Lessons from a Twitter train wreck

Sportswriter Joe Cowley tries to delete his sexist tweets to save himself. Too bad he misunderstands the Internet

Topics: Twitter,

Lessons from a Twitter train wreckJoe Cowley

There’s a lot about what went down with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Joe Cowley’s painfully sexist airplane rant on Twitter this weekend that’s hilarious. There was the whining that “I’m more likely to see a Squatch before I see a hot flight attendant.” There was the concern over flying in a plane with a “Chick pilot.” There was his gloriously tone-deaf response to sportswriter Sloane Martin about his comments, culminating with a demand she “hottie up that [profile] pic a bit more.” Had he added a mention of how much he loves scotchy scotch scotch, the entire tirade could still not have felt more deliriously out of time.

But the most wildly out-of-touch element to the whole affair was what Cowley did next. He shut down his Twitter account. It’s a classic response to an online attack of verbal diarrhea — the old waving of the magic delete wand to make all the bad stuff disappear. Too bad it doesn’t work.

We’ve recently seen a surge of hopeful deletions in the aftermath of stupid tweets. Last week, Mitt Romney spokesman Richard Grenell quietly eradicated his tweets suggesting that Rachel Maddow resembles Justin Bieber and ought to “take a breath and put on a necklace,” along with other gems. According to the Associated Press, Grenell, who’s also taken pot shots on the appearance of Hillary Clinton, Calista Gingrich and Michelle Obama, scrubbed more than 800 tweets from his feed. And last month, actress and conservative windbag Patricia Heaton went on a Sandra Fluke tear, saying “you’ve given yer folks great gift for Mother’s/Father’s Day! Got up in front of whole world & said I’m having tons of sex- pay 4 it!” and suggesting that if Fluke’s followers sent her “one condom, her parents wouldn’t have to cancel basic cable, & she would never reproduce—sound good?” At least Heaton had the sense to acknowledge that she purged the tweets after she removed them, saying, “I apologized to Ms Fluke last week. I may not agree with her views but I didn’t treat her with respect and I’m sorry. I was wrong. Mea culpa.”



The hastily issued, immediately regretted tweet is part of what makes online interaction the entertaining train wreck it so often is. After this year’s Grammys, Chris Brown sent an expletive-laced message to the haters — and promptly removed it. And by now, Kanye West is almost as well known for the tweets he’s withdrawn as the ones that inspired a Josh Groban musical interlude. In a world of handlers and publicists and artfully crated personae, human beings – professional human beings who ought to know better, even — still find a way to make utter boobs of themselves. But what makes the likes of Grenell and Cowley look particularly foolish, isn’t just the inanity of their initial tweetstorms. It’s the cowardly, immature way they ran from them.

Here’s a tip: They’re called screen grabs. When you say something offensive or idiotic, or both, to the entire world, people are going to archive it. You can post it for an amount of time so brief you believe Olympic scorekeepers could not measure it. It doesn’t matter. It’s out there. And if you call yourself a journalist, you in particular should be familiar with a little something known as a correction. That way, when you mess up, you don’t come off looking like you have all the wherewithal of a toddler covering her eyes and boasting, “You can’t see me!” Yeah, we can still see you. That’s how we know how many tweets Grenell deleted. That’s how we know what Cowley said.

People screw up and say dumb things all the time. Sometimes they type them and then impulsively hit the send button. Impulse control: always a losing battle. The best people can do afterward is learn from their mistakes, apologize for them, and move on. And there’s certainly a case to be made for removing words that would cause hurt or offense. The delete button can be your friend. But it’s worthless to try to slink off and do a stealth revision of the past. What you do in public is seen in public. More significantly, it is remembered. Forever.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>