Hours after bullet casings hit the floors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during a mass shooting last month, right-wing media entered the first phases of what would end up being a sustained, abhorrent smear campaign aimed at teenage survivors-turned-activists.
Since 17 people were murdered in the Parkland, Florida, school on Valentine’s Day, students have organized nationwide student walkouts and massive rallies that have brought out hundreds of thousands of people across the United States who support common sense gun control measures. These teens carry with them two powerful things: heart-wrenching personal testimony and gun reform proposals that Americans overwhelmingly support.
As public support for gun reform measures has grown, right-wing media figures have stooped remarkably low in their desperation to stop the undeniably effective wave of public outcry the Parkland teenagers have unleashed. Since the March for Our Lives rally last weekend, right-wing media outlets abandoned any pretense that they were inhabiting the moral high ground and descended to repulsive lows to besmirch the young activists—a display that is hard to interpret as anything other than a sign of ideological desperation.
For example, conservative pundit and radio host Ben Shapiro and his staffers at The Daily Wire have wrestled with various rationales that could justify attacking Parkland shooting survivor and outspoken activist David Hogg. First, Shapiro suggested that because Hogg was speaking in the public sphere, that he was worthy of legitimate “criticism.” Yet, much of that “criticism” has come in the form of smears and efforts to cast Hogg as an ignorant bully unworthy of a public platform.
As Paul Blest at Splinter pointed out, The Daily Wire has attempted to smear Hogg all week by insinuating that Hogg shouldn’t be taken seriously because he said a swear word, he admitted to skipping class for television appearances, and he used the phrase “revolution” to describe progress on gun control. The site eventually warned that Hogg will be trying to undo voter identification laws next.
Then, The Daily Wire ran an article about Hogg being turned down by colleges he had applied to.
Using the link from The Daily Wire, Fox News host Laura Ingraham mocked Hogg on Twitter for not being accepted into the colleges he applied to and only apologized after Hogg asked people to contact Ingraham’s advertisers, who in turn began fleeing her program. Hogg said he would only accept Ingraham’s apology if she denounced the ways Fox News has treated him and the other survivors of the mass shooting at his high school.
In response, Shapiro said that Hogg should issue an apology for “the level of viciousness” he had displayed when criticizing Republicans’ inaction on gun violence and said Hogg should get used to criticism, particularly when that criticism is “justified.” Shapiro even dedicated a large portion of his show yesterday to explain why he didn’t believe that Hogg possessed the “moral impetus” to call for advertisers to boycott Ingraham’s show.
Similarly, an article published at The Federalist defended Ingraham’s “petty, childish, and mean-spirited” jab at Hogg by urging readers to “stop pretending” that Hogg is “the beacon of moral authority.”
Also this week, conservative site Red State ran a story that insinuated that Hogg was not actually at the school during the shooting. The story was later retracted in full and updated to include the fact that video exists of Hogg hiding in a closet during the shooting (which would have been easily found with an iota of research). The author of the piece later issued a lengthy apology.
And they didn’t just take aim at Hogg; Right-wing media also attempted to discredit his classmate and fellow activist EmmaGonzález’.
González was targeted by right-wing figures, including Rep. Steve King of Iowa, for wearing a jacket with a Cuban flag patch sewn on it—González’s father fled Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba—during her speech at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., last weekend.
Other right-wing media, including The American Spectator and radio host Steven Crowder, attempted to shift blame for the shooting onto González by falsely claiming that she had admitted to bullying the shooter. On social media, countless right-wing accounts shared doctored images that depicted González tearing apart a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
And as the establishment Republicans at National Review called González and Hogg “teenage demagogues,” fringe figures at outlets such as The Gateway Pundit and Infowars repeatedly compared the teens to Hitler Youth.
All the while, some right-wing commentators, such as pro-Trump social media pundit Mike Cernovich and columnist Matt Walsh, have backed away from the drama and suggested disengaging with the Parkland teen activists altogether. Matt Walsh writes:
So, here’s an idea: let’s stop giving him the attention. For his own sake. For our sake. For the sake of sanity and reason. Who cares about the kid’s college application status? Why was Ingraham commenting on it in the first place? Who cares what he says? Who cares what he does? It only matters because we’ve made it matter. David Hogg has no actual power. He does have influence, but that’s only because he’s become a mascot for gun rights. And why is he a mascot? Partly because the liberal media selected him for that position, and partly because conservatives have heaped a ton of negative attention upon him, causing the Left to rally around him.
Right-wing media have used the same predictable playbook for decades to downplay the frequent role that high-power, semi-automatic rifles often play in mass shootings, while at the same time working to advance legislation that makes such weapons easier for people to acquire.
But that playbook, made evident in desperate efforts to delegitimize teenagers who lived through a school shooting, has been played out. The talking points of yesteryear have lost their place in the national dialogue and those who have used a revisionist history of the Second Amendment to protect easy access to weapons of war are flailing to remain heard.