On Dec. 10, the day after Donald Trump’s team dismissed a CIA claim that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help him win, the Internet lit up with praise for a “scorched-earth” op-ed that called the president-elect a liar.
“Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” read the article’s title.
It ran in Teen Vogue.
The op-ed called the interference of a foreign government in U.S. elections a “threat to freedom” and said Trump denying the CIA findings undermines “the very foundation upon which this country was built.”
“It’s also nothing new,” wrote the author, Lauren Duca, Teen Vogue’s weekend editor and an award-winning professional journalist and freelancer. “Trump won the Presidency by gas light. His rise to power has awakened a force of bigotry by condoning and encouraging hatred, but also by normalizing deception.”
The op-ed served as a call to arms, a plea with readers to “regain control of the truth.”
She explained to her audience of mostly young women the origin of the phrase “gaslighting,” from a 1938 Victorian thriller, that features a wife terrorized by her manipulative husband, who would deliberately hide household items and blame her for their disappearance. She questioned her own mental stability until she noticed, while still under his control, that the items would vanish only after her husband dimmed their gas lights.
It was, the wife realized, all a trick.
“To gas light is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country,” Duca wrote. “He gained traction in the election by swearing off the lies of politicians, while constantly contradicting himself, often without bothering to conceal the conflicts within his own sound bites. He lied to us over and over again, then took all accusations of his falsehoods and spun them into evidence of bias.”
Duca listed at least seven examples of Trump statements debunked by the fact-checking website PolitiFact, including comments on the Iraq War, the unemployment rate, U.S. taxes, illegal immigration and the crime rate, then laid out for her readers all the ways they can dodge propaganda and fake news in search of verified, factual information.
She told her readers to be skeptical of everything Trump writes on Twitter.
“As we spin our newfound rage into action,” she closed the op-ed, “it is imperative to remember, across identities and across the aisle, as a country and as individuals, we have nothing without the truth.”
It was a scathing piece that, for some, came as a surprise, feeding off the stereotype that the magazine’s pages are too full of makeup tips and celebrity gossip to have room for serious and thoughtful political commentary.
Those are some big words for a magazine about hairstyles and celebrity gossip. https://t.co/dLSyASdtbj
— Ashley Rae (@Communism_Kills) December 11, 2016
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) December 11, 2016
Did not expect this exegesis of gaslighting and its relationship to current day politics from Teen Vogue https://t.co/cwNhZ6wvJH
— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) December 10, 2016
And there is plenty of that inside Teen Vogue — it’s audience being young women who, among other things, are experimenting with their bodies, defining themselves in personalized fashion and searching for female idols worthy of their adoration. They also like cute boys (and girls).
But mixed in with the more trivial coverage are stories on topics that young women also seek — about birth control, access to women’s health care, police shootings, mental health, bullying, body positivity, LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter, religious freedom and environmentalism.
Recent projects include video segments with Native American girls explaining the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and the history of Thanksgiving, a Teen Vogue education campaign about sexual assault called Not Your Fault and extensive pre- and post-election coverage, including an interview with MuslimGirl.com founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh on what it’s like to be Muslim in the time of Trump.
Last week, Elaine Welteroth, Teen Vogue’s editor in chief, appeared in an episode of ABC’s “Blackish,” a popular television show that has been lauded for making race in America a conversation accessible to a wide audience. The December issue of the magazine featured an interview with first lady Michelle Obama about her Let Girls Learn initiative.
All this, known to those familiar with the magazine, caused some high-profile female writers — including “Bad Feminist” author Roxane Gay, Rookie magazine founder and editor Tavi Gevinson and the Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti — to weigh in on the befuddled reception to Duca’s op-ed.
The condescension and surprise directed toward @TeenVogue for publishing great writers is a measure of how women/girls are underestimated.
— roxane gay (@rgay) December 10, 2016
Anyone surprised by Teen Vogue doing great journalism clearly hasn't been paying attention to women's mags lately.
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) December 10, 2016
the thing about @TeenVogue is it is giving young women the runway to write what they believe in
why are people so surprised that it is good
— #rachelsyme (@rachsyme) December 10, 2016
— Lux Alptraum (@LuxAlptraum) December 10, 2016
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) December 11, 2016
Duca took to Twitter to defend her words, the integrity of the magazine in which they were published and the capacity of Teen Vogue to write about both One Direction and wasteful spending at the Pentagon.
BREAKING: Young women have the potential for greatness
— Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) December 10, 2016
— Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) December 11, 2016
She also tweeted about receiving hateful messages that called her ugly, wished cancer upon her and labeled her a “b—-.”
In her op-ed, Duca wrote that it is now the job of “all Americans” to take responsibility for the information they consume.
“If facts become a point of debate, the very definition of freedom will be called into question,” she wrote. “It will be far easier to take on Trump’s words when there is no question of what he’s said or whether he means it. Regardless of your beliefs, we all must insist on that level of transparency. Trump is no longer some reality TV clown who used to fire people on The Apprentice. He is the President of the United States.”
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