Political Animal


November 28, 2011 1:50 PM Brownback gives, not gets, an apology

By Steve Benen

There was a curious story out of Kansas last week, about Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) office wildly overreacting to a random tweet from a teenager. Today, it looks like the story was wrapped up to everyone’s satisfaction.

Let’s quickly recap for those just joining us. Emma Sullivan, a high school senior and a Democrat, visited the state capitol last week as part of a program for students interested in politics and government. After seeing the governor, Sullivan told her 60 Twitter followers, “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot”

It turns out, she hadn’t actually made any mean comments to Brownback; Sullivan was just joking around with her friends on her personal Twitter account. But the governor’s staff monitors social media, and Brownback aides were so offended by the teenager’s message that the governor’s office contacted event organizers about it. The student was soon told by her principal that she would have to write a series of letters of apology, including one to Brownback.

As of yesterday, Sullivan had decided to stand her ground. She told reporters that she has rejected her principal’s demand for a written apology, which Sullivan said would be insincere since she isn’t actually sorry.

Today, Brownback weighed in with a statement, and to his credit, the right-wing governor is the one giving, not getting, an apology.

Brownback submitted a statement Monday afternoon to Yahoo! News apologizing to the teen. “My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms,” he said.

Was that so hard?

Look, it stands to reason that in 2011, a governor’s office is going to monitor the media, and take an interest in social media. But when gubernatorial aides have been reduced to complaining about random tweets from teenagers, it’s time for them to reevaluate their priorities. I’m glad Brownback had the good sense to take the high ground and not to be so thin-skinned.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • zandru on November 28, 2011 1:55 PM:

    I'm Confused

    How and why would the Governor's office be monitoring the tweeting of random students? Or are they just keeping an eye on all "#heblowsatlot" -tagged messages?

  • ManOutOfTime on November 28, 2011 1:56 PM:

    Was that so hard?

    Actually, it probably was. I can't think of another time I heard an apology from an agent of the Wingnut Faux Outrage Machine.

    Looking to seventeen-year-old girls for leadership in Muscular Progressivism. Awesome!

  • c u n d gulag on November 28, 2011 2:00 PM:

    And this is the classic example of standing up to the bully.

    Good for Gov. Brownshirt!
    I didn't think he had it in him.

    PS: Can we run her for the House in a few years?

    CAPTCHA: youtvit they're


  • Gov't Mule on November 28, 2011 2:06 PM:

    @ Steve:I'm not exactly sure that Brownback is taking the "high road." This simply looks like he decided to simply cut and run from a fight that his staff started. Principled? Hardly. I'm also wondering if they decided to preemptively apologize to Sullivan because it is doubtful that the communication from the governor's office was not protected by privilege and the state of Kansas, Brownback, and various staffers could all have opened themselves up to lawsuits by Sullivan. On that note, I'm note sure the school or its principal are off the hook either.

  • DRF on November 28, 2011 2:09 PM:

    Give Brownback some credit. Of course, his apology undoubtedly is the result of the terrible PR he's been receiving on this. But at least his apology was straighforward; none of this "I apologize if I offended anyone" nonsense.

  • majun on November 28, 2011 2:09 PM:

    Credit where credit is due. Brownback did the right thing and showed himself to be mensch. For that, if nothing else, he is to be admired. A politician who will acknowledge when he is wrong and apologize without qualification is a true rara avis. Add in that he is a conservative Republican and nothing short of a miracle.

  • T2 on November 28, 2011 2:16 PM:

    Brownback is a hard core Evangelical Nut.....somewhere in the Bible there is something about forgiveness. Props to Brownback for doing something thoughtful. He's still a dangerous nut, however.

  • Carol from CO on November 28, 2011 2:17 PM:

    Now it's her principal's turn to apologize.

  • Another Steve on November 28, 2011 2:17 PM:

    He didn't do the right thing. He did the smart thing.

    The smart thing was to admit he was in the wrong once it became clear that he was in the wrong, could blame it on his staff and that digging and refusing to admit any fault once it became clear that doing so would result in a mighty shitstorm of negative coverage.

    The right thing would have been to apologize, both publicly and personally, after he became aware of the matter and publicly announce that he was admonishing his staff not to act like a bunch of petty-fascist dickheads.

    But, hey, a Republican even doing the smart thing these days is sufficiently rare to be worthy of some small nod of approval.

  • hells littlest angel on November 28, 2011 2:21 PM:

    Tip of the hat to Brownback for doing the right thing, especially since this destroys any chance of him becoming the front-runner for the presidential nomination.

  • Mark on November 28, 2011 2:30 PM:

    I guess it's true that even a blind hog can find an acorn once in a while. First time I've seen him do something that warranted respect.

    Now let's see that principal step up.

  • Texas Aggie on November 28, 2011 2:31 PM:

    Will the principal also behave the same way, or will he retaliate once the furor dies down? I'm betting on the latter.

    And Another Steve had it right. What Brownback did was the smart thing. Given the things he's done and said in the past, I doubt very much that he apologized because he felt he or his office had misbehaved, but rather because he was backed into a corner and this was the most acceptable way out.

  • slf on November 28, 2011 2:34 PM:

    Actually, this remains an alarming story because the perceived iron fist/retribution of the Governor and his staff was very clear to the high school principal, and -- further -- that principal seemed all too eager to get with the bully's program and act as an agent to further bully and harass this young woman and deny her free speech.

    A different, less chemical form of pepper spray, also favored by a public educational institution in CA (which is, and I am not surprised because I was there years ago and have seen this attitude before, my own university, though not the same campus). Authority doesn't learn, doesn't change. We are taught in our schools.

    So let's not forget this so quickly.

  • Yellow Dog on November 28, 2011 2:39 PM:

    Translation of Brownback:

    "Unfortunately, there is too much media attention on Ms. Sullivan for us to stone her to death, as the Whore of Satan deserves."

    This is not funny. This is fucking dangerous. If no one were watching, stoning her is exactly what that freakazoid motherfucker would do.

  • MattF on November 28, 2011 2:39 PM:

    And Young Emma can go back to tweets about Twilight. Story is over.

  • robert on November 28, 2011 2:50 PM:

    I will bet you she is still on his 'enemies list'. The young women should now submit a Freedom of Information Act type request-assuming Kansas ever adopted such a "progressive" law, asking for a copy of all records, including electronic records, that contain her name.

  • azportsider on November 28, 2011 2:54 PM:

    I'm not impressed. Brownback still managed to blame someone else.

  • doyles on November 28, 2011 3:05 PM:

    OK for that I will give him extra credit for his gubernatorial grade. An F instead of an F-.

  • g on November 28, 2011 3:16 PM:

    Wonder what took him so long?

    This story broke last week, he's been twisting in the wind looking like a fool for days - he should have jumped in immediately to get himself out of the news.

    Was he waiting to see whether that apology from the girl landed in his mailbox first?

  • H.Finn on November 28, 2011 3:19 PM:

    He should have said:

    'Now that we got caught strong arming and bullying you...we now realize free speech to be one of our most treasured American values...we just forgot for a while'

    Wing-nut paranoia strikes again with 'staffers'...I guess it really has nothing to do with conservative authoritarian ideology, gut feelings and a general contempt for any form of dissent...proto-fascist dipsticks, all of them.

  • Marko on November 28, 2011 3:31 PM:

    He's still got some 'splaining to do about a) his staff (paid for with public taxes) monitoring the private tweets of 18 y.o. girls; and b) communiques with principals whose students are out of line.

    The principal has some 'splaining and apologizing, too.

  • Ron Byers on November 28, 2011 3:47 PM:

    Does anybody else find this story to be terribly disturbing. A teenager tweets and the Governor's staff immediately finds out. A staffer gets on the phone and tells the Principal to smack the teenager down and he does without hesitation or question. Man this story sounds like something written by Orwell than anything else. I have the creepy feeling that Big Brother is watching and the thought police are on the prowl.

  • ComradeAnon on November 28, 2011 4:04 PM:

    Never thought I'd see Warhol's 15 minutes of fame and Orwell's big brother is watching you cross path's like this. It is creepy.

  • SYSPROG on November 28, 2011 4:47 PM:

    Thanx Ron Byers...I find this horrifying. Monitoring the PRIVATE ACCOUNTS of teenagers, calling the Principal who nails her and then 'I'm sorry...we respect the Constitution'? If it happened to MY daughter I'd be marching on the WH.

  • David on November 28, 2011 5:17 PM:

    Gov. Brownshirt only hires lickspittle obviously.

  • exlibra on November 28, 2011 7:08 PM:

    Wonder what took him so long?[...]

    Was he waiting to see whether that apology from the girl landed in his mailbox first? -- g, @3:16 PM

    You answered your own question, I think :)

    When the story first broke, she was saying she planned to spend the T-giving weekend writing the damned letters of apology, as requested by the principal. At that point, only her elder sister was saying "whoa! Emma's rights have been trampled on". Then everyone else pitched in, with, essentially, the same message. Emma, in all probability, regained her equilibrium (it must have been a shock, to have been called on the carpet for a silly Tweet). And, I wouldn't be surprised if ACLU offered her their services, should she decided to sue. So then she said "whistle for your apology, blow-a-lot". And the only thing Brownback *could* do at that point was apologize. Or else, the story would have dragged and dragged, in the open, for ever. Not desirable.

  • Gretchen on November 28, 2011 8:01 PM:

    My four kids went to this school. The administration takes great pride in their acceptance rates to prestigious colleges on the east and west coast. It's college application season. I wrote to the principal that, aside from the free speech issues, I'm not pleased that he's bringing our state and our school into the national spotlights as an ignorant backwater, just when my kid is applying to grad schools.

  • Kevin (not the famous one) on November 29, 2011 2:34 AM:

    I have the creepy feeling that Big Brother is watching and the thought police are on the prowl. - Ron Byers @ 15:47

    I'm pretty sure we are all collectively past the stage of any hint of privacy today. Even though the Privacy phrase is boiler plate in everything that crosses our lives, we are transparent to those behind the curtain.

  • ed-words on November 29, 2011 11:09 AM:

    It was the "politically smart" thing to do.

    It was distracting him from his dismantling of our economy.