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Sen. Flake, Rep. Heck apologize for their sons after teens' offensive tweets, online comments are discovered

Published: Saturday, June 15 2013 11:47 a.m. MDT

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., center, flanked by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, right, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questions Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., found themselves apologizing for their sons this week after Buzzfeed revealed offensive comments and racial slurs the two teenagers made on Twitter and YouTube accounts in the past year.

Flake's son, who is in high school, made inappropriate comments about Mexicans on YouTube, used an offensive name for African-Americans as part of his screen name on the gaming app "Fun Run," and joked about an acquaintance stealing one-liners because he's Jewish, Buzzfeed revealed.

"I'm very disappointed in my teenage son's words, and I sincerely apologize for the insensitivity," Flake said in a statement. "This language is unacceptable, anywhere. Needless to say, I've already spoken with him about this, he has apologized, and I apologize as well."

Bill Straus, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation league in Phoenix, told azfamily.com that Flake's response was appropriate for the situation, and that many parents deal with similar issues when it comes to teens and the Internet.

"Look to Sen. Flake's response as a model," Straus said. "You can't just sweep it under the rug. You can't bury your head in the sand. You need to react and you need to react strongly."

Meanwhile, the Twitter account of Heck's 16-year-old son included inappropriate comments about President Barack Obama, homosexuals and African-Americans, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

“I am extremely disappointed in my son’s use of the offensive and inappropriate language on Twitter. That type of language has never been permitted in our home," Heck said in a statement. "I apologize to everyone he may have offended. My son also apologizes for his insensitive behavior. My wife and I have addressed this family matter directly with him, and he has learned from it.”

Flake and Heck aren't the only politicians to have issued apologies for family members, Matt Berman and Niraj Chokshi pointed out at National Journal. Other political parent-child troubles have included Rahm Emanuel (apologizing for his dad), former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

Reactions to the current situation have differed, with The Daily Beast's Jamelle Bouie arguing that it reveals a wider picture of the Republican Party.

"For many people — including Senator Flake, I think — (living in 'an area that was overwhelmingly entirely white') doesn’t preclude an ability to see and empathize with the experiences of people with different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds," Bouie wrote. "For others, it does, and (Flake’s son's) comments are what it looks like when homogeneity leads to isolation, lack of compassion, and a blinkered view of the world."

However, Susan Milligan at U.S. News argued that it's unfair to blame Flake or Heck for the comments made by their sons, and that too often, today's political fights use personal attacks, like blaming Flake or Heck, as a way to avoid discussing policy.

"This isn't about politics or even policy; it's about manners. I've never even heard Flake raise his voice, let alone use offensive or demeaning language. And I can't in a million years imagine him uttering anything like the horrible things his son said. I'm sure he's utterly horrified and humiliated. But is it fair to blame the fathers for the sins of their sons?" Milligan wrote. "The problem is that things have gotten so hostile and angry on the hill that people have moved to a default position of looking for things to fight about and to criticize each other for, instead of trying to find any kind of common ground or mutual understanding. It's not an excuse at all for what the boys wrote, but tying the adult officials to their children's behavior just exacerbates the divisions in Washington."

Instead of attacking Flake and Heck for the comments made by their sons, Milligan said the episodes should spark a public dialogue about racism, homophobia, sexism, and attacks made on other people semi-anonymously via social media.

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