On Monday, climate activist Greta Thunberg delivered a blistering address to the United Nations, accusing the adults in the room (aka assembled world leaders) of endangering her future by refusing to act quickly on emissions. The 16-year-old’s remarks invited a rapturous response, as politicians praised her unflinching dedication to the cause. “Recognizing that her generation will bear the brunt of climate change, she’s unafraid to push for real action,” tweeted President Barack Obama.
Of course, Thunberg also attracted a few detractors from the conservative media crowd.
“I can’t tell if Greta needs a spanking or a psychological intervention,” tweeted Breitbart contributor John Nolte, to widespread revulsion. Not to be outdone, conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza shared a meme comparing Thunberg to Nazi propaganda.
The most prominent figure in the conservative outrage echo chamber also weighed in: “A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future,” President Trump mockingly tweeted. Thunberg promptly added that description to her Twitter bio.
In an essay for The Atlantic titled “Why Greta Makes Adults Uncomfortable,” writer Robinson Meyer argued that “Thunberg epitomizes, in a person, the unique moral position of being a teenager. She can see the world through an ‘adult’ moral lens, and so she knows that the world is a heartbreakingly flawed place. But unlike an actual adult, she bears almost no conscious blame for this dismal state.”
In other words, her perspective rattles pundits who are used to engaging with other jaded, cynical political figures, as opposed to teenagers armed with both facts and an unimpeachable moral standing.
Nowhere was this more dynamic more evident Monday than at Fox News. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most sustained Thunberg attacks on television came from the network’s guests and anchors, who spewed criticism of the teen activist throughout the day.
"I can't wait for Stephen King's sequel, Children of the Climate," remarked anchor Laura Ingraham, comparing Thunberg’s appearance at the U.N. to a scene from the King-inspired horror movie Children of the Corn. Her comments earned her a sharp rebuke from her own brother, Curtis Ingraham, who wrote on Twitter, “Clearly my sister’s paycheck is more important than the world her three adopted kids will inherit.”
Earlier in the day, a guest on Fox & Friends named Marc Morano accused Thunberg of “causing and instilling fear in millions of kids around the world, and actually [having them believe] that government can legislate our climate.” Morano described this hypothetical fear as a so-called “Greta effect,” claiming it is keeping kids from attending school due to anxiety.
Perhaps the most odious comments of the day came from Daily Wire contributor Michael Knowles, appearing on Fox News' The Story opposite progressive podcaster Chris Hahn.
"The climate hysteria movement is not about science," Knowles said. "If it were about science, it would be led by scientists, rather than by politicians and a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international left."
Hahn rebuked him, saying, "You're attacking a child. You're a grown man." But Knowles doubled down: "She is mentally ill. She has autism. She has obsessive-compulsive disorder. She has selective mutism. She had depression."
Later that night, Fox News apologized for Knowles’ comments, calling them “disgraceful” and saying there were “no plans” for Knowles appear on the network again. "We apologize to Greta Thunberg and to our viewers,” said a Fox News spokesperson in a statement.
Thunberg appears to make these high-profile voices uncomfortable because she’s not playing politics — she’s simply pleading for her own future with passionate intensity. There’s not much to malign about a teenager concerned for her quality of life. So rather than engage with her arguments directly, her adult detractors try instead to undercut her authority and downplay her intelligence by bringing up her Asperger’s diagnosis and implying that she’s a partisan pawn. The act is not very convincing.
It’s also not fooling anyone — Thunberg included. “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go,” she wrote on Twitter. “And then you know you’re winning!”