It used to be that vapid celebrities exercising their First Amendment rights were nothing more than American background noise, fodder for the punch lines exchanged around water coolers. Who can forget Jessica Simpson’s best reality show moment, circa 2003:
“Is this chicken or is this fish? I know it’s tuna but it says, ‘Chicken of the Sea,’ ” Simpson asked her husband. On camera.
But with today’s super-sized social media followings, several of these morons have gained god-like power to destroy in the blink of an eye. A tweet or an Instagram post might as well be a bolt of lightning sent from on high to punish some poor, non-famous soul unfortunate enough to come under the gaze of our decidedly temperamental, unbenevolent overlords.
None of these celebrities has gotten any smarter, mind you, just more powerful. And, as author Robert Caro observed after writing his epic series about President Lyndon B. Johnson, “ … power always reveals. When you have enough power to do what you always wanted to do, then you see what the guy always wanted to do.”
Enter Demi Lovato, who recently decided to try to destroy a frozen yogurt business in Los Angeles.
People magazine reported that “the ‘I Love Me’ singer, 28, wrote on her Instagram Story that she was ‘finding it extremely hard to order froyo from’ The Bigg Chill due to all the ‘diet foods’ they offer.
“ ‘You have to walk past tons of sugar-free cookies/other diet foods before you get to the counter. Do better please,’ wrote Lovato. Alongside the message she also included the hashtag ‘diet culture vultures.’ ”
Basically, Lovato didn’t like the displays (which cater to diabetics, among others) and lashed out, excoriating The Bigg Chill to her 102 million Instagram followers. The froyo shop had 6,000.
When you or I have a bad day, we scream “serenity now!” into a pillow and move on. Lovato, on the other hand, tried to destroy a female-owned yogurt store with a 36-year history, even telling them “don’t keep going with this. You don’t want to mess with me. You are in the wrong. And the customer is always right.” The average person doesn’t possess the power to destroy a business, but Lovato has a magic kill switch in her pocket and isn’t afraid to use it.
Lovato followed a well-worn path blazed by other Hollywood types who were mildly inconvenienced. Kim Kardashian once threatened the hamburger chain Jack in the Box into submission via Twitter, prompting their competitors to roast them on social media.
Sports celebrities are getting in on the action, too. NBA superstar LeBron James issued to his nearly 50 million Twitter followers what could easily have been construed as a kill order against a Columbus, Ohio, police officer last week.
The officer, Nicholas Reardon, had fatally shot a knife-wielding teenager and likely prevented her from stabbing one or more people involved in a street fight. Reardon is White; the teenager was Black. And that’s all “King James” needed to hear before issuing his now-deleted tweet with Reardon’s picture and the caption: “YOU’RE NEXT.”
Never mind the fact that the officer showed up in the nick of time to prevent what could have been one or more murders, as video evidence clearly showed. But what if Reardon had done nothing, calculating (correctly) the backlash he would receive for pulling the trigger? What do you want to bet James would’ve accused the officer of failing to protect people in a Black community if Reardon had hesitated?
America is on edge following a series of officer-involved killings of Black Americans, and some protests against police have turned violent. And yet James, in the name of “accountability,” painted a target on a good officer’s back, with nary a thought about the facts. James is all about the narrative, the human consequences be damned.
During the Trump years, we were repeatedly lectured that deranged followers of a famous person could be triggered to violent action by a celebrity’s social media posts. Have those lectures been forgotten now that Trump is gone? Do the rules not apply to famous people on the left?
Of course they don’t. There never seems to be any “accountability” for left-wing celebrities who abuse social media to create negative, even potentially dangerous, consequences for others.
But the genie is out of the bottle. Celebrities realize their power is profound and unchecked. They bully prosecutors to ignore laws and indict people for murder, even when the facts don’t support their desires. They bully businesses (large and small) to align with their misinformed political views, forcing owners to often fold and beg for mercy.
Americans are obsessed with celebrities. And now we have an unholy merger of popular culture and politics: It gave us Donald Trump and is now giving us other celebrities, equally as irresponsible in language, to continue to corrupt our national discourse with unchecked bullying. Lovato and James are far more powerful and influential than the average U.S. senator or representative.
This is terrible for society. We all have a right to speak, but do we have a right to destroy at will just because we can?
In the court of public opinion, where celebrities reign supreme, there is no judge protecting the rights of the accused against their all-powerful prosecutors. No protocols exist to ensure truth and fairness in the presentation of evidence.
There is no appeals process when today’s angry gods come for you, and nowhere to go to get your reputation back once the destroyers move on to something else.
– Scott Jennings is a Republican adviser, CNN commentator and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He can be reached at Scott@RunSwitchPR.com or on Twitter at @ScottJenningsKY.