Alternative Fact of the Week: Are young victims fair game?

There was a time in America when children and crime victims were given a measure of deference in the public square. Public figures didn’t mock teens. They didn’t make up stories about people just weeks after they were involved in a mass shooting. The latest attacks on the Parkland, Fla. students who had the temerity to not only survive the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but organize public protests including the nationwide March For Our Lives rally against gun violence last weekend in Washington, D.C. (and more than 800 other locations around the globe) suggest that era is past.

Alternative Fact of the Week recognition must surely go to those individuals — the frequently faceless, gutless trolls that they are — who have invested themselves so completely in the business of inventing attacks on the Douglas teens. The most outrageous? A fake photograph of Emma Gonzalez, one of the more prominent of the Parkland activist students, ripping up a copy of the U.S. Constitution that made the rounds on Twitter on other social media.

Fake photo shows shooting survivor ripping up Constitution »

The picture was taken from a recent Teen Vogue studio shot of the young woman tearing up a paper bullseye poster (and thus symbolizing her unwillingness to be a target). That the image was so obviously Photoshopped didn’t make much difference to all those National Rifle Association supporters out there who gleefully “shared” and “liked” their alternative factoid in an obvious attempt to humiliate and discredit the 18-year-old, who is mostly closely associated with offering a moment of silence at the D.C. rally to remember the 17 people killed Feb. 14 at her school. How dare she. Does she not understand that remembering the dead is unhelpful to those who wish the incident be quickly forgotten so that every angry 18-year-old with a history of bad behavior and fantasies of violence can purchase an assault-style semi-automatic weapon capable of killing his classmates rapidly and horribly?

Here are two possibilities. Either they recognized it was a phony and thought this was appropriate to share as a fantasy or they didn’t realize it was fake and thought they’d discovered this traumatized young woman was a political radical, in which case it still wasn’t appropriate to draw scorn to someone just five weeks removed from one of the worst school shootings in the nation’s history. Nor was this the first time that gun rights absolutists have tried to ridicule and intimidate a Parkland survivor. Right-wing websites have also accused Ms. Gonzalez of admitting to bullying shooter Nikolas Cruz, which is nether true nor especially pertinent. Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King mocked her on Facebook for not speaking Spanish despite being of Cuban heritage (her family fled the Castro regime in the 1960s). Classy.

Also this week, Fox News host Laura Ingraham derided David Hogg, another Parkland survivor, for not getting into four California universities to which he had applied. She tweeted that he “whines” about it when — in reality (admittedly, a lost concept during much of the network’s evening programming) — he was asked about his college applications during a TMZ interview and merely expressed disappointment. And what teen doesn’t express disappointment when asked about rejection? Mr. Hogg’s reply to this assault? He’s requested supporters boycott Ms. Ingraham’s advertisers. Apparently, one condescends to a Douglas student at one’s peril.

Hey, we get that a lot of these survivors hold an opposing view of gun safety issues than the NRA crowd. It’s fine to disagree, but that doesn’t excuse the over-the-top behavior and alternative facts. This kind of cyber-bullying should be high on First Lady Melania Trump’s to-do list as she plots strategies to reduce harassment of young people. It’s not just uncivil, it’s borderline child abuse.

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