To be a public official, you need a pretty thick skin. People are going to call you all sorts of names and pick apart your words and actions.
But for a seven-term congressman who has surely heard this one before, a fart joke on a campaign sign was one step too far.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) found no humor in someone changing the “o” in his last name to an “a” and amending his slogan to support the aforementioned ode to flatulence. The vandal also picked up on a hot 2018 trend and placed a pair of googly eyes on his face.
It is not clear when the vandalism happened, although Fortenberry tweeted Oct. 24, drawing a connection between vandalism and political violence on the same day pipe bombs were mailed to prominent Democrats and CNN’s headquarters.
Fortenberry’s chief of staff even went after a local political science professor who “liked” a photo of the sign on Facebook, reporting him to the university chancellor and telling the professor he could disseminate widely the fact that he supports vandalism, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
After Ari Kohen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, spoke last week to Fortenberry’s chief of staff, William “Reyn” Archer III, he recalled the conversation to the Journal Star. “It wasn’t clear at all what he wanted from me, if he wanted me to unlike it or retract it. He told me they could put this out publicly that I liked vandalism, and essentially, that that would be bad for me,” Kohen said.
To Kohen, he said, that sounded like a threat. He reported Archer to the House Ethics Committee on Monday with a recording of their conversation.
Archer has denied threatening Kohen, calling the conversation amicable and reiterating his position that the professor should not have condoned vandalism of any kind and that it adds to the problem of lack of civil discourse in politics.
But the American Association of University Professors understood it as a threat and has an open petition on its website urging Fortenberry to repudiate the actions of his chief of staff.
“It should go without saying that a legislator and his staff should not harass and threaten a faculty member based on his or her social media activity, and that it is absurd to equate “liking” a Facebook joke with support for vandalism. However, it’s clear that, in the current political climate, this DOES need to be said,” the letter reads.
Unfortunately for Fortenberry, his staff’s effort to make a point about decorum has predictably backfired. Because now it’s not just people in Nebraska’s 1st District but the entire Internet making fart jokes at the congressman’s expense.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have made such a big stink about it.