By now WKBT-TV La Crosse, Wisconsin, anchor Jennifer Livingston is being held up as a role model against bullying after going on a four-minute rant against a viewer who sent her an email saying her unhealthy weight was not a role model for younger viewers.
Livingston’s tirade landed her on all the national morning shows and on the Ellen Show. She will be on “Katie” today.
Fox 4 reporter Katie Ferrell says Livingston is her hero because she once was traumatized by a nasty email she received.
But, some people are now questioning whether Livingston’s antics were really ethical from a journalisim standpoint.
Should she take a personal issue and use the public airwaves as her forum? Is it journalism or some sort of news/entertainment?
“Some industry watchers say Livingston pushed the boundaries of broadcast journalism ethics by using four minutes of a newscast for a personal, albeit pointed, rebuttal to viewer email calling her not a “suitable example” for young people because she is overweight,” wrote Diana Marszalek on the TV NewsCheck site.
“I understand her anger and that we should not be intimidated or bullied by cyber commentators. I also think her intervention sparked good discussion about obesity and how people react to obese people,” says the University of Wisconsin’s Stephen Ward, who heads the Madison campus’s Center for Journalism Ethics.
“That said, I am still uncomfortable when journalists use their power and access to media for their own ends — whatever ends they may be, good or bad,” Ward says. “In particular, I am uncomfortable with using a newscast as the forum for such a personal intervention.”
Bill Wheatley, a Columbia University professor and former executive vice president of NBC News, also weighed in on the issue.
“…I would also say that news people need to develop thick skins because there’s no shortage of nasty people out there who like nothing better than to belittle others, sometimes in the most vile terms,” he says.