Sunday, April 19, 2020

Personal But Public

Once upon a time I wrote a little piece about how the social media team of Maryland State Comptroller had a habit of wandering a little bit too far over the line when responding to those who disagreed with them.


Yesterday, one of the members of that team, the Comptroller’s Chief of Staff Len Foxwell, experienced a smackdown of his own. A statement he made using his own personal social media account about anti-quarantine protestors made a far bigger splash than I am guessing he had intended. Now Republicans around the state are calling for his dismissal.

His boss Peter Franchot felt concerned enough about the situation to address it on Facebook last night. The Comptroller expressed support for Mr. Foxwell in his position of Chief of Staff, labeled his online comments as satirical, and reminded readers that those remarks were posted on a personal social media account, not an official one.

If you want to read screenshots of what has caused this firestorm, or how people are responding, go to Twitter and search Len Foxwell. I’m not sharing it here.

Many of us have been expressing our frustration with those who, by violating quarantine and social distancing guidelines, will very likely make themselves and others sick, overburdening an already overwhelmed healthcare system. Along the way their actions will infect others who had nothing to do with their protest.

That doesn’t feel patriotic to me. It feels selfish, and I have said as much. I find it heartbreaking, and it makes me angry.

Perhaps what Mr. Foxwell wrote was his way of expressing the same thing. I don’t know. But, on its face, it’s glib, mocking, and deeply mean-spirited. From what I have observed, the glibness and sarcasm are well-known parts of Mr. Foxwell’s online persona. (Hence my original post about the Comptroller’s Facebook page.) I would imagine there are some who appreciate the expertise he brings to the job and say, “oh, that’s just his way.”

I think it’s fair to say that not everyone appreciates it.

Yes, it was probably a post written out of frustration, and not meant to be taken literally. Yes, it was his own social media account. But it wandered more than a little over the line. Mr. Foxwell is not entirely a private citizen, even in his time off, and that does place a higher burden on him when he speaks his mind.

His boss appears to have laid this to rest. I’m not entirely sure that’s going to be enough.

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