Why The Whole Freaking World Knows That Rep. Jeff Fortenberry Hates Being Called Fartenberry

from the don't-threaten-people dept

I have to admit that before yesterday, I'd never even heard of US Representative Jeff Fortenberry from Nebraska's 1st Congressional District (even though I visited his district while he was in office). However, boy am I hearing an awful lot about Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, and the one thing I will now always associate with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry is that he and his staff are so offended that anyone might call him "Fartenberry" that they'll ignore the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and threaten a professor for the grievous offense of liking a Facebook post with an image of a defaced campaign sign changing his name.

No, really.

This story has a bit of everything. It starts with this, however. A Nebraska blog, Seeing Red Nebraska, posted the following to its Facebook page a couple weeks ago:

If, somehow, you cannot see that, it's a campaign sign for Rep. Jeff Fortenberry that has been somewhat crudely "altered" such that Fortenberry's face now has two giant googly eyes, his name has been changed to "Fartenberry" by adding a line to the "o" in his last name, and whatever the third item in the following list really is, was changed to: "Strong Families; Strong Communities; Strong ODOR."

A bit sophomoric, but, hey it happens.

What happened next, however... You see, University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor Ari Kohen "liked" that post on Facebook. And, apparently, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's staff decided to scan through all the likes on that post, and decided that Kohen couldn't possibly get away with liking such a thing. So, Fortenberry's Chief of Staff, Dr. William "Reyn" Reynolds Archer III decided to call Kohen and chew him out and threaten him over the "like." Archer left a voicemail for Kohen, who was away at a conference. When Kohen didn't call him back quickly enough, Archer then emailed Kohen's department supervisor, Kohen's dean, and the chancellor of the university to complain about Kohen liking the image.

Again, let's just be clear what'a happening here (and it's going to get crazier). Someone else made some additions to the sign. Someone else took a photo. Someone else posted it to Facebook. The sole thing that Kohen did was click the "like" button because he found it amusing. And Fortenberry's chief of staff emailed Kohen's boss, Kohen's boss's boss and Kohen's boss's boss's boss to complain.

Kohen then called Archer back, and they ended up talking for 53 whole minutes, though the key 7 minutes gives you a good taste of what went down.

Amusingly, if you listen to the full call, it starts out with Archer specifically saying: "Look, I want to just be really clear that we support First Amendment." Then, he follows that up by saying this nonsense: "I think the thing that we're concerned about is liking vandalism which is against the law." The call goes on and just gets more and more insane (yes, dear readers, I listened to the whole 53 minutes for you). At one point, Archer tries to point to Jerry Seinfeld's comments on college students as evidence that... um... something.

Humor has changed a lot over the last five years. What we thought was funny... and even Seinfeld is saying it's really difficult to be a comedian nowadays because things are misunderstood in the context of humor. Yes you can have a laugh about potty humor or about googly eyes, but the point is you're also secondarily liking and validating vandalism without... in a way that you may not have intended, but is a direct validation of vandalism.

The call goes on and on like this, with there being two main complaints, both of which are bullshit:

  1. This is an endorsement of vandalism (and even potentially "violence") and...
  2. Some others had highlighted Kohen's "like" and were using the fact that Kohen is a professor at UNL to further promote this image.
From there, Archer "threatens" to "put this out there":

And frankly we have a 1st amendment opportunity to put you out there in front of everybody and put it clearly as "why is a professor liking vandalism?" We can do that publicly. Would you like that? That's our 1st Amendment right too?

Kohen, who certainly seems to have a much better grasp of the optics here, points out to Archer how that might backfire:

Kohen: I think it'd be a terrible idea for you, if I'm being perfectly honest.

Archer: No. How so?

Kohen: Because the [disbelieving laugh] optics of this are terrible Reyn.

Archer then complains that he was calling to "come to an accommodation" and is frustrated that it seems "that is not possible with you." To which Kohen rightly asks (incredulously) what possible "accommodation" he would think is necessary or appropriate. To which Archer, hilariously replies:

For you to understand the optics of this, and you don't...

About those optics. Since this went public late yesterday, tons of publications have picked up this story. Here's a snapshot from Google News:

Now, perhaps I'm no communications expert, but I don't see any of those articles calling out Kohen for daring to "like" a silly sign defacement. They all seem to be reflecting pretty negatively on Fortenberry and his chief of staff.

Speaking of his chief of staff, Archer seems to have a bit of a history of being controversial himself. The first President Bush appointed him as the head of "Family Planning" at the Department of Health and Human Services, leading to a bunch of complaints about his lack of qualifications for the job:

"He has no credibility in the family planning community," said Judith M. DeSarno, executive director of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), which represents clinics funded by Title X. "He is well-meaning, but he confuses empathy with the idea that he has to protect people from themselves." NFPRHA disinvited Archer to its last conference because so many of his views were "anathema" to its members, DeSarno said. Archer said he remains ready to work with them.

"I have nothing in common with the man, and no respect for him based on his political attitude," said Joan Hinneberry, who administers the Title X program in Colorado. "I have real problems with someone who accepts tax dollars to run a program he's basically trying to destroy."

"I advise people never to talk to him alone, because he twists what you say and uses it against you," said Betsy Render, executive director of the Wyoming Reproductive Health Council. "We have lots of problems in family planning, and the only thing he wanted to talk about {during a visit} was abortion."

Later, the younger Bush, George W., appointed Archer to be the Texas commissioner of health, where he made quite a bit of news for what was described as "nutty (and possibly racist) comments" that eventually resulted in Archer resigning in controversy. Indeed, when Fortenberry hired Archer in 2016, he had to defend the hiring over those comments. Some of those comments came from (wait for it...) a tape recorded conversation made by a woman who worked for Archer which was described as "a rambling, mostly one-sided conversation," in which Archer makes repeated nonsensical references to his employee's race, and talks about lynchings and privilege.

Anyway, back to the call. Kohen continues to ask why this conversation is even happening, and Archer keeps falsely stating that Kohen was supporting vandalism, and then makes various references to other professors getting negative publicity over their political views, with Kohen accurately pointing out that those were all very different situations. At that point, things get super bizarre again, as Archer references the widely debunked theory of "broken windows policing" as the reason he's calling. This makes absolutely no sense at all.

Archer: We all live in an ecosystem in which all these things hold together. Are you familiar with Felton Earls in broken windows at Harvard.

*pause*

Kohen: Uh... no, I'm not.

Archer: So you don't know anything about broken windows as a theory?

Kohen: (incredulous) The broken windows theory of policing?!?

Archer: Well, it's the idea that if you leave broken windows, it means you're going to let the festering of other things happen. You can't leave broken windows in a community without allowing the community to continue to believe it's appropriate to break windows and do other things. That's the point.

The conversation keeps going around in circles, and then Kohen correctly notes what this is: a violation of the First Amendment, in which a government official is clearly threatening and putting pressure on a constituent over his protected expression:

The suggestion seems to be that professors should watch what they say, whether they're in the classroom, or not in the classroom, professors should watch what they say. And one of the big concerns, as you know, with the First Amendment, is that chilling effect that this kind of discussion that we're having right now can have on speech.

Archer then responds in a way that suggests he has... a very, very confused understanding of the 1st Amendment.

I think there are limitations and problems created by both the left and the right around this issue. And I think that there should not be a chilling effect on your right to speak about ideas. But if you tell someone to go blow up a bomb, or you tell somebody to go vandalize, or you validate and say an inference that vandalism is a part of political discourse, by inference, you have to be careful about whether your are constraining yourself in the context of the 1st Amendment, in which... it ends when your fist hits my jaw, as you know.

We all know that this is a very complicated area. And we also know that it's important... It's foundational to this civilization without question. We couldn't survive without it. At the same time, the way we do it, also allows us to continue to do it. To be in this robust conversation with each other. So we're saying, and requesting that you look at your behavior and think about it as being an inference of supporting vandalism, which we don't think is appropriate political discourse.

So, just to be clear, if you're a government official telling someone else that clicking the "like" button (which courts have already said clearly are protected speech under the First Amendment) is "inappropriate public discourse," you are the one violating the First Amendment.

Either way, the call goes on and on and on, around and around for nearly an hour. Frankly, Kohen has the level of patience of a saint as the conversation continues and Archer's argument gets more and more ridiculous, and very carefully considers each and every wacky argument presented by Archer. Incredibly, Kohen tries, multiple times, to end the call, and Archer just keeps wanting it to go on, and pressing Kohen to somehow apologize for clicking the like button. Still, by the end the two end the call on a more friendly note and have a conversation about getting past political differences and improving government -- which is great. But... just the fact that the entire call came about over a like, and it involved a government official (1) complaining to multiple levels of bosses over a university professor and (2) further threatening to publicly shame that professor over his daring decision to "like" a silly joke on Facebook is insane.


Reader Comments

The First Word

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Major FN News, 2 Nov 2018 @ 9:45am

    GOSH, what major NEWS Ivy-League-boy!

    And so long, a MAJOR piece too!

    Meanwhile, Google employees take an hour break to protest hidden favoring of sexual harassers with 90 million dollar payoffs, besides Tim Berners-Lee again calling for Google and Facebook to be broken up.

    This isn't Tech, and the only DIRT is by idiots with no more substance than handing out silly names.

    SHEESH. And you claim went to Ivy League school? Sheer waste.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Major FN News, 2 Nov 2018 @ 9:48am

      Re: GOSH, what major NEWS Ivy-League-boy!

      But thanks for saving me a lot of time this week. Only have to glance at headline to know exactly your feeble spins.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rocky, 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:49am

        Re: Re: GOSH, what major NEWS Ivy-League-boy!

        -"Mom! . . . MOOOOOM!!! . . ."

        -"WHAT?"

        -"Grandfather is off his meds again!!"

        -"Just give him them then!"

        -"He locked himself into the bathroom with the laptop!"

        . . .

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 9:53am

      Re: GOSH, what major NEWS Ivy-League-boy!

      Who appointed you editor in chief over mike, you yourself?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Major FN News, 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:10am

        Re: Re: GOSH, what major NEWS Ivy-League-boy!

        Who appointed you editor in chief over mike, you yourself?

        Yes. Just to humor your feeble jab.

        Please at least state some opinion on topic, perhaps that you find this important, cause I can use more hoots.

        Masnick of own free will puts out his opinions and plain HTML comment box for anyone in the world to use and respond. That also somewhat proves his judgment is lousy...

        Thanks for this opportunity to point out that I've been subtly showing that "free speech" doesn't work well in practice. First, by you fanboys trying to shut me up. And I've had my home IP address blocked, presumably by or with The Maz approving, only get in by TOR now. He tacitly states that Techdirt is a platform for the public, YET that he also has full editorial control like old-fashioned print magazine, all of which showing that even he doesn't actually want "free speech", only that which pleases him.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:52am

          Please at least state some opinion on topic

          You first.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 12:58pm

          Re: Re: Re: GOSH, what major NEWS Ivy-League-boy!

          Yes.

          Ah, and so you admit to being a despotic narcissist with delusions of grandeur. Wanting to control what others can and can't do is some serious tyrant territory there.

          That also somewhat proves his judgment is lousy...

          Well, actually, it just further proves you to be a wannabe tyrant.

          Thanks for this opportunity to point out that I've been subtly showing that "free speech" doesn't work well in practice.

          Hmm, history says you're an idiot and a moron, or a wannabe tyrant. Take your pick, neither is a good look for you.

          you fanboys trying to shut me up

          Because you're an imbecile.

          And I've had my home IP address blocked

          Lie.

          presumably by or with The Maz approving

          Lie.

          only get in by TOR now

          Another lie.

          He tacitly states that Techdirt is a platform for the public

          Lie.

          YET that he also has full editorial control like old-fashioned print magazine

          Because he owns the damn blog.

          all of which showing that even he doesn't actually want "free speech"

          You really don't understand logic do you. Also, lie.

          only that which pleases him

          And finally, lie.

          Go home, you're drunk and off your meds.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2018 @ 10:39am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: GOSH, what major NEWS Ivy-League-boy!

            this is what is known as "derailing" it's standard procedure now. Basically drag all attention to yourself by saying something controversial and/or stupid.

            Then people spend more time debunking YOU than talking about the actual article.

            The only way to win this game is to downvote/report until their post is buried, and DONT COMMENT AT ALL.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:11am

        Re: Re: GOSH, what major NEWS Ivy-League-boy!

        Employers always say they WANT someone motivated by love of the job, but when they get one...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:12am

        Re: Re: GOSH, what major NEWS Ivy-League-boy!

        Dont waste your time with the idiot troll. Just mark it as spam/trolling and move on.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 9:59am

    Would this be a case of the Streiscent Effect?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:13am

    coprophilia & politics

    I wonder if Senators Brian Shatz and Mike Crapo ever get similar juvenile snickering?

    Needless to say, watching the 2016 election was in many ways like being in grade school all over again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:25am

    Due to limitations placed on me by my employment

    Unfortunately, due to the partisan nature of this discussion I cannot share my opinion on a political official trying to limit his constituent's proclivity to click on a little thumbs up image.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:30am

      Re: Due to limitations placed on me by my employment

      If only all others held themselves to the same standard :)

      Government employees remember please: the constitution and especially the amendments are there to restrict the influence YOU can have over the public at large in specific areas, including speech. Not the other way around.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:36am

        Re: Re: Due to limitations placed on me by my employment

        I didn't know that the (1st amendment busting) Hatch Act forbids anonymous online discussion of politics.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          hij (profile), 3 Nov 2018 @ 9:20am

          Re: Re: Re: Due to limitations placed on me by my employment

          It does not, and now that I am at home and working on my own time & equipment I have more freedom to express my personal views on this subject.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:34am

    For you to understand the optics of this, and you don't...

    Looks to me like Archer Shartenberry'd all over the optics...

    (When you think it can't get any more sophomoric- I'll be there.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:48am

      Re:

      Use of this new hip term has become a bit annoying.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 11:21am

        Re: Re:

        If you think complaining about optics might cause them to pivot, you're wrong, as they'll just double down.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 1:47pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          LOL - I suppose at the end of the day they will build a consensus such that a response is written within their Mission Statement but that they should not become a silo due to the mission critical basis that the take away will leverage synergies providing a paradigm shift in the scenario.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 2 Nov 2018 @ 10:59am

    Wow. Maybe Archer should run for president; his pettiness rivals that of our current POTUS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Edumacator, 2 Nov 2018 @ 11:22am

      Re:

      Puhlease... Archer is about as close to Donna Strumpet as the Han's famous Kessel Run.

      However, that does place Archer around thrice as close to Strumpet as anyone else aside from Pence(il).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Edumactor, 2 Nov 2018 @ 11:18am

    Kohen should bill Archer for 1st Ammendment 101 course

    I think $150,000.00 would suffice...

    Kohen can't get that time back and it was priceless.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin Hayden, 2 Nov 2018 @ 11:44am

    To paraphrase Shakespeare:

    "Something smells rotten in the state of Nebraska"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 12:12pm

    I'm not sure what this says about me but the entire time I was reading this article I kept saying Fartenberry instead od Fortenberry everytime it came up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 2 Nov 2018 @ 12:32pm

      Re:

      It says you are human, and have a sense of humor; it is hard not to.

      I am quite sure that F-berry could have spun that vandalism positive if he hadn't been quite so, well, prissy in his response, kind of like the studios using piracy as market intelligence.

      F-berry self-parody billboards, anyone???

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 1:02pm

      Re:

      So did I. It also was not deliberate, kept correcting myself.

      I think he should change his name. Somehow Fartenberry seems to roll off the tongue and brain better than Fortenberry.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DOlz, 2 Nov 2018 @ 3:06pm

    I would like to thank Mr. Archer for his efforts. I never would have heard about this if he hadn’t made such a stink about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Atkray (profile), 2 Nov 2018 @ 3:56pm

    Missed opportunity

    If Jeff had shown up a a rally with these signs and wearing glasses with those eyes he would have probably won by a landslide just for being human.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2018 @ 5:36pm

    out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2018 @ 5:33pm

      Re:

      Why was this truth censored?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 4 Nov 2018 @ 8:03pm

        Re: Re:

        That post adds nothing to the conversation. It serves as a call for posts from a troll who says they want our respect but only ever demands our attention. We do not care whether the troll in question likes or dislike a thing; we would all do better to stop giving them such spiteful recognition.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R. Chair, 2 Nov 2018 @ 6:51pm

    Do you want the word Fartenberry to be Streisanded?

    Because that's how you get the word Fartenberry to be Streisanded.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sniff sniff, 2 Nov 2018 @ 7:15pm

    Should be Ex Congressman Jeff Fartenberry

    Farten Fascist used federal tax dollars to have his Nazi minon call people who ”LIKED” a fart joke, and then threaten them and then call their boss? Wow!
    Mr. Kohen, Good to hear you've filed a grievance against these two malicious zombie fools, but sue them. Take it a step further. Get some of those Russian rubles Congressman Fartenberry bent over for with Trump.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dickeyrat, 3 Nov 2018 @ 3:43am

    "Fartenberry"? Whomever did this obviously has some degree of graphic talent. The esteemed Representative is lucky the newly-given name didn't wind up being, "Dingleberry".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 4 Nov 2018 @ 7:00am

    To be fair...

    The humor is juvenile enough that Rep Fortenberry probably suffered a butt-load of such name-calling as a child. I'm willing to pass his reaction off as due to childhood trauma.

    I'm not sure why his chief of staff pursued it with such vigor, though. Archer must be downright paranoid to spend so much of his (presumably valuable) time attempting to score an apology/promise to un-like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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