Or “The Tale of the News Anchor and the ‘Helpful’ Email”
Rewind to Oct. 2 when previously unknown (except locally) news anchor Jennifer Livingston takes up four minutes of air time at the Wisconsin CBS-affiliate WKBT where she works to share with viewers an email she received. Mind you, she gets lots of emails, but this one was from Kenneth Krause, (initially identified as a personal injury lawyer but actually a security guard) who admittedly wasn’t a regular viewer but felt compelled to write Livingston to tell her she should lose weight. He went on to say he felt she wasn’t a good role model to young girls in her present condition.
Livingston obviously took offense as the mother of three young girls and pointed out that Krause, who doesn’t know her personally, has no right to judge her based solely on her appearance. She said she chose to bring the email to light to make a point about bullying and to teach young girls, like her daughters, that bullying is never acceptable. Interesting angle. Keep in mind she did not identify Krause at the time, but her station did identify him in a story on its website.
Overnight, the video became viral and news stations around the country picked up the clip. Livingston appeared on national morning shows speaking about her new anti-bullying platform and women’s positive self-image issues. She reminded viewers that October is National Anti-Bullying Month. Celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres spoke out in support of Livingston and it turns out that her brother is actor Ron Livingston of Office Space and Game Change fame, adding a little more notoriety when he also made a statement to People magazine in her support.
Livingston did reveal to the Associated Press that she and Krause had initially exchanged several emails and that he refused to back down from his position prior to her going public with his email. “It’s not what this one particular man said to me,” she told the AP. “It’s the reaction that what I am saying back to him and bullies everywhere (that) is impacting me. I am just shocked right now that the words of one journalist in small La Crosse, Wisconsin can make such a loud roar.”
As you can imagine, Krause was quickly pounced on by the media and forced to answer to his actions — which in reality amounted to a private email that he sent to a public individual. Finding himself under siege, Krause issued a statement to the station and continued to stick to his guns, suggesting that Livingston use the opportunity to start a diet right away and even offering to help. Seeing the firestorm that had begun, soon Livingston was asking the media to back down from Krause and respect his privacy.
However, not long after the tide began to shift just a bit.
“When you are in the public eye, you should be big enough to ignore. What he did was hurtful. She was behaving like a bully,” said PR guru Donny Deutsch Oct. 4 on the Today show’s “Today’s Professionals” segment. He went on to say that a bully by definition uses strength or power to intimidate those who are weaker. Clearly, with a platform of TV viewers she was doing this when she exposed Krause’s email, in Deutsch’s opinion. Others on Facebook began calling her “overly sensitive” and worse.
“I’m in no position to bully her,” Krause told ABC News. “She’s a big media personality. I’m just a working stiff.” Krause eventually revealed that he was obese as a child and could therefore empathize with the medical condition that Livingston since claimed has made it a challenge for her to lose weight.
In a (hopefully) final chapter billed as an “ABC News Exclusive” airing on Good Morning America on Oct. 5, Alex Perez confronts Krause as he reports to work his midnight shift and asks if he has any regrets. For the first time, Krause issues an apology saying, “If she is offended, I truly apologize to Jennifer.” “That’s the last thing I ever wanted to do.”
Never mind that by adding “If she is offended . . . ” it is the classic non-apology type of apology. It is being billed as an apology nonetheless. Whew, closure.
So, what are the lessons we have learned — PR or otherwise — by watching this entire news cycle unfold, start to finish?
- Emails are not private. This may seem like a big duh, but before you hit send, remember that once what you’ve written is out of your hands (and outbox), there’s no telling whose hands it may end up in and what may become of those words.
- As soon as you point the finger at someone else, prepare to have it pointed back at you. This happened to both parties in this case, and I think both were surprised by that fact.
- There’s no end to what will spark the imagination of the media and the public. Andy Warhol was right. Everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame, and in this age of new media, that’s more likely now than ever before. Just make sure that for you (or your client) it’s not the wrong kind of 15 minutes and that you are prepared for whichever way the tide turns.
Like many people I was supportive of Livingston when I first saw her heartfelt clip, and I do agree that people shouldn’t be judged merely by their appearance. However, I’ve found it a fascinating case study to watch it come full circle and see all sides of the story. Curious to know your thoughts . . .