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Buckhorn apologizes amid uproar over joke about pointing machine gun at journalists

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From Richard Danielson and Howard Altman of the Tampa Bay Times:

The office of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn issued a statement Monday afternoon saying Buckhorn is apologizing to combat journalists for a joke he made last week about pointing twin .50-caliber machine guns at local journalists and seeing them “cry like little girls.”

As the joke generated controversy online, Buckhorn spokeswoman Ashley Bauman issued this statement:

"This was a story that he had told for three consecutive years, and at no time was it ever construed to be serious or an accurate portrayal of what occurred.  It was merely a humorous tongue-in-cheek description. Clearly that does not translate on Twitter, and, in light of the current rhetoric at the national level aimed at the media, (it) inadvertently served to reinforce some of those sentiments. That was not his intention. In fact, as the son of a former wire service reporter, he has nothing but the highest regard for the work of journalists and their profession and he apologizes to those he offended."

Last week, Buckhorn was speaking at the Special Operations Industry Conference in Tampa and told a crowd of more than 1,000 commando and defense industry leaders about his experience last year as a “hostage” during a demonstration of special ops rescue tactics.

The highlight, he said, was when he was aboard a Navy special warfare boat, firing blanks from 50-caliber machine guns.

“And so 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.”

In fact, no one ducked or cried as he was firing the blanks. But Buckhorn, who typically has a good working relationship with local reporters, got a big laugh and a round of applause from the special operations crowd.

But the joke met with a chillier reception on the Facebook page of Military Reporters & Editors, which represents about 300 journalists.

“Personally, I was appalled,” wrote Susan Katz Keating, a freelance writer and organization board member who was in the conference room Tuesday for Buckhorn’s keynote address. Katz Keading had guns pointed at her while covering unrest in Northern Ireland in 1988.

Buckhorn initially said critics are being overly sensitive. “I think that is a silly reaction,” he said late last week of those upset by a story he has told “a dozen times.”

Some journalists in the room said they weren’t being thin-skinned. No skin is thick enough to stop a bullet or bomb blast, something Daily Beast national security reporter Kim Dozier knows all too well.

In 2006, she was nearly killed in a car bombing that took the life of the U.S. Army officer her team was filming Capt. James Alex Funkhouser, along with his Iraqi translator and Dozier’s CBS colleagues Paul Douglas and James Brolan.

“As someone who had been under fire once or twice, and lost two colleagues to a car bomb in Iraq that nearly killed me, I didn’t appreciate the remarks,” said Dozier, who wrote a book about her experiences and efforts to recover. “The mayor probably didn’t realize how many of the reporters in the room had risked their lives to bring Americans the story of U.S. troops in the field, including veterans-turned-journalists with prior special ops service.”

Meanwhile, the story went viral over the weekend, with the Washington Post doing its own story and the Drudge Report posting two different links to the Tampa Bay Times story.

Photo credit: James Borchuk, Tampa Bay Times

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