After New York City radio personality Tammy Bruce saw a viral video of a 10-year-old demanding an apology from Vice President Pence for bumping his nose, she appeared on Fox News to put the lighthearted moment into context for viewers.
The boy wasn't just a child, Bruce implied, he was a “snowflake,” someone who “stalked” the vice president and who looked as if he “needed a safe space.” Bruce told Fox host Bill Hemmer that the boy was channeling University of Missouri professor and conservative punching bag Melissa Click.
The boy must have learned his behavior from watching television or maybe at home, she continued, turning the child into a caricature, one who inhabits a feminized apology culture dripping with identity politics and ungrateful brats.
“It's pretty amazing,” she concluded.
Indeed it was.
As it turns out, the primary overactor was Bruce, a point she seemed to reluctantly acknowledge during an apology to the boy this week. She did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.
That official, on-air apology arrived after the boy's mother — Ingrid Herrera-Yee — appeared on CNN to set the record straight about her son.
“Michael is a 10-year-old, he's on the autism spectrum, he's a military child and he loves the White House — he calls it 'the people's house,' ” Herrera-Yee told CNN's Jake Tapper. “For those who don't have a child with autism, they need to really rehearse, and a lot of their therapy involves practicing social interactions.”
The proud mother said her son has been verbal for five years, about half his life.
“For him it's about manners,” she added. “He was simply following what he's learned in therapy and what his wonderful teachers at school have taught him and what we have taught him at home.”
“The vice president was wonderful,” she added. “It was no big deal. It was just a cute little clip.”
Practicing social skills is a routine activity for many families with a child with autism or Asperger's, according to Danny Raede, the 26-year-old co-founder of Asperger Experts, a website that offers families guidance for assisting loves ones on the autism spectrum.
Raede, who was diagnosed with Asperger's when he was 12, said he urges parents to teach their children how to manage their emotional state, anxiety and stress before focusing on practicing social skills.
When it is time to practice, he said, families should get used to doing so before a “mission critical” event is approaching.
“Practice with your brother and sister and dad in your house when there aren't any repercussions,” Raede said. “That way, when an issue arises in the real world, your child will have plenty of training for how to handle it.”
Herrera-Yee, who has a PhD in clinical psychology, said that when she saw her son ask for the vice president's apology, she saw something positive: her son applying countless hours of practice to the real world. She told CNN that she was charmed by the clip and the humorous reaction to it until she saw a clip of Bruce's Fox appearance Friday.
“I sat down with my coffee and was excited and suddenly it just went south,” she said. “I was devastated.”
Herrera-Yee accused Fox of taking the “innocent” clip “out of context” and noted that she tried to shield her family from the aftermath online, but her 15-year-old son was “viciously attacked” online when he tried to defend his brother.
“I came home to find him crying about this, so it's definitely affecting our family,” she said.
Asked by Tapper what she wanted to come out of this experience, Herrera-Yee said her son already provided the model.
“Just like Michael asked the vice president so sweetly for an apology, I'd want to ask on his behalf for Fox News to apologize for having used my son out of context and for having used those horrible words to describe him and our family,” she said.
“Please don't use kids,” she added. “You don't use children as examples on national television like that. I would hope this is the very last time that happens.”
On Tuesday, Herrera-Yee got her wish when Bruce appeared on Fox to address the controversy.
“I am so sorry to the family,” Bruce began. “My intention was never to hurt a kid and his mom. We had absolutely no idea that Michael was on the autism spectrum and, as a gay woman and feminist, I’ve spent most of my adult life working to improve the lives of women and children and those who are disenfranchised. I get it, and I apologized.”
Bruce pointed out that she heard Herrera-Yee's message loud and clear.
“A main lesson here — no matter intent — is to leave kids out of our political discussions,” she added. “We certainly agree on that.”