We live in a world where we are understandably so concerned with protecting anyone we see as a victim of some sort of horrible experience that those who receive such a shield are nearly impervious to any sort of criticism, whether it is legitimate or not. Usually, this “rule” is entirely well-intentioned and justified, while causing limited, if any, real restriction to the public discourse.
However, occasionally the lines get blurred enough so that some victims are granted the advantages of being protected, while accepting limited responsibilities for what they choose to do with the power which comes with their status. It appears that the case of Parkland massacre survivor David Hogg may be a perfect example of that type of situation.
Hogg, who was unfairly and stupidly smeared by “conservative” conspiracy nut jobs in the wake of the tragedy (a story even my wife fell for), has used his new-found celebrity to become a passionate voice for gun control. This is very much within his rights to do, but it seems that he has been allowed by the mainstream media to make this transition without having to give up anything in return. That is, at best, problematic.
Not only has he become an activist for a very controversial subject, but his rhetoric has been way over the top, especially in regards to illogically blaming Senator Marco Rubio directly for the deaths of his classmates. Again, he is well within his rights to say what he wants, but the media should not blindly give him a massive platform with near blanket immunity from any criticism for what he is saying because he has both victim status and is only a high school student.
That is the very definition of having it both ways. If Hogg wants to get the privileges of being taken seriously as a celebrity political activist he should be treated as an adult and therefore be subject to reasonable scrutiny and condemnation.
Today, the powder keg of this situation erupted when Donald Trump sycophant Laura Ingraham, for whom I have no love, foolishly tweeted about Hogg being rejected for admission from several colleges. Now, it is important to point out that it was Hogg who first mentioned his college situation, and that Ingraham was going after him for “whining” about it as if he was somehow entitled to admission to college — presumably because he is now a celebrity activist for a pet liberal cause.
What Ingraham did was dumb, but it was hardly outside the bounds of accepted public discourse between two adult public figures. But since Hogg is currently getting to play by different rules, this played out in a way that was very different from how it normally would have.
Hogg immediately called for a boycott of Ingraham’s advertisers, though I am still not sure for what exactly, other than, I guess, hurting his feelings. The boycott, helped along by numerous media outlets which gave it oxygen online, trended on Twitter for hours and even resulted in her losing multiple advertisers. Eventually, Ingraham was even forced to apologize, though it appears Hogg is refusing to accept the gesture and it looks like there will be more fall out from his efforts to damage Ingraham’s show.
I don’t like anyone in this story. I have disdain for Ingraham because she sold out to Trump. I think Hogg has become enamored with his celebrity and is being allowed to take unfair advantage of the situation because he serves the obvious agenda of the liberal news media.
I also am a free speech advocate who thinks that advertising boycotts of commercial speech must be held to an extremely high threshold or else the entire system will completely collapse (which, come to think of it, in some ways might not actually be such a bad thing). Can you imagine the chaos if every time a media darling got their feelings hurt by a media figure that there was a boycott of advertisers?!
But the part of this situation which may be most concerning is that Ingraham and Hogg were playing this game under two entirely different sets of rules, where no one even knows for sure what guidelines for engagement are when it comes to Hogg. It has been long been clear that the rules of our public discourse are completely nonsensical, but shouldn’t we at least somewhat agree on what they actually are?
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at email@example.com