Content Note: Ableism, Bullying, Cyberbullying, Non-Pology
Image Description: Snowflake image on blue-green circle
There’s a quote that goes, “When you assume, you make an ass of you and me.” It’s a funny reminder that speaking and/or acting before we know the whole story can make us (and other people) look foolish.
Sometimes making assumptions does more than make people look foolish, though — disabled people particularly are often harmed by the assumptions of others. Assumptions like, “If you can’t talk, you have nothing to say”, “people with intellectual disabilities don’t need families and are best cared for in institutions”, “disabled people don’t work for the money”, and “disabled students in schools are better off segregated from non-disabled students” have been used to violate the rights of disabled people in Canada and the US for almost a century, and we are still fighting for the right to live safely as full, active participants in our communities.
Often assumptions are smaller, and their effects are less far-reaching, but just as sad to witness. Let’s consider a segment on the May 10th episode of “Tucker Carlson Tonight”, guest hosted by Fox anchor Bill Hemmer.
Hemmer’s “Are Our Children Fragile?” segment focused on an event for military families hosted by VP Mike Pence. While addressing the families, Pence accidentally brushed the face of one of the children standing just behind the podium, Michael Yee, who afterward said to him several times, “You owe me an apology.” Footage of the interaction here:
Pence bumped him in the nose. He wanted an apology. Fair enough.
Tammy Bruce: I guess we’re giving birth to snowflakes now, because that looked like that kid needed a safe space in that room.
Bill Hemmer: Is this a different time or not?
Tammy Bruce: It is, a bit. The eight-year-old pretty much stalked the Vice President afterwards. He wasn’t even — the headlines said he was “hit, he was struck, he was smashed, he was bumped.” The fabric on his sleeve touched his nose maybe. He stalks the Vice President, says, “you owe me an apology.” This is like he was channelling [University of Missouri professor] Melissa Click wanting to get some muscle into the room. This is crazy. Now look, he’s seen it either on television, maybe he’s seen it at home perhaps, but he felt aggrieved because, I don’t know, the vice president maybe slightly touched his nose. It’s pretty amazing.
(Background Reading: For those that aren’t familiar with how “snowflake” has come to refer young people that are weak, entitled, and unable to cope with life, this Guardian article provides a good overview that also touches on the conservative disdain for “safe spaces”.
Reading Suggestion for Tammy Bruce
I read Stephen Covey’s “7 Secrets of Highly Successful People” when I was in high school. Covey tells a great story in that book about finding himself on a subway one night with a couple of kids that were running around, making noise and grabbing peoples’ papers and generally annoying everyone, and a father that seemed out of it and unwilling to do anything about them. Covey talks about getting more and more annoyed, tired after a long day, until he finally has it and asks the father if he maybe wants to do something about his kids.
Covey says in his book, “The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Covey talks about how immediately his orientation toward the man changed. Instead of seeing a man that he assumed was just too lazy to take care of his kids, he saw a man that was grieving and overwhelmed, and his first instinct became to find out how if he could help.
Assumptions, people. Everything isn’t always as it looks at first glance.
Tammy Bruce and Assumptions
Tammy Bruce made a lot of assumptions about Michael Yee, and it wasn’t long before she figured it out. Presumably (I realize that I’m making an assumption) it was because she saw CNN’s Jake Tapper’s piece with Michael’s mother later that week, in which we find out that ten-year-old Michael (not eight-year-old, as Bruce said) is autistic, has only been verbal for five years, and has been working very hard with his mother, teacher and therapists on social skills, including for what behaviours he needs to apologize and for what behaviours he should expect an apology from others.
Because the next time we saw Tammy Bruce on Fox News, she was talking about Michael very differently.
Here’s Jake Tapper’s interview with Michael’s mother, Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee. Transcript starts at 1:19.
Jake Tapper: Regular viewers of “The Lead” know that military families often turn to us then they feel that they’ve been wronged, and that is the case with Michael’s mother, Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee. She joins me now. Thank you so much for being with me today. A lot of comments about Michael from people who don’t know him — why don’t you tell us about Michael?
Dr. Herrera-Yee: Well, Michael is ten years old, he is on the autism spectrum, he’s a military child, and he loves the White House; he calls it “the peoples’ house”, he was excited to go visit. For those who don’t have a child with autism, they need to really rehearse and, you know, a lot of their therapy involved practicing social interactions.
Jake Tapper: How long has he been verbal?
Dr. Herrera-Yee: Only five years, so about half his life he’s been verbal.
Jake Tapper: So that was — when you see that video, you see a kid who’s working hard to —
Dr. Herrera-Yee: I see a champ, yeah.
Jake Tapper: A champ — to say…somebody did something and he thinks an apology is owed.
Dr. Herrera-Yee: Absolutely. Because for him it was about manners. He says that to me and his dad all the time: ”You owe me an apology”. It’s not meant in any sort of negative way, it’s just him learning, again, the social interaction with someone else — so, what is appropriate to say, what isn’t…and we teach him about being, you know, having his manners and apologizing if he’s done something wrong. He was simply following, you know, what he’s learned in therapy, and what his wonderful teachers at school have taught him, and what we’ve taught him at home, just to, you know, make sure that there’s an apology there. And he was so sweet about it — just “Excuse me.” There was no…he wasn’t overly…
Jake Tapper: No, no, he was wonderful. He was very charming. And I assume that you thought until Friday night that the media coverage seemed respectful, and, ”Look at this charming moment”, and the Vice President was wonderful.
Dr. Herrera-Yee: The Vice President was wonderful. My son was so excited to be there and to meet him. He’s a big fan of the Vice President. He (Mike Pence) came into the room…he (Michael) doesn’t know about politics, he was just hanging around, having a good time. They gave him ice cream and brownies, you know? He had fun. And the Vice President was so respectful, he gave him a hug at the end, gave him a high five. He apologized when he noticed. It was no big deal. It was just a cute little clip.
Jake Tapper: And then what happened Friday night? When did you find out about, um, this attack of your ten-year-old boy?
Dr. Herrera-Yee: Well, um, I’d actually gotten a call from my mother, who had seen a teaser, and she had told me that they were going to talk about Michael. Now, earlier in the morning, on Fox and Friends, they’d talked about Michael in a really positive way, so I was excited. So I sat down with my coffee and started watching, and then suddenly it just went south. I was…devastated…when I saw — and what they were saying. People who- they didn’t even know his age. They didn’t know who he was. They were really taking out of context a really innocent, you know, interchange between the Vice President and my son.
Jake Tapper: And you have-you have other children. And your fifteen-year-old, Will-um, this hit him pretty hard.
Dr. Herrera-Yee: It did. I’ve tried to shield my children from this, as any, you know, parent would. I would not want them to, to be reading some of the comments that are out there about my son and my family and myself. And he, unfortunately, being that he’s a teenager and he’s online, saw this. So, not understanding, he went online and answered some of the negativity, trying to defend his brother. But he was viciously attacked online, and I came home to find him crying, um, about this. So, it’s definitely affecting our family.
Jake Tapper: How can we fix this? What do you want? What do you want to be done for this wrong to be righted?
Dr. Herrera-Yee: Well first I’d want people to be more aware of autism and how our kids interact in the world. And, um, second, just like Mike asked the Vice President so sweetly for an apology, I’d like to ask, on his behalf, for FOX News to apologize for having used my son out of context, and using those really horrible words to describe him and our family. That’s really what I would want to come out of this, is just more awareness. And please don’t use kids — whether they’re typically developing kids — it doesn’t matter that he’s autistic or he’s a military kid, forget all that, that doesn’t matter. He’s a kid. And you don’t use children as examples on national television like that. I would hope that this is the very last time that this happens.
Jake Tapper: Thank you so much for being here. I know that it’s not easy to do that, but you’re standing up for your son, and I really appreciate it.
Dr. Herrera-Yee: Thank you very much for having me.
Jake Tapper: Of course.
Tammy Bruce apologized after “The Lead” segment aired.
Tammy Bruce’s Apology
Transcript starts at 2:07
Tammy Bruce: Good Morning, Bill, thank you so much. First of all, I am so sorry to the family. 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, children, and those that are disenfranchised. I get it and I apologize. I also appreciated the boy’s mother, Dr. Ingrid Herrera, public comments, and her clarity on this. A main lesson here, no matter intent, is to leave kids out of our political discussions. We certainly agree on this.
Meet Me at Camera Three, Tammy Bruce
As a disabled woman, I have some concerns:
- You “apologize” to “the family”, despite demonstrating later in this trainwreck of an apology that you know at least the mother’s name and, more importantly, Michael’s name. You never apologize to any of them by name. This *screamed* at me.
- You say that you never intended to hurt a kid and his mom. What did you intend to do? You made it clear in your remarks on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that you knew you were commenting about a child. You called him a snowflake and implied he needed a safe space (and after viewing your other videos, noting that you’re a frequent guest on Carlson’s show, and listening carefully to your tone of voice as you said those things, I actually feel comfortable assuming that you fall on the political far right where “snowflakes” and “safe spaces” are unwelcome), and implied that Dr. Herrera-Yee wasn’t a good parent. If that display on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was you not intending to hurt a kid and his mom, God help the people you do intend to hurt!
- You had no idea that Michael was autistic? For what reason do you think that this buys you some slack? You made a mistake because he didn’t “look disabled enough”? You made a mistake because you couldn’t be bothered to do some research into this story? Both? Whatever it was, the fact remains that you saw a chance to make a political point by taking a cheap shot at a kid on national television, and you went with it. And as his mom said, that’s not an okay thing to do to *any* kid. Shame on you.
- You’re a gay woman and feminist working for social justice? Great. Keep it up. But talk about it somewhere else. All of that doesn’t mean that you “get it”, and it’s not really the point of all this. Or it shouldn’t be.
- You agree that the main lesson here is to leave kids out of political discussions? Then why did you bring Michael into a political discussion in the first place?
You did owe Michael an apology, Tammy Bruce. You made assumptions about why he felt so strongly about getting an apology from the Vice President, and said some hurtful things as a result. But here’s what really bothers me: I suspect that you apologized only because you (or Fox) were uncomfortable with the fact that you’d bullied a disabled child, and not that you’d bullied a child *period*. Your beliefs as outlined in your apology contradict your words in the “Tucker Carlson Tonight”, otherwise — if you really believed what you said in your apology applied to all children, you wouldn’t have said the things you did in the first place.
Parents of non-disabled children should be insulted by that, and parents of disabled children should be, like Ingrid Herrera-Yee, uncomfortable with this whole business.
I will give Fox News kudos for at least attempting an apology. There are definitely networks out there that wouldn’t have. And if what you said was enough for Michael and his family, then that’s great.
But I know it wasn’t enough for the disability community, Tammy Bruce. I’ve heard them talk about this.
It wasn’t enough for me, either, Tammy Bruce.
Just so you know.