- - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bob Buckhorn is the Democratic mayor of Tampa, Fla., who probably ought not to attempt a new career as a stand-up comic.

He tried a joke about the press the other day and all he got for it was Maggie’s drawers (the lot of a soldier who misses the entire target on the range). He boasted of pointing twin .50-caliber machine guns at a group of journalists and gleefully watching them “cry like little girls.”

The mayor, as it turned out, didn’t actually point a gun at anybody, at least not one with bullets in it. But he told a Special Operations Industry conference, a meeting of commandos and defense-industry leaders, how he was once a “hostage” during a demonstration of rescue tactics.

He was put aboard a Navy special warfare boat and allowed to fire blanks from the .50-caliber guns. “And so the first place I point the gun is at the media. I’ve never seen grown men cry like little girls, for when that gun goes off those media folks just hit the deck like no one’s business. It’s great payback. I love it.”

Well, har-de-har har, for sure. Several ladies and gentlemen of the press were not amused. “Personally, I was appalled,” said Susan Katz Keating, who recalled that she once had guns pointed at her in Northern Ireland, covering “the troubles.” The mayor’s remarks set off a frenzy of “you tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine” by journalists recalling heroic moments of war-zone journalism.

“As someone who had been under fire once or twice, and lost two colleagues to a car bomb in Iraq that nearly killed me,” said Kim Dozier of the Daily Beast, “I didn’t appreciate the remarks.” She even wrote a book about her experiences getting shot at.

It turns out that no one actually ducked, or cried out, when the mayor fired his blanks, except in his telling of his heroics. But one journalist at the conference managed, to no one’s surprise, to make Donald Trump the villain of the piece, even though the president was many miles away.

Sean Naylor, a freelancer who says he, too, was once under fire, told the Tampa Bay Times that he was “both irked and puzzled” by the mayor’s remarks. He thinks it was “particularly regrettable” in the context of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s remarks to President Trump about using a sword against journalists, and “the president’s own reported desire to lock up reporters.” He doesn’t like the mayor’s getting “a few cheap laughs by implying that somehow reporters were cowards averse to physical danger.”

Mr. Naylor is right about that. Reporters and war correspondents have never shirked the responsibility to get to the places with lots of hostile bang-bang. Nine reporters have been killed in such hostile places already this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Very few mayors, on the other hand, have been seen on a battlefield.

But Mayor Buckhorn’s foolish sin is more a violation of the rule that every good ol’ boy typically learns from his father with the gift of a .22-caliber single-shot rifle, typically on his 12th birthday: You never, never point a gun at anyone, because there’s no such thing as an unloaded gun. Indeed, Travis Tritten of the Washington Examiner dismisses the incident as about “a dangerous and inappropriate handling of a firearm.” But all things considered, he says, “I’d just write it off.”

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