“Let’s go Brandon.”
There. I did it. With just three words, I’ve got probably 45 percent of you seething with anger, another 45 percent laughing and, quite possibly, as many as 10 percent of you still wondering “What in the heck are you talking about, and who’s Brandon?”
All without using a single inappropriate word. Well, literally, anyway, As most of you know, those three words stand for something else right now, and their use in the media has become quite a controversial little topic on its own.
Welcome to “Things Nobody Ever Saw Coming In This Business, Chapter 2021.”
For those of you in the 10 percentile — and trust me, I envy you right now — let me explain what’s going on.
“Let’s go Brandon” started at, of all things, a NASCAR race. A driver named Brandon Brown had just won his first Xfinity Series race Oct. 2 and was being interviewed by an NBC Sports reporter named Kelli Stavast.
In the background, a group of well-lubricated fans — doing something that’s become fairly common at stock car races, football games and Kid Rock concerts — began a very loud and very derogatory chant aimed at President Biden. What they were saying was, “(Blank) Joe Biden.” (Fill in the blank, and use your imagination.)
The volume of the chant was on the verge of drowning out the interview, and it got to be too much for Stavast not to acknowledge. So — maybe on purpose, maybe not — she told her viewers “As you can hear the chants from the crowd, ‘Let’s go Brandon’ … ”
Of course, the crowd was very obviously not saying “Let’s go Brandon,” and her words came across as a pretty pathetic attempt to cover up the obvious.
And with that, Biden-hating conservatives everywhere were handed the gift of a lifetime.
It had everything. “Let’s go Brandon” became a chance to say “(Blank) Joe Biden” without actually saying “(Blank) Joe Biden.” It was also adopted as a stab at the “liberal news media” for seemingly going out of its way, again, to protect Biden; and finally, an innocent-on-face-value slogan that could be spoken anywhere, at any time, free of censorship or complaints.
Or … can it?
Because, as soon as I heard about the Brandon thing, I knew one thing: Somebody would use it in a letter to the editor, and I’d have to decide whether or not it was OK to print.
Leave it to frequent writer Tom Neill to quickly break the ice.
Before letting “Let’s go Brandon” see print, I talked with about a dozen editors at newspapers all over the state. One told me he probably wouldn’t run it, but admitted he hadn’t gotten any letters with the phrase yet. Most said they would print it, with some saying they saw it as just another political insult that doesn’t literally have any bad words in it, and eventually it’ll fade away like everything else, so what”s the problem?
And then there’s the whole style guide question. At the E-R, we subscribe to the Associated Press for wire news, and we use the AP stylebook. They don’t have an entry prohibiting the use of “Let’s go Brandon,” at least not yet; moreover, if you google “Associated Press” and “Let’s go Brandon,” you’ll see the AP has actually written a good number of stories that include the words “Let’s go Brandon.” And hundreds of other media outlets ranging from newspapers to CNN and radio have used the phrase in their reporting.
So that made me wonder: If it’s OK for us to use the phrase, who are we to tell readers that they’re not allowed to use the phrase in a letter to the editor? Especially if it’s slipped into the flow of whatever else they’re writing about, which Mr. Neill has already pulled off? I couldn’t think of another example of us doing this.
And besides — it’s not like conservatives are the only ones embracing this “Brandon” business. Liberals are rushing to Brandon’s defense — er, Biden’s defense — and “Thanks Brandon” has now emerged as a “Let’s go” counterattack on social media.
And then there’s a final argument, and it goes like this: If we’re writing a story on the “Let’s go Brandon” deal, that’s OK. But if a letter writer is using those exact same words in an obvious attempt to say “(Blank) Joe Biden,” then that’s not OK.
Great. So now it’s not enough to judge a letter by its words — we’d have to put ourselves inside the mind of the writer and decipher what his intent was in using those words before deciding if those exact same words were fit to print if used differently. And I can only imagine how a few of you who regularly try to bend the rules would react: “Oh, I didn’t mean it that way.”
So, the sum of this heretofore unimaginable (and often stomach-churning) information led me to decide two things: (1. I was just-barely OK with the phrase getting into letters to the editor, at least for now, and (2. As much as I like Mr. Neill as a man and faithful reader and follower of our newspaper, if he’s the only guy to ever slip that into a letter, well, I’d be OK with that too.
So I went with it. And then came the reaction. Not an overwhelming amount by any means — we got fewer than a half-dozen complaints — but, they were thoughtful and powerful enough to make me think things over.
“You got punked,” began one complaint. “I’m not sure if you realize that the expression “Let’s go, Brandon” is wack job code for (‘Blank’) Joe Biden.”
“You speak often of civility. Isn’t this a step in the other direction?” wrote another, and I have to admit, that’s a good point.
“You’d never do this if it were about Trump,” wrote another, apparently unfamiliar with the fact we’ve printed thousands of mean-spirited, borderline-obscene letters about Trump that called him, well, all sorts of things. (But never Brandon.)
I honestly don’t think anyone can say this reaches a “new low” for tasteless comments directed at presidents, especially on a national pop-culture level. Let’s remember Robert De Niro His Own Self said “(Blank) Trump” on TV, right there at the 2018 Tony Awards, a pronouncement that was applauded by many of the same people who are now deeply offended by the mere mention of “Let’s Go Brandon.” And, like this latest phrase, reaction to Kathy Griffin holding what appeared to be Trump’s severed, bloody head was often split right down partisan lines.
But we didn’t run those things in our newspaper. Should we run “Let’s go Brandon” in the newspaper? And if we run it in news stories, is it not OK to run in letters to the editor, since it obviously “means” something else?
And if we flatly reject all uses of “Let’s go Brandon” — how far do we go with that? If I’m at a Giants game, should I be allowed to say “Let’s go Brandon” if Brandon Crawford is the batter? What if I’m sitting next to a Joe Biden supporter? And let’s go one further. If “Let’s go” has now come to mean “(Blank) you,” is it OK for me to say “Let’s go, Evan” if Evan Longoria is the batter? Or is that now considered offensive too? And as a Giants fan, did I just subconsciously slip in a crude insult directed at their highly paid and under-performing third baseman? Heck. Maybe I did!
So I’ll end with a suggestion that a couple of you have already offered in your own colorful way: “Let’s go, Mike. You should be better than that.”
Are you OK with seeing “Let’s go Brandon” in the newspaper? Or are you just mad because you wish a NASCAR driver named Donald had won the race instead? Email Mike Wolcott at email@example.com.