The satirical political blog Wonkette found itself in the midst of a firestorm on Wednesday, when conservatives found a post that its Jack Steuf published Monday which featured images and video mocking Sarah Palin’s son Trig, who has Down syndrome, along with a number of tasteless jokes about him. At one point, Steuf wrote of Trig, "What’s he dreaming about? Nothing. He’s retarded."
The post led to outrage among conservative bloggers, and to a daylong campaign on blogs and Twitter that led Papa John’s Pizza to announce that it will stop advertising on the site. Slate’s David Weigel, who was fired by the Washington Post after a leak of emails he sent a listserv of journalists and activists, including one in which he used the phrase "Paultard Tea Party," picked up the news and—calling Wonkette's post "gross"—wrote two posts about it on his blog. Even Gawker’s Nick Denton, who'd founded Wonkette before selling it in 2008, told Adweek, “I don't believe we would have done that post.”
After Adweek wrote Wonkette editor Ken Layne to ask for comment, he sent the following reply, CC’ing Weigel:
"Every year or so, Sarah Palin's fanatic audience finds Wonkette and professes outrage because we have been mocking Sarah Palin since before most Americans had any idea who she was. (This is true; check our archives! We even gave her the satirical nickname "America's Hottest Governor," which her own staff thought was a compliment, and not an insult. But it was an insult.)
"That said, we should always make it clear that it's *Sarah Palin* who is the target of our disgust, because of what she does to that child. Jack should not refer to the child as "retarded," even in a clearly over-the-top piece of political satire, because obviously the people who are going to act outraged about this are not going to be following the nuances of a notorious meta-humor website like Wonkette. Remember, these are the same people who were somehow *personally offended* by Tina Fey's comedy routines using Sarah Palin as a character. I cannot count the number of emails—because I deleted them—that I received informing me that Palin didn't really say she could see Russia from her house. Well really, you don't say.
"But seriously, I have four kids myself and I wouldn't want them mocked on the Internet by a bunch of cretins on the Internet. And that's just one reason why I wouldn't parade my children around in the media. What kind of mother does that?
"In any case, Jack has been admonished and put on night probation until further notice. Anything involving Palin, I want to make it extra clear that *Palin* is the problem with America. Not her kids. Not her little kid, anyway. The older ones seem to be on their own path and you can't really blame Sarah for it, although she certainly encourages the sleaziest possible behavior from her grown children, which is hardly a very "family values" thing to do. But as far as Jack's future, a few months on the night shift cleaning up the furious, ALLCAPS unmoderated Wonkette comments, without pay, should teach him a thing or two about writing stuff that confuses the target. Trig is cool with us. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is a grave danger to America.
"Also, Dave Weigel is a weasel. Let's see who runs to his defense next time he's fired for calling Tea Party people a bunch of "Paultards"! What is wrong with that guy, anyway?!"
Minutes later, Weigel sent the following response:
"Since I'm looped in—my only problems with the post are the joking references to the kid himself. My only comments about it came on Twitter when I said that it was "gross" and on the blog after Papa John's announced its new policy. I thought the boycott was newsy bc it was a conservative campaign that only had to exist for a few hours on some blog posts and tweets to get the job done. On a 36-hour-old post!
"Sorry to learn that I'm a weasel, but 1) I'll stick up for any satire that doesn't *make fun of a mentally disabled toddler* and 2) there's a subtle difference between private e-mails that get leaked out of context and material that's written and published for everyone to read. There's a more obvious difference between a generic term that uses the suffix -tard and a personal joke at the expense of some kid who, through no choice of his own, will not be able to live a completely normal life. There's a way to make fun of Palin and her fan base without going there."
This, in turn, prompted another email from Layne:
"Oh settle down, Weigel. I am poking fun at you for acting butthurt about the word "retarded" when that's exactly what got you fired from the Washington Post. (Well, that and the WaPo being run by a bunch of hundred-year-old wusses.)
"You know there's not a damn thing anywhere on Wonkette that is directed at that child. Let's do something that has never before happened on the Internet, and be intellectually honest here. We have been mocking Palin for using that kid as a political prop since 2008. I said I don't care for where Jack went with that post, because when you're mocking the Team Sarah people and their weird Cult of Trig, it is just too nuanced. Stick to mocking Palin, stick to calling her a monster for doing that to a kid, special needs or not.
"There's a way to make fun of Palin and her fanbase without going there." You know, I wish this was true. But you can't, because the fanbase has become the Cult of Trig. It is a weird garbage loop and really, like I told Jack, the only way to avoid it is to ignore her dumb base and stick to mocking Palin. Allah knows they go crazy enough over *that.*"
Update: Asked for clarification about whether he was serious or joking about consequences for Steuf, Layne emailed to say Steuf would be punished "In the exact way politicians (other than Palin) are always punished: He accepts full responsibility for his actions."
"Plus he has to do comment duty for a month, which means he gets to read all the Palin fans' insane unmoderated comments calling him an asshole and threatening to kill him. (I don't know if you're familiar with the political blog world, but illiterate death threats from the disciples of whatever venal populist politician are one of the "perqs" of being an underpaid online freelancer.)
"I mean, honestly, what 'factual punishment' do you want for Sarah Palin's followers not liking an asshole on a political-satire blog? Thumbscrews?"