Today I was proud to come across, on CNN, a nationwide broadcast of an example of the prevailing mindset of my region. Here's a link to the video: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2008/07/03/dnt.tshirt.controversy.wjxt
(If it's possible to embed CNN videos, I don't know how.)
In brief for those disinclined to watch the video, an antiwar activist who attended some kind of local veterans event won a gift bag --
and I'll stop here for a moment and point out that if the woman won a gift bag, she obviously came not as rabble-rouser but as supporter. She must have behaved in a friendly way at the meeting or they'd have escorted her out. It is, surprise, surprise, possible to not support the war but support the troops and the veterans. (Some people, however, see it as all about Love Me, Love My Boss's War.) My son is a Marine and not until we invaded Iraq did I ever strongly feel that he and his colleagues were being misused by our government. Anyway, back to our story.
When she opened the gift bag at home, she was horrified to find a t-shirt with a graphic of a sharpshooter on the front and this friendly message on the back: If you can't stand behind our troops, do us all a favor and stand in front of them.
The anti-war grab-bag winner was further horrified to discover that the shirts were donated by the county sheriff (using his own money) and she believed that this sent a message that the sheriff condones violence against anti-war protestors.
You misunderstand, says the sheriff's spokesman (and I am reminded again why I didn't major in communications...), emphasis mine:
The sheriff purchased the shirts with his own money to support local vets …In other words, handing the shirts out is not the same as promoting their message, and he takes no responsibility whatsoever for his actions.
It’s simply this: the sheriff bought the shirts, he didn’t design the shirts, he hasn’t done anything to promote the shirts, he just handed a few out after he purchased them to help them raise money to support our local families.
The message on the shirts is not neutral. What if, for instance, a sheriff were asked to buy some t-shirts to support a successful after-school teen program, one that is proven to divert teens away from criminal activity, but the shirts contained a message promoting the legalization of marijuana? (Of course, this is not likely, but the point here is cause good, message on shirts more dicey, at least for a law enforcement officer.) Of course he would distance himself, and fast, even if the after-school program was highly effective and award-winning. In other words, there'd never be a moment when a spokesman would have to say that the sheriff bought the shirts, didn't design them, isn't promoting them, etc. The sheriff would be very careful not to be associated with that message in the first place.
People are like that, after all, all about CYA.
It's safe to say that the sheriff is not that naive, probably sees nothing wrong with the message -- after all, the spokesman doesn't appear to have denounced it -- and is probably very proud of disseminating these shirts.
And this is the red world in which I live, one that my New York friend couldn't wrap his mind around.