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Facing boycott, Laura Ingraham apologizes for taunting Parkland teen over college rejections

Fox News host Tucker Carlson lost yet another advertiser after suggesting that immigrants make the U.S. “dirtier” on Dec. 13. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

When Fox News host Laura Ingraham taunted a Parkland shooting survivor in a Wednesday- ­morning tweet about his college applications being rejected, Twitter users hit back where it hurt most: among her advertisers.

David Hogg, the 17-year-old high school senior who has become a gun-control activist, mustered the collective power of social media — and his more than 630,000 Twitter followers — and urged them to “tweet away” at her top sponsors to call on them to boycott her TV show, “The Ingraham Angle.”

Within 24 hours, several companies responded — among them the pet food brand Nutrish and the home goods retailer Wayfair — announcing over Twitter and in media interviews that they would pull their ads from Ingraham’s show.

By Thursday afternoon, Ingraham apologized. “On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland,” she tweeted.

In the era of boycotts as a byproduct of outrage, with figures such as President Trump threatening the NFL over player protests and airline customers employing the tactic to force change, Hogg’s push for Ingraham’s advertisers to respond to her comments worked remarkably quickly.

The swift results showcase the power that the Parkland survivors have, not just in organizing rallies but in spurring corporate America to act. Brands, too, have become quicker to distance themselves from controversy, whether by denouncing white supremacy after neo-Nazis praise their products or by pulling their sponsorship after another Fox News personality, Bill O’Reilly, was accused of sexual harassment.

Since the 2016 election, calls to boycott retailers have become frequent: The #GrabYourWallet campaign began as a way to protest Trump, and it identified companies that carried merchandise bearing the Trump name. Those calls have been met with equally passionate responses by Trump supporters who say they are determined to use their buying power to stand with the president and his family.

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On Thursday, #GrabYourWallet co-founder Shannon Coulter called Ingraham’s mocking of Hogg’s college rejections “really egregious violations of basic human decency.”

“Corporate America has a really positive role to play in preventing that kind of targeted harassment,” Coulter said. “It’s not just that one tweet. It’s that [Ingraham is] signaling to her large audience that it’s okay to do that. Particularly when minors are concerned, I think there’s a line that corporations can draw that apparently Laura Ingraham’s parents didn’t draw.”

Ingraham, in addition to apologizing, tried to curtail the damage by noting that Hogg had appeared on her show after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

Hogg said he felt the apology was merely an effort to save her advertisers.

“I will only accept your apology only if you denounce the way your network has treated my friends and I in this fight,” Hogg tweeted. “It’s time to love thy neighbor, not mudsling at children.”

Ingraham had faced immediate backlash over her original tweet Wednesday from those shocked by her attack on a teenager who had survived the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Some of them reminded Ingraham, simply, that she was a mother. Hogg’s 14-year-old sister accused the Fox News host of stooping to a “real low” to boost her ratings.

The shooting in Florida — one of several school attacks in 2018 — left 17 students and staff members dead, and it galvanized a new generation of activists, including many teenagers from Parkland.

Hogg has been one of the most vocal, speaking at the March for Our Lives rally against gun violence in Washington. Since the shooting, the teen has appeared frequently on television and rallied his growing number of Twitter followers to become civically engaged if they are frustrated with the status quo.

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In an interview with TMZ on Tuesday, Hogg spoke about receiving rejection letters from California colleges. Hogg, who has a 4.2 GPA and an SAT score of 1270, was accepted to Florida Atlantic University, California Polytechnic State University and California State University at San Marcos, TMZ reported.

On Wednesday morning, Ingraham tweeted a story from a conservative news site that described Hogg as a “Gun Rights Provocateur” who had not gained acceptance to four University of California schools.

“David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it,” Ingraham tweeted. “(Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA…totally predictable given acceptance rates.)”

Hours later, Hogg wondered, on Twitter, who Ingraham’s biggest advertisers were and soon compiled a list of 12 companies that his followers could contact.

Before long, Hogg’s tweet was flooded with replies from his supporters, some of whom pasted images of their messages to the companies mentioned. Also responding were people accusing Hogg of “bullying” Ingraham.

At least half a dozen companies have responded to the boycott call.

“We are in the process of removing our ads from Laura Ingraham’s program,” Nutrish tweeted Thursday morning.

TripAdvisor pointed to one of its company values — “We are better together” — in its decision to stop advertising on Ingraham’s show.

“We do not . . . condone the inappropriate comments made by this broadcaster,” TripAdvisor said in a statement. “In our view, these statements focused on a high school student cross the line of decency.”

Online home goods retailer Wayfair told CNBC that Ingraham’s personal criticism of Hogg was “not consistent with our values.”

Nestlé told ThinkProgress it had no plans to buy future ads on the show. Johnson & Johnson, Stitch Fix and Hulu have also joined the boycott.

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It was unclear whether any of the brands would change their minds after Ingraham apologized.

“We’ve seen corporations years ago pull out from O’Reilly, only to go back and have to pull out again,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, a nonprofit advocacy group pushing corporations on issues of racial justice.

“The question is, if the corporations do go back, what are they sponsoring? They are sponsoring someone who will use the next tragedy to attack the most vulnerable,” Robinson said. “Laura Ingraham would not exist without corporations enabling her to exist on the air.”

Ingraham was previously criticized for telling professional basketball players to “shut up and dribble” after Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James criticized Trump in an interview.

While Ingraham has been the most recent target of criticism, she is not the only prominent figure who has faced backlash for attacking the high school students.

Just days ago, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and his campaign team were sharply criticized for posting a meme on Facebook about Emma González, another Parkland student and activist. The meme was decried as attacking González’s Cuban heritage.

And CNN contributor and former U.S. senator Rick Santorum had to backtrack after saying students would be better off learning CPR than demonstrating for tighter gun laws.

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Parkland shooting survivor and activist David Hogg called on young voters to participate in the 2018 midterm elections at the March for Our Lives rally. (Video: The Washington Post)