It is unfortunately not uncommon to see people tweeting about getting rid of a particular race or gender on social media. It does cause a bit more of a stir when that person is the spokesperson for the public schools in Washington, D.C., Hilary Tone. In a heated response to word that former Texas governor Rick Perry would be picked as Energy Secretary, Tone dashed off a statement on Twitter that “If wanting to get rid of something qualifies you to run it, I want to be Secretary of White Men.” Not exactly what one expects from a spokesperson, but the D.C. schools have been remarkably quiet in response to the posting (which was later withdrawn) by its spokesperson.
It was clearly an attempt by Tone to be funny that was a colossal failure. However, we have previously discussed such “jokes” by judges and others. I would not want to see an employee fired over a joke. Indeed, I think that we need to loosen up considerably in disciplining public employees for their statements and conduct in private life. The only interest that I have in this story is the rule that applies to such cases in the future.
Before working for the DCPS, Tone worked for Media Matters, an organization created by the controversial David Brock — a vicious Clinton ally who has been denounced by Bernie Sanders as “scum” and even other Clinton supporters as “bat-shit crazy.”
We have previously discussed the concern over the unequal treatment of such comments. If a spokesperson had joked about the desire to get rid of all black males, would the response be the same?
We have previously discussed the concern that public employees are being punished for statements or images posted on social media. Of course, this is the spokesperson for the schools, but it was a statement made on her personal Twitter account, @HToneTastic.
It was a surprising lack of judgment for a spokesperson of a municipal agency that depends greatly on federal funding. To then reportedly add a racist and sexist element to that political statement is astonishing. She first referenced Perry’s past statement that he wanted to eliminate the Energy Department and then added “If wanting to get rid of something qualifies you to run it, I want to be Secretary of White Men.”
Fox reports that she later took down the tweet and sent out a statement “hey internet – upon reading my mentions, it occurs to me that my tweet about white men earlier today was in poor taste. My apologies.” One does not have to be a spokesperson ordinarily to require hindsight to see that it is remarkably dim to make political comments tinged with racist and sexist elements when you are the face of a major agency.
Yet, the DCPS sent out a fairly restrained statement:
“The social media posts were said on an employee’s personal social media accounts and do not reflect the views of DC Public Schools, which prides itself on being an inclusive organization regardless of race, ethnic background, religion, sex, language, family’s income level, or immigration status.”
I am highly sympathetic with the position of protecting free speech for public employees so long as there is one standard for all employees. Does that mean that the DCPS would take the same position on spokesperson’s joking about eradicating black males? What is the standard for such social media comments. It is not clear from the statement.
What do you think that standard should be?