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After La Crosse, Wis., TV anchor Jennifer Livingston spent four minutes Tuesday giving an on-air response to a viewer who emailed her to say she isn't a "suitable example for this community's young people" because she's overweight, an uploaded clip of her comments quickly went viral. (Ellen DeGeneres' tweet about what Livingston said gave the clip quite a push.)
Livingston said the email was bullying. She said she is "much more than a number on a scale." And she said that if children were to hear their parents 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," she added.
The email she got from viewer Kenneth Krause, which her outraged husband put on his Facebook page, reads this way:
"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."
Christian Schneider, a fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and a contributor to National Review Online, writes on The Yankee Review blog (which Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel hosts), that Livingston's "erudite takedown was cathartic" for many.
"Everyone who has been picked on for their weight or their looks could relate to the feelings she had as she delivered her editorial," says Schneider. "We've been there, and she spoke for a lot of people that are afraid to confront their critics."
But Stephanie Hanes, who writes for Modern Parenthood and the Christian Science Monitor, says the email wasn't bullying. "Obnoxious, sure," Hanes writes. "Calling it unsolicited or unnecessary 'advice' would be kind. Despite the cordial tone, it is simply unacceptable — and rather sexist, I'll add — to comment on a woman's physical appearance as if that appearance was the substance of her work. Even with all that window dressing of the obesity epidemic. ... But one rude e-mail does not a bullying act make."
In Hanes' view, there's some "bully creep" going on here. And, she says, "the 'everyone mean is a bully' phenomenon gums up the fight against the sort of 'bullying' that academic researchers have identified as incredibly damaging — the sustained, cruel interactions between a powerful child or children and a less powerful child."
Which is it? Feel free to discuss in the comments thread.
Krause, by the way, has responded to Livingston's on-air response with a statement. He says, in part, that he hopes Livingston takes advantage "of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being ... of children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year."