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Kathy Griffin has never been known for playing it safe, and unless things change, she will never be known for that. While her particular brand of humor has drawn some raised eyebrows in the past, it would appear that a shot taken by photographer Tyler Shields of the comedian has gone far too far.
In a Twitter post, Griffin was shown holding a bloodied Trump mask, and some have likened the image to making it seem as though Griffin was holding the severed head of the 45th president. While the shot was resoundingly criticized, it also had the unique effect of creating outrage in both liberal and conservative camps.
While the image is in terrible taste, a university professor argued that what was said is actually protected speech.
Stanford University Law Professor Nathan Persily said that there is no question that the image is designed to shock, but he noted there was no real threat in Griffin's image. "To threaten someone you need words that encourage some sort of action," he said, and acknowledged that the element of threat was actually not present in the photo.
In the event that law enforcement officials deem otherwise, Griffin could be facing a class E felony. Under federal law, Threats "knowingly and willfully" made against the president, president-elect, vice president or vice president-elect" are cause for arrest, and that includes any "threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm" upon those individuals.
Griffin acknowledges that part of what she does involves pushing the limits of what people deem funny or acceptable and then readjusting where that line might be. She was quick to acknowledge that what she did in posing for the shot was wrong, but that didn't stop her from being hammered on social media, with the Secret Service even posting that they were "on it!"
Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton, who saw President Trump implying that Hilary Clinton should be in everyone's sights if she became president during the election campaign, knows something about the dangers of implying death threats against a potential president or a sitting one.
"This is vile and wrong," she tweeted. "It is never funny to joke about killing a president."
Griffin's New Year's Eve co-host, CNN's Anderson Cooper, also leveled a blast at the comedian.
"For the record, I am appalled by the photo shoot Kathy Griffin took part in," he tweeted. "It is clearly disgusting and completely inappropriate."
Griffin and Shields both joked that they would have to move to Mexico on the picture's release, due to the gory nature of it and the heavy scrutiny and criticism they would doubtless receive.
Reportedly, the Secret Service is also investigating the circumstances surrounding the photo and does not routinely pass off such images as "art" or judge whether or not photos of this nature are serious or a joke. If the Secret Service is investigating, there is little doubt that Kathy Griffin and Tyler Shields will be having a lengthy chat with the Secret Service about the nature of their photo shoot.
While Griffin did apologize for the offensive nature of the photo, saying that she understood how the images could have been deemed "disgusting," Trump has surprisingly made no comment - yet - about the image, or about Griffin's role in them. Persily also noted that "people are allowed to wish the president dead," though that was only to a certain point. Such wishes apparently become problematic when bodily harm is wished upon the president.
Griffin's future as a New Year's co-host with Cooper might also be up in the air as well; CNN's senior media reporter Oliver Darcy said that the New Year's special was being "evaluated."