Even his critics marvel at how well Bob Buckhorn has grown into the job since first being elected as Tampa's mayor in 2011. His grace in public and his knack for saying and doing the right things has reflected well on the city and bestowed civic pride in the mayor's office. That's why Buckhorn's cheap shot at the media last week was so out of touch, out of character and out of line.
Speaking at a conference for the defense industry, Buckhorn told the crowd of 1,000 about his experience during a mock rescue aboard a Navy special operations warfare boat, firing blanks from .50-caliber machine guns. "The first place I point that gun is at the media," he told the crowd. "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."
At another time, it might be tempting to excuse the remarks as nothing more than an attempt by a politician to throw red meat to a conservative audience. But in the era of Donald Trump, who in February called the media "the enemy of the American people," these remarks only add to the ugly tone already infecting civic life. Creating a mental picture of reporters in the cross hairs is beyond insensitive given that nearly 1,000 journalists across the world have been killed since 2001 for doing their jobs. It may have been a great laugh line, but it was tone deaf from a mayor whose own father was a reporter.
It's also not Buckhorn's fight. He is open, thoughtful and competent, and he has been treated wonderfully by the press. So when he calls popping off a few rounds at the media "payback," the question is, payback for what? If anything, his critics complain that the mayor has had a free ride. There's no justification for him to mimic Trump's tone or language. The nation shouldn't accept it from the president and it shouldn't accept it from a mayor, either.
Buckhorn said the reaction to his remarks is overblown, that they were meant as a joke and that he is a strong defender of the Fourth Estate. On Monday, he seemed to acknowledge the poor choice of words; his office released a statement that "in light of the current rhetoric at the national level aimed at the media," the comments helped to reinforce those sentiments. "That was not his intention," the mayor's spokeswoman said.
Words have meaning, and the country cannot normalize the president's language of division.