Commentary: In the Competing Ideological Boycott Wars, There Are No Winners

Posted: Apr 02, 2018 10:25 AM

Fox News primetime host Laura Ingraham is off this week, telling viewers on Friday that she's taking a vacation -- which the network says was pre-planned.  Some are interpreting this timing as a signal that Ingraham is on the ropes after a torrent of sponsors have abandoned her nightly program, under pressure from Parkland student activist David Hogg and the professional Left.  By way of background, after Hogg publicly vented about a string of rejections from colleges to which he'd applied, Ingraham decided to highlight his "whining" in a tweet:

Many people viewed this as unseemly taunting, and reasonably so, in my view.  As I've written, even though Hogg's methods and approach to "debate" are often deeply off-putting and ugly, critics should refrain from spreading fake news about him -- and should generally afford a wide berth to all Parkland survivors.  That doesn't mean policy proposals should never be challenged, or that grotesque insults should be ignored.  It does mean that treating these teenagers as if they're "fair game" for the roughest forms of hardball politics is misguided, even if they're the aggressors.  Ingraham's tweet was a cheap shot, and she was right to apologize.  Yes, Hogg voluntarily put this information out into the universe on his own accord, but adults in media are not required to react to every piece of personal trivia that a teenager -- even a politically-relevant teenager -- decides to share.  These gatekeepers can make proprietary judgments about which messages are newsworthy or mentionable, and which are best left alone.  In this case, college acceptance drama pretty obviously falls into the latter category, which is why Ingraham's first move was wrong and her walk-back was right. Hogg, entirely unsurprisingly, has rejected the apology because that's how he operates.  His contributions to the national dialogue have been characterized by neither graciousness nor magnanimity.

Meanwhile, a CNN host waded into this "issue" from another perspective, strangely shaming institutions of higher learning that didn't see fit to grant Hogg admittance, based on his academic merits.  This is bizarre cheerleading that wasn't merely performed on air, but deliberately promoted by the channel's social media team:  

The reason that anyone knows David Hogg's name is that he's a student at a high school that was the target of an atrocity.  Following that atrocity, he has emerged as one of the top voices on behalf of a gun control agenda shared by many, but not all, of his schoolmates.  His private struggles on the college acceptance front should remain just that: Private struggles, even if he chooses to vent about them in a public forum.  It isn't news and it has nothing to do with the ostensible issue about which Hogg is an advocate. His preening and goalpost-shifting refusal to accept Ingraham's apology has been revealing -- as have his evolving justifications for this push.  Boycotts are a form of social action that are best reserved for extreme circumstances under which simple apologies or "agree to disagree" effective truces are morally insufficient.  This episode does not even come close to rising to that (admittedly subjective) level.  

To be clear, Parkland survivors and victims should be off-limits to personal sniping, particularly from grownups with significant platforms and megaphones.  But it has become increasingly obvious that the organized Left's crusade, led by Hogg, to drive Ingraham off the air via a pressure campaign aimed at her advertisers isn't really about protecting Hogg or shielding Parkland survivors from undue personal attacks.  It's about retribution and silencing.  If the aim were the former, an initial bout of intense criticism and shaming, followed by an accepted apology, would have resolved the situation.  Lessons learned.  But no; for hardcore partisan agitators and gladiators, this is now about killing off Ingraham's career:

Exacting ideological vengeance via orchestrated outrage mobs is an illiberal and unhealthy societal impulse.  And that doesn't even touch the hypocrisy angle:  In recent days, a number of prominent leftists have seen fit to hurl nasty invective at right-leaning Parkland survivors -- including a young man whose sister was murdered.  Some conservatives have sought to turn the Left's own ruthless and merciless "rules" against their side, demanding economic sanctions against these transgressors, with some limited "success" (including that apparently misplaced development).  I understand the idea: If taking an ill-advised rhetorical shot at a Parkland survivor is so beyond the pale that it merits the destruction of Laura Ingraham, shouldn't similar insults and slights levied against other survivors result in similar ramifications, regardless of partisan roles.  Thus, shouldn't Newsweek and Vanity Fair advertisers walk away from those publications until Kurt Eichenwald is "properly" dealt with?  Shouldn't Bravo's sponsors withhold their support until one of their reality stars is punished or fired?  Shouldn't the government of Alberta, Canada reprimand, suspend, or terminate the employment of functionary Max Fawcett?  And shouldn't any apologies (of which there have been a few) be ignored, or even exploited as a sign of weakness?  These are the New Standards, after all.  My short answer to this is: No.  I strongly prefer pointed messages, coupled with grace and forgiveness:

Kashuv, to whom many of you were introduced here, was able to make his point and highlight the double-standard while also modeling maturity.  Others including a certain schoolmate, should take notes.  Yes, there may be some hypothetical utility in left-of-center figures getting singed by their own brethren's tactics, but the evidence suggests that fear of potential reprisals hasn't given the hard Left any second thoughts about pursuing weaponized politics.  So rather than trying to even or escalate the "scalp count," conservatives and all opponents of zero-sum, scorched-earth politics should oppose -- not emulate -- excessive purges and silencing mobs.  I will add that counter-boycotts to protest companies' reflexive decisions to cave to loud voices, or "buycotts" to encourage those who decline to be bullied, are appropriate defensive measures.  But going on "offense," tempting as it may seem at times, simply traverses a dark and destructive path that does virtually nothing to improve our ability to peacefully coexist as Americans.  

We should all strive to increase respect for dissent and tolerance for those with opposing views.  We should all allow more space for people who make mistakes to recognize and rectify their errors.  We should all do better at incentivizing humility, expressions of regret, and earnest requests for forgiveness.  And naive as it may sound to some, we should collectively seek to improve at internalizing and practicing the Golden Rule.  Even a small uptick in conciliatory kindness would make our politics much, much healthier -- even if it fails to sate the ideological bloodlust of our most hardened culture warriors, including a few who are just beginning to cut their teeth in the soul-crushing realm of unflinching tribal demagoguery.

UPDATE - It's not just conservatives who are feeling uncomfortable about the precedent being established by the zealous, totally disproportionate targeting of Ingraham: