from the it's-not-funny-if-it-might-happen dept
Here at Techdirt, I like to think that we have a pretty decent concept of humor. While each writer may differ somewhat, I generally have a fairly liberal view of what's fair game for humor and how edgy something can be and still be funny. You want to joke about the government building a planet-killing machine? Cool. Jokes about low-level government employees twisting your giblets? Niiiice. Jokes about drugs? How could you not joke about drugs? Jokes about shooting whistleblowers inserted into government law enforcement training manuals? Somehow that seems to stretch away from funny to frightening.
Yet that's exactly what the ATF saw fit to do, according to (wait for it) leaks from a concerned ATF employee who was not full of bullet-holes at the time of this writing.
After months of anguished debate over mass shootings, gun control and Second Amendment rights, the Justice Department finds itself on the defensive after a training manual surfaced that suggests federal agents could face a firing squad for leaking government secrets. The online manual for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — complete with a photo of a turn-of-the-century firing squad — was obtained by The Washington Times from a concerned federal law enforcement official, and it immediately drew protests from watchdogs who said it showed a lack of sensitivity to gun violence and the continuing hostile environment toward whistleblowers.
Yes, the same federal government that has essentially declared war on whistleblowers, and from the very bureau in charge of helping to regulate firearms in this country, decided it was a-okay to joke about gunning down the very people who would make the country a better place out of a sense of duty. That's not funny. Why? Because I'm not all that clear exactly how many people in government wouldn't like to see that very kind of justice applied to some whistleblowers who already have come forward, namely Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. We've already heard from former members of the NSA who enjoy joking(?) about killing Snowden and the fervor around Manning wasn't absent requests for his death. In other words, the joke isn't funny if we aren't sure it isn't going to happen.
Not to mention the potential for chilling speech from future whistleblowers.
Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center, said the DOJ has forgotten about the protections of the First Amendment, which covers leaks to the media, and that the photo could scare its employees into self-censorship. The photo “would have a chilling affect on legitimate speech. And some of the rhetoric used against whistleblowers could be construed as inciting to violence because they’ve turned up the rhetoric,” Mr. Kohn said.In the words of fellow writer Tim Cushing, a government with this one's terrible history on protecting whistleblowers doesn't get to make the "don't talk or we'll shoot you in the face, LOL" joke. The image is reportedly being removed now that its use has surfaced, but whoever thought it was funny in the first place sucks at humor. Leave that to us idiots on the internet.