TV Anchor Uses Hurtful Email as Opportunity for Civility

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - 9:45 pm

TV Anchor Uses Hurtful Email as Opportunity for Civility

Over the course of this month, we’re hosting a series of public events that encourages civil conversations about the most difficult of topics — abortion and gay marriage included. We’re asking ourselves how can we model better, kinder ways of communicating and disagreeing with each other. This morning, Jennifer Livingston, a television anchor at WKBT in La Crosse, Wisconsin, demonstrated this civility in spades.
A viewer emailed Ms. Livingston a note chastising her for her weight. She never named the author, but she did use it as an opportunity to talk about bullying and treating people more kindly. Here’s what she said during this morning’s broadcast:

I want to take a moment to address a situation that has become a talking point in this community over the past weekend — especially on Facebook — that centers around me. On Friday, I recieved the following e-mail from a La Crosse man with the subject line “Community responsibility.” It reads as follows:

Hi Jennifer,

It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years. Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Now those of us in the media get a healthy dose of critiques from our viewers throughout the year — and we realize it comes with having a job in the public eye. But this email was more than that. While I tried my best to laugh off the very hurtful attack on my appearance, my colleagues could not do the same. Especially my husband, our 6 and 10 anchor Mike Thompson.
Mike posted this email on his WKBT Facebook page — and what happened next has been truly inspiring. Hundreds and hundreds of people have taken the time out of their day to not only lift my spirits, but take a stand that attacks like this are not okay. More on that in a second.
But first, the truth is I am overweight. You could call me fat. And yes, even obese on a doctor’s chart. But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something I don’t see? You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family and you have admitted you don’t watch this show. So you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside. I am so much more than a number on a scale.
And here’s where I want us all to learn something from this. If you didn’t already know, October is National Anti-Bullying month. And this is a problem that is growing everyday in our schools and on the Internet. It is a major issue in the lives of young people today, and, as the mother of three young girls, it scares me to death. Now I am a grown woman.
And lucky for me, I have a very thick skin — literally as that email pointed out — and otherwise. And that man’s words mean nothing to me. But what really angers me about this? There are children who don’t know better, who get emails as critical as the one I received or, in many cases, even worse — each and every day.
The Internet has become a weapon. Our schools a battleground. And this behavior is learned; it is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email. If you are at home talking about the fat news lady, guess what? Your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat. We need to teach our kids how to be kind — not critical — and we need to do that by example.
So many of you have come to my defense over the past four days. I am literally overwhelmed by your words.
To my colleagues and friends from today and from years ago, my family, my amazing husband, and so many of you out there that I will probably never have the opportunity to meet: I will never be able to thank you enough for you words of support. And for taking a stand against this bully. We are better than that email. We are better than the bullies that would try to take us down.

And I leave you with this. To all the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with weight, the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability — even the acne on your face — listen to me right now. Do not let your self worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience that the the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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