A Note to the Internet

Dear Internet denziens:

No matter how much you may dislike her famous mother, a 16 year old should be able to say something stupid on the Internet without it becoming national news. And she should certainly be able to say something stupid without having it analyzed, criticized, or defended by adults she’s never met and likely never will meet.

Saying stupid things is a part of growing up. Let her find her own way in the world which will mean that, yes, sometimes she will say things that are cruel, or thoughtless, or stupid.

I’ll wager you said some pretty stupid things when you were 16, too. So lay off.


P.S. And, I might add, it’s very easy to say stupid things when you’re mad, and it’s easy to get mad when you think someone’s talking trash about your family.

Update: Andrew Sullivan responds. My rejoinder here.

Update 2: Still more thoughts here.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, US Politics,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Boyd says:

    I guess I’m not paying attention to the right news sources. I have no idea to whom you’re referring, Alex.

    And I’m okay with that.

  2. TG Chicago says:

    Just curious, would you say the same thing if she used the n-word?

  3. Alex Knapp says:

    @TG Chicago –

    Yes, I would. She’s not a public figure. She’s the child of a public figure.

  4. Drew says:


  5. TG Chicago says:

    So the fact that the Palin parents haven’t bothered to tell Willow to be careful about what she posts online doesn’t reflect on their common sense?

    How about the fact that Willow has not been made to apologize for using the term?

    How about the fact that Bristol, an adult and now a public figure in her own right, piled on?

    Palin uses her family as a political prop routinely. Thus, I think it’s appropriate to consider how good a mom the Mama Grizzly is.

  6. Trumwill says:

    So the fact that the Palin parents haven’t bothered to tell Willow to be careful about what she posts online doesn’t reflect on their common sense?

    My parents told me all sorts of things. I didn’t always listen. Doesn’t make my parents bad parents.

    More importantly, using the kid to get at the parents is in poor taste. Until or unless Willow cashes out like her sister did, leave her alone.

  7. Nick says:

    Say what?

    This 16 year old was starring in a reality show and posted in a semi-public Facebook way about that TV show. TMZ reported on the controversy because that’s what TMZ does. This is the reason that the family is being paid millions of dollars for the reality show–their celebrity lifestyle. The kid has since deleted her Facebook account and learned a lesson. This reflects poorly on her parents and the choices they’ve made.

  8. Alex Knapp says:

    This 16 year old was starring in a reality show and posted in a semi-public Facebook way about that TV show.

    Do you honestly think she had much of a CHOICE as to whether she was in that show?

  9. Nick says:

    Do you honestly think she had much of a CHOICE as to whether she was in that show?

    Yes, she had a small choice (5%) of whether to appear on camera with her friends and post about it on Facebook later. Her parents had a much bigger choice (95%) of choosing to do the show in the first placed. The oldest son, for example, has stayed out of the limelight so far.

    The family took the money and ran, which is their right, but got ensnared in the publicity machine in the process. If TMZ didn’t exist, their family income from the reality show would be significantly lower. The controversy sells the reality show, and they’re all on record, including the 16 year old, for wanting the reality show cash. I don’t know why I’m supposed to think they’re victims here?

  10. TG Chicago says:

    Do you honestly think she had much of a CHOICE as to whether she was in that show?

    Sarah Palin has sometimes claimed that she asked her family before agreeing to run for VP. (she has also contradicted this claim) I would think she would ask them before just showing up with a camera crew. If Sarah Palin is forcing her daughter to be on a national TV show, that doesn’t exactly speak highly of her parenting skills either.

    But honestly, I don’t care all that much about Palin’s parenting skills. I mostly care about the casual use of the slur that the kid used. If it was the n-word or something anti-Semitic, there would be few people defending her. But since it’s a homophobic slur, well, “kids will be kids”, right?

    Meanwhile, we’re experiencing a spate of bullied gay kids committing suicide. Any connection there?

  11. Thomas Beck says:

    Willow Palin, like her older sister Bristol, will almost certainly get enormous, undeserved benefits the rest of her life because of who her mother is. She probably will never understand let alone acknowledge the massive privilege to which she is heir; she’ll probably, like her older sister, delude herself that any such privileges she receives are entirely earned by nothing more than her own merit and desert. Given all that, I don’t think it’s unfair for her to be subject to the same public scrutiny and that her mother receives. Unfair? Sure. But so is the fact that she’ll almost certainly never have to work a day in her life, and that she’ll think there’s nothing the slightest bit wrong with that.

  12. Bill says:

    Would Alex Knapp take the same stance if Willow used the word ni**er or spic or kike or wetback or ANY other derogatory word used to degrade human beings?

    I think we all know the answer to that question…

  13. LK says:

    w/o correcting course angry, bigoted, bullying young adults turn into angry, bigoted, bullying adults….

  14. shill says:

    Kids do and say stupid stuff. Kids of stupid PARENTS usually do MORE stupid stuff unless they detest the way they were raised SO MUCH that they make it a point NOT to do the stupid stuff they were raised with. Which is she? Only time will tell.

  15. Gina Kazimir says:

    I’m sorry, but she IS a public figure because her mother has made her so. Willow is part of the Sarah Palin publicity machine – she could have kept her OUT of the press and the reality TV show, but did not.

    So Willow has become what today passes for a celebrity of sorts. And the reality is celebrities ARE scrutinized and their public utterances are fair game.

    In addition, why on earth would anyone thing using a slur about someone’s sexual orientation is acceptable? Would a slur about someone’s race or religion be OK? No. And don’t try the “it’s just a words” excuse, either – words hurt, sometimes lethally. Do we really need still MORE gay teens to die – by their own hands or through violence visited upon them just for who they like – until that type of “word” is verboten?

    Willow showed herself as an ignorant bigot. I’m not surprised, but I am saddened that anyone can find it something to ignore.

  16. Alex Knapp says:

    I feel obligated to note, for the record, that I don’t think that it was right for Willow to use the term in question. However, in context, I don’t think that it’s use was “bullying.”

    Moreover, I think that the level of public scrutiny is unwarranted, and the tone of said scrutiny is more likely to make her dig her heels in than it is to apologize or feel remorse.

    This isn’t about giving her a pass. This is about recognizing that it’s not fair to put a 16 year old in position to have her sins be scrutinized and subjected to the judgment of millions of people.

  17. Gina Kazimir says:

    Sorry, Alex. The level of public scrutiny became warranted the day the reality show – with Willow as a full part of the cast – aired.

    Should no one comment on Snookie’s looks? She’s young, she’s “subject to the judgement of millions of people” and she’s clearly not well schooled in being low key in public. Is she different?

    No. Both are on reality TV shows that have been HEAVILY advertised and attract millions of viewers. IF this 16 year old didn’t want to be subjec to that kind of scrutiny she should have made sure she wasn’t part of the TV show in the first place, either by refusing or by behaving so poorly with the cameras rolling they couldn’t use the footage. She obviously knows how to be rude and obnoxious, so ruining the segments she was in shouldn’t have been that hard.

    The Palin family has shown a lot about themselves with their very public lives. That the public comments on those lives is part of the trade. I’m quite sure there are plenty of media training types who could have worked with the whole family, and may have done so, before the show aired. I do media training for my own clients and I certainly would have addressed the fact that “privacy” – especially in online comments on a site that is NOT paid for or administered by the individual – evaporates for those who seek celebrity, regardless of their age.

    When you agree to be in the public eye you agree to accept that vision. End of story.

  18. Ken Pullen says:

    Granted 16 year-olds aren’t in the habit of engaging their brains prior to expressing themselves, nonetheless as many before have commented once an individual accepts public celebrity in any form, and the benefits derived therefrom, one’s behavior is subject to public scrutiny and criticism. Under any of life’s circumstances, one must learn to accept the bad with the good. So actually, and this is directed in particular to Alex Knapp, Willow Palin has been exposed to very valuable life lessons in this situation (i.e., always think before speaking particularly when unsure as to the potential size of one’s audience, and the possible ramifications one may incur for having spoken in a specific manner), lessons from which she should not be protected otherwise she will repeatedly face similar consequences. While it may have been preferable for her to learn these lessons in a less public manner, it is nevertheless important that she does learn them as opposed to being shielded. Thus Willow should not be given a break whatsoever; she should face whatever public wrath her unseemly and ill-advised comments engender so that these lessons are fully imprinted upon her consciousness particularly if she chooses to continue her pursuit of celebrity. Whatever fallout she now endures will guarantee a repeat performance will be avoided in the future.

    Insofar as the term in question is concerned, that is a word too easily bandied about inappropriately, indicating no small amount of intellectual laziness, a trait Willow has certainly picked up from her mother. It is also a word used to victimize, and therefore is bullying behavior. In this life one must learn to accept and learn from criticism, even when its sting causes one to want no small measure of retaliation. When someone expresses dislike toward another, rather than engage in a war of words, it is often better to consider what motivates this dislike, and then reveal the source of this motivation. For example if as Knapp implied someone was speaking disrespectfully about Williow or her family, maybe such comments were inspired by jealousy, and Willow could have made a better impression all around by simply replying ‘jealous much?’ Had that been the case, there would have been no call for apology, or need to delete the Facebook account. Or if Willow felt she needed to let whoever know that she found their remarks cowardly, which appears to be what she meant by using the term in question, she could have easily referred to whoever as a coward, again avoiding the public backlash. Using the proper descriptive would also have made a good impression, indicating Willow to have an above-average intellect. This of course requires one to be able to restrain oneself emotionally, which is difficult to say the least. It should be noted however whoever said whatever that caused Willow to lash out is having the last laugh. Reminding oneself that having the last laugh is the preferred outcome in almost any situation involving rivals will allow for the proper amount of restraint to be engaged.

    Therefore my main point is that all of life is a learning experience, and rather than avoid the consequences of experience as Knapp would have happen, it is better to embrace them, learning all that one can in order that present and future success can be insured, rather than use the questionable logic of victimizing others while claiming to have been victimized, a position for which many have little sympathy.