would note that Judge Kavanaugh also has received some threats and goodness knows, and I don’t mean to equate myself with either of them, but my office has received some pretty ugly voicemails, threats, terrible things said to my staff and so this has been a very ugly process and I think that is very unfortunate for everybody involved.
So, in two sentences, Collins said she believed Blasey should receive any protection that she felt necessary; emphasized she was not calling the threats to her office comparable to the threats against Blasey or Kavanaugh; and expressed disappointment in how “very ugly” the entire situation had become.
But the Hill headline only provided the line about the threats Collins’ staff had received, so Swalwell reacted rashly.
Annie Clark, Collins’ communication director, responded via Twitter:
.@SenatorCollins said this on WVOM radio in Bangor yesterday: “I think we need to provide [Dr. Ford] with any protection that she may ask for for herself and for her family.” #mepolitics https://t.co/Af9FZUMfyd
— Annie Clark (@annieclark25) September 20, 2018
A threat against *anyone* is wrong.
You can borrow this line from my boss if it's helpful: "That's just wrong."
ICYMI – That's what she said about the threats against Dr. Ford & her family.
— Annie Clark (@annieclark25) September 20, 2018
To his credit, Swalwell ultimately deleted the tweet. He also issued an apology via Twitter:
Sexual assault victims deserve respect. And senators shouldn’t be threatened by the public. I said something stupid and minimized ugly behavior. That tweet is deleted and I’m sorry for that.
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) September 20, 2018
It is, to be fair, a pretty decent apology: He deleted the original tweet, took full responsibility, openly criticized his behavior, and issued an unequivocal apology. But the decision to tweet is still significant, as is the attitude expressed in the tweet itself.
It’s appalling that a member of Congress would downplay threats of violence against his congressional colleagues. Last summer, multiple members of Congress were shot at because they were Republicans. It’s a miracle that the day didn’t end with multiple members of Congress dead. (If you haven’t read it, BuzzFeed’s “The Nine Minutes That Almost Changed America” is a must read.)
Swalwell also has more recent experience with violence in politics; earlier this month, a man was arrested after allegedly attempting to stab the Republican running against Swalwell for California’s 15th congressional district seat.
For Swalwell to play down threats was not just beyond irresponsible, considering such circumstances or the fact that he is a politician. It was also particularly disgusting and a slap in the face to his colleagues who have already faced violence because of their political affiliation.
Furthermore, Swalwell is a member of Congress. President Trump’s inclination to air out his grievances and thoughts on Twitter, unfortunately, appear to have encouraged several politicians to do similarly. As The Weekly Standard’s Deaton noted, Swalwell’s tweets are “a case study in how politicians popping off based on misinterpretations of incomplete web content is now a feature of the American political system beyond the White House.”
It is embarrassing, inappropriate, and possibly dangerous to see people leading our government acting on their worst impulses so publicly.
Though certainly, every person on the Internet can relate to my last point: Always read the article before responding. In response to CNN’s Jake Tapper, Swalwell asked, “Why not offer the witness security?” Except the article revealed Collins did urge protection for the witness.
Twitter has been beneficial in countless ways, as has the Internet in general. But it’s debatable whether it’s good, bad, or scary that they have revealed how frequently, and how willingly, people give in to their worst impulses.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.