Governor Brownback’s communications director, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, has taken a 100% certified molehill—an indecorous tweet from a bored school kid who happened to be in an audience in front of the governor at the time—and turned it into a textbook example of how to build a mountain of negative public opinion for your boss overnight. Could you imagine Governor Chris Christie’s staffers making a decision like this?
Ms. Sullivan didn’t actually make any critical comments in person, but the tweet, sent out to a following of about 60 people (though it’s over 800 now), somehow caught the eye of the Governor’s Director of Communication, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, during her daily monitoring of social media mentions of Governor Brownback. Shocked – shocked! – that a teenager’s tweet about a politician was “disrespectful,” she complained to the high school. “It’s also important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the Internet,” she said.
It is on the internet, Ms. Jones-Sontag. The internet, the one the rest of us uses when people like you aren’t clogging it up with press releases you and your staff are bulk emailing by the thousands to people who aren’t reading them, actually thrives on these David versus Goliath narratives. And when I put a link to this article on twitter, Ms. Jones-Sontag, I will be sure to give you and your minions your own hashtag: #HisUnderlingsBlowALotToo.
Governor Brownback needs to fire Sherriene Jones-Sontag, who is his communications director, because she obviously doesn’t understand how the internet works. If the Chinese, who have the tightest hold on the access their citizens have to the internet of any industrialized nation, have not figured out how to control which Chinese dissident says what on the web, why the hell does Sherriene Jones-Sontag think that the Kansas Governor’s office could possibly police the commentary of U.S. citizens, even if they are students, without drawing negative public backlash?
Emma Sullivan did not brandish a picket sign, or shout through a bullhorn, or throw eggs at Governor Sam Brownback while he spoke to her and her fellow students. In fact, she did not even have the gumption, as I surely would have if I had been in her shoes, to keep up a steady stream of derogatory tweets about the governor until the event was over. What Ms. Sullivan did when her fingers got to tapping on her phone to dash off one lone tweet was the equivalent of an audience member making an indelicate comment to the person next to them in their normal voice during a lull in a stage performance.
The right to criticize our government officials, Ms. Jones-Sontag, is more American than apple pie. Given the fact that what most of the country knows about the constitution and the roles we play as American citizens are taught in high school civics classes, I challenge Principal Karl Krawitz, who is at the helm of Shawnee Mission East high school in Prairie Village, Kansas, the school that Emma Sullivan attends, to see this as a moment to reinforce this notion.