Wisconsin Teacher Put On Leave After Hoping Limbaugh Dies A Painful Death

YouTube Screenshot via C-Span

We have discussed the growing trend of teachers being fired or disciplined for their discussions or postings on social media. These cases raise difficult free speech issues for educators who make political, religious, or social comments as private citizens but are then held accountable by their schools. The latest such case is out of Milwaukee where teacher Travis Sarandos has been put on leave over a deeply offensive and callous tweet about the cancer prognosis of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Sarandos reportedly said that he thought the advanced cancer prognosis was “awesome” and that he hoped Limbaugh’s death would be a painful one. It is hard to feel much sympathy for someone who has so little for others. However, there remains a question of free speech and who decides what is permissible or impermissible for teachers to express outside of their schools and employment.

I have previously written about concerns that public employees are increasingly being disciplined for actions in their private lives or views or associations outside of work. We have previously seen teachers (herehereherehereherehereherehereherehereherehere, here) students (herehere and here) and other public employees (here and here and here) fired for their private speech or conduct, including school employees fired for posing in magazines (here), appearing on television shows in bikinis (here), or having a prior career in the adult entertainment industry (here).  This includes Halloween costume controversies or the costumes of their children.

In this case, Sarandos made despicable comments in reply to a poster who hoped Limbaugh would recover. Sarandos could not tolerate such an expression of humanity for someone he disagreed with on politics. He responded that “limbaugh absolutely should have to suffer from cancer. it’s awesome that he’s dying, and hopefully it is as quick as it is painful.”

I am again unsure what the standard is for teachers. Would he face the same discipline if he hoped for the death of Kim Jong-un? How about expressions of hate for Harvey Weinstein or other reviled figures? Schools rarely explain where the line is drawn, making these decisions fluid and subjective. The result is a chilling effect on speech since teachers never know what will cross the line with parents or school officials.

Sarandos is not the only person taking great joy in the suffering of others. They include writer Jon Tayler who said “It’s only fitting that this cancer upon the world should be stricken by it. If this kills Rush, then give him a state funeral so that every willing American can have a chance to pay their respects by kicking his corpse as hard as they can.”

As many on the blog know, I tend to be a classic free speech advocate. In such disputes, I tend to favor the right to speech over ill-defined standards of speech regulation. If schools want to regulate speech, they should offer a bright-line standard rather than former Justice Potter Stewart’s famous statement on obscenity that “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . .” 

108 thoughts on “Wisconsin Teacher Put On Leave After Hoping Limbaugh Dies A Painful Death”

  1. Turley could have posted the story on the Alabama cop that wrote on facebook how nice it would be to have a roadside bomb for Nancy Pelosi. But that would only tick off his right-wing, and most likely he couldn’t find a story on Hillary today. But don’t worry, he’ll find one soon.

      1. He made a passing, jocular remark, which you’re pretending is equivalent to the other man’s quite explicit remark. Neither you nor Fishwings have an ounce of integrity.

        1. “a passing, jocular remark”

          You talk a good game, but in the main? You’re not that sharp.

  2. If a teacher can be put on leave for disparaging remarks, then so should President Trump. He has been a bully since this presence on the world stage. Children should certainly not look to him as a role model.

    1. C’mon Kathy, it’s not just “disparaging” to say you hope someone dies a painful death, when their “Great Sin” is disagreeing with you on politics and culture. That is kind of overboard. But, way too many Democrats like Sarandos are chugging full of hate toward people who disagree with them. That is because being a Democrat is to them like being a Catholic or Protestant is to other people. That is why they call us deplorables, and credulous rustic boobs, an bitter clingers with hatred. I think having contempt for somebody is fine, and I think teasing them is fine, and being sarcastic. But too many Democrats go way beyond that into utter hatred.

      I think that is because being a Democrat is their identity – and their source of moral self-esteem. Take James Carville last week. He said the Democratic Party has drifted too far left and has become elitist and smug and extreme. IIRC he also said that he would support Sanders if he won the nomination. You see that sort of blind adherence to the “D” lever, is weird. And cultlike, like dumba$$ rattlesnake handlers in Fumbuk West Virginia. You vote for a party whose values align with yours if you are a sensible and thinking person. In fact, that is what a lot of #walkaway people are saying, that they have always been Democrats and they finally started looking at the whole values thingy. Obviously, Sarandos has not evolved that far yet.

      Squeeky Fromm
      Girl Reporter

  3. Limbaugh’s Demise Is Being Widely Cheered

    As I noted yesterday, Limbaugh’s diagnosis inspired much glee on my Facebook stream. Limbaugh, a long-established cigar smoker, was known to question links between tobacco and cancer. His skepticism in that regard became part of the diagnosis story.

    It speaks volumes about Limbaugh’s impact on the country when his cancer diagnosis delights so many. Limbaugh, more than anyone, symbolized the Culture Wars. And one has to seriously ask if America needed the Culture Wars.

    A large ratio of the country feels the Culture Wars were, and are, an industry in which a few media personalities have gotten very rich promoting polarization. They have quite literally profited by ripping the fabric that holds this country together. Logically that sounds insanely selfish, to say the least.

    What America really needs are media personalities that heal divisions. People who can weave a tapestry of common interests that bring us together as a nation. But certain political interests would not care to see that happen.

    For now Rush Limbaugh can exit the national stage knowing that millions hated him intensely. Surely that must bother a man approaching the end of his life. But it was the life Limbaugh chose.

    1. Actually, he had little specific to do with the Culture Wars other than having a position on a selection of issues.

      And, of course, we have the Culture Wars because Peter’s allies cannot leave well enough alone and insist on politicizing every bloody venue. Peter cannot conceive of why that generates opposition because Peter is obtuse.

        1. Annie we agree, but let’s be clear that Limbaugh is now bathing in water he played a large part in fouling. Generally he made a fortune mocking and dividing – yes, he was very good at that – and specifically mocked dying liberals regularly as “assuming room temperature”. I try to not wish for anyone’s passing – it’s a struggle sometimes – but I won’t be mourning his passing.

          PS If like some here you doubt my specific claim, Google it. I heard it many times.

          1. Annie we agree, but let’s be clear that Limbaugh is now bathing in water he played a large part in fouling.

            He did not foul anything. He is an advocate for a viewpoint. It enrages you that you have vociferous and effective opposition. The rest of us put up with opposition as a matter of course (public funded opposition, I might add).

              1. Since Fox has admitted to laying off his medications before his appearances in front of congressional committees, I do not know what your complaint is, except that you’ve got a cr!p argument and you have to take what you can find for debater’s points.

                1. Back it up and give us the rationale, if true.

                  Gotta run. Enjoy another day on Turley’s blog. What a life.

            1. Tabby, Limbaugh was just a mean-spirited shock jock who knew very little about the issues he presumed to lecture on. Limbaugh was essentially an aggressive ignoramus building a coalition of the ignorant.

              1. Tabby, Limbaugh was just a mean-spirited shock jock who knew very little about the issues he presumed to lecture on.

                The term ‘shock jock’ doesn’t mean what you fancy it means. That you are emotionally upset by being confronted with opposition is your defect. It says nothing about how he conducted himself on the air.

                I have news for you: people employed to comment on public issues are not academic specialists. Rachel Maddow wrote a dissertation twenty years ago on HIV in prison populations, not exactly an oft-discussed topic. George Will wrote one decades earlier on political theory which is somewhat more applicable to everyday discussion. That’s as close as you’re going to get to an academic specialist who composes topical commentary. I haven’t noticed you bitching and moaning about Mark Shields and Jon Meacham (who receive publicly subsidized platforms). Do you ever tire of being a fraud?

              2. Peter, you might not like Limbaugh’s opinion because you believe in the state controlling the man, but to call him an ignoramus demonstrates how stupid you really are.

                Limbaugh is smart and understands the topic.

    2. When Seth/ Phillip/ Peter/ Burgoyne/ Acland/ PH etc. cashes in his (their) chips, it’d be appropriate for those on this blog who outlived him to get together and celebrate.
      He/they deserve no less.

  4. I don’t know who Sarandos is, nor do I need to know. Since he has decided to be an Ass, I would like to ask how much good (or bad) has he done for this Country? Well we can start with teaching impressionable minds how to hate!
    Then we can ask how much has he contributed to the betterment of America and Americans, like donations to help Wounded Warriors?
    Or major donations and fund raising for health related diseases?
    Or how about just standing up for the country that has provided you with so many opportunities?
    I can only pray, or wish that this person, and others who disparage others in the worst of times, get brain cancer and dies in a very painful state.
    So, good luck you septic tank scum.

  5. Professor Turley: ask yourself it you would want Sarandos teaching your children.

    As for Reza Aslan, when it comes to the Middle East I am sure he wishes the United States to pull out which is what I wish his father had done.

    1. There’s a reason we should not be delivering primary and secondary schooling through what are effectively local monopolies. One of them is that it inhibits exit from the system in these circumstances.

  6. As a general rule, public employees should be terminable at will. The signatures of three people in their chain of command (or fewer, if they’re near the top of the chain) should suffice. This would be followed by a post-termination hearing where the employee and counsel could present evidence that the employee was canned for one of about a half-dozen impermissible reasons. Should the examiner rule there was reason to believe this had occurred, the employee would then receive another hearing in front of a panel of arbitrators and given a chance to prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence. In case of a ruling in his favor, he and his counsel would be indemnified and clear to apply for other public sector positions, but not re-instated. At this juncture, a state ombudsman could (at his discretion) bring a case against those who terminated him. Should the ombudsman be able to establish beyond reasonable doubt to a hearing examiner that those who terminated said employee acted impermissibly, they would be terminated and debarred from public sector employment for a term of years (say, six). We need to have vigorous examination systems for the hiring and promotion of public employees, but we most certainly do not need to give them tenure. ‘You just do not fit in this organization’ should be sufficient to terminate most problem employees.

    That having been said, terminating an employee for exercising traditional civil rights is one thing that ought to be on the verboten list.

    You really have several problems here. One is the general kultursmog. Another would be the culture of the portside political faction. It is absolutely unsurprising that this was said. For half of them, that’s how their minds work. Another is the culture of our professional-managerial stratum and their dependents and hangers-on. (Among whom are schoolteachers). This is what the teachers’ colleges and school district hiring serve up to the young.

    Another problem, and one generative of finicky controversies, is the excessive use of state agency as a vehicle for service delivery. Primary and secondary schooling does not require state agency to emerge. It can and does function quite well as a fee-for-service enterprise operating on the market. Given the decline in transportation costs in the last century, you are very seldom going to encounter a state of affairs where local schools are a situational monopoly absent the crowding-out effect of public agency service delivery in small towns and rural areas. Why not limit public schools to discrete circumstances and have primary and secondary schooling delivered by a mix of voucher-funded schools and tuition-funded schools, all run by private philanthropies? The man’s employers could deal with him according to their lights.

  7. It should be noted that Limbaugh’s regular shtick includes mocking dying and dead liberals, or whoever fellow Americans he viewed as enemies, as approaching or achieving room temperature. Pay back is a .itch.

    Keep in mind that Trump chose to violate both the House and his bipartisan audience by forcing before them a ceremony for this purposefully divisive and completey partisan a..hole. Coupled with his declaring “bulls..t” in the East Room of the WH Thursday, before national network TV, it should be clear, that policy differences aside, our low life President should be removed before he further lowers discourse and poisons the traditions that JT elsewhere pretends to care about.

    1. It should be noted that Limbaugh’s regular shtick includes mocking dying and dead liberals,

      In your imagination.

      1. Anon believes that he can lie, cheat and steal, but those among us that have listened to Anon already know he is a lousy liar.

    2. Bythebook, would you like to offer up specific instances of your claims? Probably not.

      1. Bob. Google “Limbaugh assume room temperature “. In my work I drive and hour or more everyday in the mid afternoon. I heard him many times mock the dead and dying who he deemed liberals and enemies with this crude and cruel attempt at humor.

        1. IOW, you have no response, so you pretend the occasional use of that phrase justifies your ugly attitudes. Grow up.

  8. The problem I have with punishing government employees for media posts is the subjectivity of it all. For example, a school principal was placed on leave the other day for posting that Kobe Bryant’s death was karma catching up with him for raping a young woman years go. Had this teacher written a similar comment about Harvey Weinstein, would she have been punished? Why is one accused rapist off limits but not the other? Because he played basketball? Because he was black? And who decides whom it is okay to criticize and whose bad conduct gets a pass? While Twitter may be a boon for employment law attorneys sorting these issues out in the courts, in the meanwhile it would be wise for employees to exert some discretion and self-control….

  9. Oh, and another story in this vein is from a so-called religious scholar, and CNN host:
    religious scholar Reza Aslan, formerly of CNN, seems to have a different idea on how to publicly react to another fellow human being’s cancer diagnosis.

    In a tweet, Aslan wondered aloud if the world would, in fact, be a “better place” if conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh died of lung cancer — a disease he announced to be suffering from during his radio show on Monday.

    “Ask yourself this simple question: Is the world a better place or a worse place with Rush Limbaugh in it?” Aslan openly pontificated.

    Though some of Aslan’s followers piled on to this grotesque display of impropriety, others were notably enraged by it. Later, Aslan doubled down on his question by openly declaring Limbaugh a “curse upon this nation” who has caused “mass suffering.”

    “I am not ‘celebrating’ anyone’s diagnosis. I’m posing an important philosophical question,” said Aslan. “Rush is not ‘my adversary’ — he is a curse upon this nation, a purveyor of hatred and racism who’s at the very least indirectly responsible for the mass suffering of countless people.”

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. “In a tweet, Aslan wondered aloud if the world would, in fact, be a “better place” if conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh died of lung cancer”

      It’s a fair question as is the question as to whether the world would be better off if Aslan were aborted. His insight is perverted.

      1. “It’s a fair question as is the question as to whether the world would be better off if Aslan were aborted.”

        I think you might have misspelled your own name, Allan.

        1. Anonymous the Stupid, that response demonstrates that along with being Stupid you have no class.

    2. “the White House has not offered a full explanation of the action” That is STILL sick, sick, sick! If your politics are such that you still cannot wish Mr. Limbaugh a bountiful sendoff, when it comes ‘you turn’ to make a transition, would you want the whole world to say, “Let’s make sure that Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter, goes with gusto, salt poured on every wound, and suffers by torture, before she dies.

        1. Ok, you’d love to die with your cat in your arms or in the arms of your cat. You have the right to die the way you choose. Why would you deny the SAME RIGHT to someone else: PURELY BECAUSE YOU HAVE TAKEN A STANCE THAT YOU DISLIKE HIM POLITICALLY.

          Were you aware that he gives considerable sums to charity; somewhere in there are animal charities. Who knows? Perhaps your cat was the beneficiary of some of his philanthropy?

  10. I have been appalled that teachers have been fired for praying with their teams. Praying is positive and edifying and a student can make a choice to participate. Detestable words this teacher Tweeted are disgusting and vile, and any student who was following him, which they may have done to make sure they knew what was going on in school, was subjected to it against their choice. The hatred the left has towards conservatives has come home to roost after years of us trying to take the high-road. The left is truly perverse.

  11. Speaking of dead and dying people, I read Orson Bean got hit by a car and killed. I loved his Touch of Evil and The Third Man. Plus, his whole War of the Worlds thingy. As fat as he was, I bet the cars had some major damage because he is like way huger than a deer or something.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Orson Welles was in Touch of Evil, The Third Man and did the radio drama War of the Worlds, not Orson Bean. 😉 BTW, he also is responsible for that little film Citizen Kane/

    2. I remember Orson Bean as a game show panelist ca. 1971, but he evidently had an extensive career as a performer. He’s also been quite immersed in political literature and advocacy. He was 60-odd years ago a red-haze figure in the performers’ unions but a Republican toward the end of his life. Andrew Breitbart was his son-in-law. (OB offered an assessment some years back that it’s more injurious to your career to be a Republican in Hollywood today than it was to be a Communist fellow-traveler in 1950).

      He had a good long run – 91 years and apparently lucid to the end and still performing now and again.

  12. This teacher has an absolute right to free speech, but social media posts are often used as a measure of someone’s demeanor as not only an employment tool, but possible criminal behavior and mental stability. I have seen policeman fired for social media posts. The government has asked every citizen to use the “If you see something say something” rule to stop potential acts of violence. We are asked as citizens to flag “this behavior” to stop acts that may harm someone else. “This teacher is around kids,” and as a parent I would not want this individual that aspires to see another human being die a painful death, around my child! While this teacher has an absolute right to say whatever they want to say on social media, they should also be ready to except the consequences of what that means.

  13. Interesting that the Professor framed the discussion around universally reviled figures. Consider a slight change to the hypothetical-

    “Barack Obama absolutely should have to suffer from cancer. it’s awesome that he’s dying, and hopefully it is as quick as it is painful.”

    Protected off-duty political commentary, or shameful hate speech?

  14. Ten, or more, years ago this comment would have been made in the teachers lounge or somewhere similar. It probably would have been shusshed by a friend and it’s impact ended.
    A big part of the difference is Twitter.
    I can’t think of a more disruptive innovation to our body politic.
    While I don’t advocate for an end to Twitter, I would like to see a short term ban (maybe one month). Just to see what impact that might have on social civility.

  15. I mean no disrespect for teachers-or maybe I do-but I’m from Chicago and am sick and tired of the teacher who feels that since, “;hey have the education of our youth, our cherubs’. they must be granted sainthood. I know many a fine teachers, but I have seen teachers hold a whole city hostage. I hope this person was under the influence of something and really didn’t know what he was saying, but to even JOKE that someone else with whom you disagree, meets with a more painful than necessary demise is beyond the pale and tasteless.

  16. Good issue, since social media, taking place in a non-local place called ‘cyberspace’ seems to take out the ‘where and when’ of such matters. But it seems to me that teachers should be as free as anyone else to say what they like in their private time and spaces, but not be so free in the classroom. Perhaps they should be encouraged to use different identities online so as to avoid any behaviors inappropriate on the job leaching into their classroom.

    Ultimately, a republic like the US – as Madison (?) rightly pointed out – only works if the people comprising it are religious, or we might say today ‘have good manners.’ What is unfolding in the US body politic these days could be described in political or socio-economic or other terms, but most simply put, it’s that the country is descending into a phase of well nigh universal bad manners.

    Not good!

  17. Well, I guess it would be fine, legal, and “a right” for a 35 year old man to date a 16 year old girl if she was past the age of consent. But would we feel the same way if the 35 year old man was a teacher?

    I think teachers have special obligations to not be drunks, leches, and psychopaths. Not to mention a lack of impulse control or a sense of decorum.

    If you think about it, this is on a par with ripping up a SOTU speech, but there you feel the dignity of the office demands that Nancy Pelosi either apologize or retire. Same here. Teacher should admit he was wrong or get canned.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  18. Hate speech; wishing that a particular person will die. And, yet, he gets paid to teach our children the values of our society. If anyone thinks it OK (professor?) then enroll your kids in his school.

    1. Public school teachers are not paid to teach values. If you want your children to be taught values, you send them to the parochial school of your choice. If you’re not willing to pay tuition, because you prefer to spend the money on a nicer car, meals in restaurants, vacations, or some other luxury, don’t be surprised when your children end up as young adults whose only “values” are parroting left-wing political dogma.

  19. Good points.

    Does the fact that Sarandos is an educator setting an example for children under his authority make a difference?

  20. “he hoped Limbaugh’s death would be a painful one. “

    This comes from a vile Democrat not particularly unusual for many in today’s Democratic Party. (See video of Sanders campaign officials for some more examples.) Censorship is a difficult question but I personally would not want such an it to be teaching my children.

    1. A subsidiary point here is how the left understands Limbaugh. The other day, Peter Shill compares him to Howard Stern. To anyone remotely familiar with these two men, the comparison sounds unreal, but for liberals, vigorous and effective opposition is in and of itself outrageous. Gainesville, being cannier than Shill and will less integrity, is promoting the fiction that Limbaugh gloats over the death of liberals.

      Snopes, in an admission against interest, has largely debunked a number of liberal memes about Limbaugh. Liberals understand their opposition only on the level of caricature, so they are vulnerable to accepting at face value errant nonsense.

      1. You being a Trump supporter, you would know all about “accepting at face value errant nonsense”

        1. Both you and Gainesville have attempted look-squirrel diversions during the course of this thread. Why not try honest engagement with issues?

          1. “Why not try honest engagement with issues?”‘

            You might try it sometime.

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