In the wake of last week's mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, many student survivors have been speaking out in favor of gun control. Right-wing commentators have been quick to criticize their advocacy; some are even peddling the conspiracy that the activists are paid actors. One voice of opposition to the students became too much for a former Disney child star on Tuesday. Cole Sprouse fought with Bill O'Reilly over gun control on Twitter, and it was a wonder to behold.
Yep, we're talking about that Cole Sprouse. As in, Cody of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and Jughead Jones on Riverdale. The 25-year-old actor has often used Twitter for political purposes lately. Tuesday was just a particularly high-profile example, thanks to his target: Fox News' former biggest star.
"The big question is," tweeted O'Reilly on Tuesday, "should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?"
"A bigger question," Sprouse replied, "should young voters care about the opinions of balding men who value their trauma less than capital?"
His tweet has since gone viral, raking up over 15,000 retweets and 90,000 likes.
Sprouse hit the former talk show host right where it hurts: his diminishing influence. Fox fired O'Reilly last April after a New York Times investigation revealed that he had been sexually harassing women on his staff for decades. He denied the allegations.
The Times called O'Reilly's departure "an abrupt and embarrassing end" to his tenure at the top of the Fox News empire. Since being forced out, O'Reilly has been seeking new cable audiences. At one point, he was reportedly in talks to join Sinclair Broadcast Group; Sinclair ultimately declined to hire him). He's done a prominent interview with Matt Lauer and provided commentary on President Trump's State of the Union speech for Newsmax TV.
The fact that he's still able to find some punditry gigs speaks more to a lingering fanbase than to a persisting influence. O'Reilly's analysis of the State of the Union reached only 17,000 viewers. When he hosted The O'Reilly Factor, he regularly reached millions of households.
So Sprouse was right to call out O'Reilly's declining relevance. He may have once helmed the highest-rated show on cable news, but those days are long over.
Sprouse was far from the only one to take issue with O'Reilly's tweet. Another viral reply came from Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the Parkland shooting who is one of the organizers of the March for Our Lives, a pro-gun control rally that will take place in Washington, D.C. on Mar. 24.
In response to O'Reilly's question about whether the voices of student survivors should be highlighted right now, Kasky had a simple answer.
"Yeah probably," he tweeted.
On his website, O'Reilly's "message of the day" for Wednesday focused on the Parkland student activism.
There is a fine line between wanting to improve the country and partisan politics. The teenagers in Florida who are demanding gun reforms are performing a public service unless they use their media platform to spout propaganda. That's destructive because we need problem-solving, not empty rhetoric.
O'Reilly wrote that he has offered "concrete proposals" for gun reform in the past, like raising the mandatory age for purchasing guns, creating "no buy" lists on the state level to flag "dangerous" individuals, and "harsh mandatory federal prison time for criminals convicted of gun violations."
Attempts to discredit student survivors go beyond criticism like O'Reilly's. Some hard right-wing outlets have been popularizing conspiracy theories that the activists are "crisis actors" who are being paid to talk about gun control and speak out against Trump. These ideas are being shared without any reasonable evidence.