Two minor right-wing celebrities, two half-assed apologies that feel more forced than sincere. They might have gotten away with it too, if not for those meddling kids and their pesky tweets.
In the weeks since a lone gunman murdered 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., some of the more outspoken students have embraced the platform of celebrity-esque activists. They’re young, they’re smart, they’re pushing for change in all the right ways. They exhude the sort of presence that social media tends to rally around.
That platform has unfortunately also left them somewhat exposed. We’ve entered into a brutal era for politics, one driven more by emotion and “us against them” convictions rather than the rational dissemination of conflicting beliefs. In this era, everyone is vulnerable to attacks, including mass shooting survivors who feel compelled to argue for more of a common-sense approach to gun control legislation. It doesn’t matter that they’re teens.
Except, it does matter. Teens in 2018 were raised on the internet. They speak the language of an always-online audience. So when Fox News commentators and famous-by-proximity D-listers come at these kids on their preferred platform — social media — they’re asking for trouble. That’s been the lesson of Easter weekend.
The case of Laura Ingraham
Laura Ingraham, the Fox News correspondent who famously threw up what sure as hell looked like a Nazi salute on stage at the 2016 Republican National Convention, stepped in it on Thursday. In a tweet, she accused Parkland survivor David Hogg of “whining” about college rejection letters he’d received.
Ingraham hasn’t clarified what her intention was with that tweet, but to most readers it came off as an adult leveling a baseless attack on a teenager. Nevermind the fact that their politics don’t line up.
Hogg survived one of the worst school massacres in U.S. history, and he’s using that experience to call for the types of changes that could prevent others from dealing with what he is. Rather than try to engage him on the issues, Ingraham resorted to an ad hominem attack.
Hogg didn’t stoop to Ingraham’s level. Instead, he did what he and his fellow fellow Parkland survivors-turned-activists have been doing so effectively for the past two months: He took to the social media battlefield.
First, Hogg asked Ingraham (rhetorically, to be clear) who her top advertisers are. “Asking for a friend,” he joked. Later, after he’d assembled a list himself, he shared that list with his more than 700,000 followers.
Pick a number 1-12 contact the company next to that #
Top Laura Ingraham Advertisers
4. @Allstate & @esurance
6. @RocketMortgage Mortgage
— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) March 29, 2018
You know how this story goes next, because… well… we’ve all been here before.
Ingraham advertisers fled en masse. CBS News had the count at 11 as of Saturday night: The Atlantis Paradise Island resort, Office Depot, Jenny Craig, Hulu, Nutrish, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Wayfair, StitchFix, Nestlé, and Johnson & Johnson.
Fox News didn’t issue a formal response, but Ingraham’s next moves paint a clear picture. She apologized for “any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland.” Then she announced during her show on Friday that she’d be taking a week-long vacation. For Easter, she said.
Speaking on CNN after the Ingraham’s apology surfaced, Hogg expressed a lack of surprise at her sudden turn. He reasoned that she was facing a load of pressure as advertisers fled, so of course she apologized. But he did take issue with Ingraham’s behavior in general.
“It’s disturbing to know that somebody can bully so many people and just get away with it, especially to the level that she did,” he said. “No matter who somebody is, no matter how big or powerful they may seem, a bully is a bully, and it’s important that you stand up to them.”
Ingraham has a history of questionable behavior toward those she disagrees with in public spaces. Like the time she told NBA star LeBron James to stay out of politics and “shut up and dribble.” Or the time she criticized Jay-Z’s personal history.
The case of Frank Stallone
A similar situation played out on Friday and Saturday involving Frank Stallone. The brother of Sylvester Stallone, also an outspoken Twitter D-lister, weighed in on Hogg, presumably in reference to the Ingraham boycott. His words were sharper than the Fox hosts, indulging in name-calling and vaguely suggesting that “someone” should get violent with Hogg.
Stallone later deleted the tweet, but nothing that’s existed on the internet is ever truly gone. Here’s a screenshot.
Soon after, Stallone faced enough of a social media backlash that he set his Twitter account to “protected” not long after he posted the tweet. When he eventually re-emerged, it was with an apology.
To everyone and to David Hogg especially. I want to deeply apologize for my irresponsible words. I would never in a million years wish or promote violence to anyone anywhere on this planet. After what these kids went though I’m deeply ashamed. Please accept my apology. Frank
— Frank Stallone (@Stallone) April 1, 2018
But our Twitter history doesn’t forget. If you scroll down Stallone’s timeline and look at what he had to say while his account was protected, you can see how frustrated he was. You can also see what he thinks of apologies like the one he offered in a subsequent retweet.
Hi I just made my account private so I don’t have to listen to a bunch of computer hero’s telling me how tough they and I’m not. In this country you can choose your company
— Frank Stallone (@Stallone) March 31, 2018
The Laura Ingraham situation shows why you should be very careful about apologizing to the Left. Even if you were wrong. Their demands for an apology are insincere. They demand the apology because they want you to submit to them, not because they want to forgive.
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) March 31, 2018
The new battlefield of social media
It may be a stretch to suggest that Ingraham or Stallone learned any kind of lesson from their failed attempts to smear Hogg. A reckoning may be coming for Ingraham if she loses her Fox gig over this, but there’s plenty of demand for right-wing bullies like her in the broader media landscape of 2018.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if either of them learned from this. The lesson here is for all of us, and it amounts to a clear look at how capable these kids are.
Hogg responded to the Ingraham blow-up with a rapid call to action. He looked at the situation, recognized the bully for who she was, and asked the world: Should someone who behaves like this really have a platform? He then provided a plan for turning any frustration with Ingraham’s behavior into tangible action.
The response to Stallone was even better: Hogg didn’t have one. He completely ignored the vitriol-fueled attack. Unlike Ingraham, Stallone doesn’t have much of a platform. Hogg seemed to recognize — rightly — that engaging would simply give the bully what he wanted.
Compare that to the way Hogg has responded to Ted Nugent, the aging rock star and Trump stan who broadly attacked all of the teen protesters, calling them “soulless” and “liars” during a recent radio appearance.
Nugent doesn’t have much of a social media presence, but Hogg still found a way to address the situation. He told his followers, via a retweet, to ignore Nugent and focus their energy instead on taking in a speech by Hunter Pollack, brother to Parkland victim Meadow Pollack.
Hogg and the rest of his Marjory Stoneman Douglas friends — not to mention most every other teen in America — understands the ebbs and flows of social media. They know how to push back against online bullies. They know when to disengage, or deflect, or not engage at all.
And they’re angry. They’re fed up with having their perspectives minimized in a world they stand to inherit soon, and they’re using the power of social media very effectively to make that clear.
That’s the real lesson of Easter weekend: Hogg and all the kids like him are flat-out better at this stuff than any of the people or organizations coming after them. Insincere apologies and thundering silence aren’t going to cut it anymore.