Commentary: Dear Political Media: Have Some Dignity

David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it. (Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA… totally predictable given acceptance rates.),” reads a (now deleted) tweet posted by conservative commentator Laura Ingraham. Ingraham’s tweet attacks David Hogg, a high school student, gun safety activist, and survivor of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. While teen activists involved in the “Never Again” movement have often faced criticism and attacks from the public in the past, I found this tweet to be more public and hurtful than the others.

Ingraham uses Hogg’s college acceptance results to attack his character, simply because she is opposed to his activism and the movement he fights for. On segments of her talk show, “The Ingraham Angle,” she has often mocked teen gun safety activists for their views, including Hogg. Public figures often target collapses in each others’ personal lives to discredit their professional standing. One recent example is the attack on presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton using their marital statuses, which are completely unrelated to their campaigns. Likewise, the attack on Hogg was especially unprovoked and ridiculous in nature. Hogg’s college letters have nothing to do with his leadership in the gun safety movement.

People have always used private matters to attack the lives of public figures, especially children, no matter how unrelated their private and public lives may be. In the 1990s, commentator Rush Limbaugh, an opponent of President Bill Clinton’s views and presidency, insulted the looks of first daughter Chelsea Clinton, who was twelve at the time. When adults insult children in this way, they reveal that they are too cowardly to directly confront the child’s views (or their parents’ views) and would rather resort to mudslinging. If kindergarteners are taught not to name-call, adults in the media should be held to the same standard. Personal attacks directed to children from adults display a lack of maturity and the placement of personal politics over empathy and dignity.

Ingraham, like many other public figures, crossed the line between policy and personal life. Instead of offering criticisms of the movement itself, she attacked a high school student, possibly believing that his lack of acceptances invalidated his power in the movement. In truth, Hogg will still be a key figure in the Never Again movement and an important face in teen activism, no matter which college he attends.

No one should use happenings in the personal life of a public figure to discredit their accomplishments or influence in the public sphere. This can be especially damaging to other kids facing similar personal problems to the ones being spotlighted by the media. No one should feel that others are using things that are out of control in their personal life as a barrier to their public life.

When details from a person’s life aren’t tarnishing their public character or activism, we shouldn’t let them alter our opinions of these figures. Targeted negativity about college acceptance results isn’t acceptable in physical, day-to-day conversations, so it is even less acceptable when the media publicly insults individuals on this sensitive topic. When teens like Hogg step up to take leadership in a national movement, they should be rewarded universally for their initiative and hard work — not degraded for going through common experiences like college rejections.

Most importantly, we should carry this into our personal lives, respecting what happens in someone else’s life as private when it is out of their hands, like in Hogg’s case. While being empathetic will help all people keep objectivity in activism, it will also help us become kinder.