As a TV newscaster in Wisconsin, Jennifer Livingston is used to being in the public eye. And as part of the gig, she often gets messages from viewers – some praising and some less-than-praising – about the job she’s doing. But when one letter hit a bit too personally, she couldn’t let it fade away in the trash bin. Livingston took the opportunity to deliver a rare on-camera takedown against the bully.
Livingston, an anchor for WKBT, the CBS affiliate in La Crosse, Wisc., began the segment as any other: professionally, almost unassumingly, delivered as the nightly news would be. She pulled up a letter from a viewer, with the innocuous subject line “Community responsibility.” But once she dove into the text of the letter, it became clear this wasn’t a kind-hearted letter. The writer, who explained he wasn’t a frequent viewer of Livingston’s show, expressed disdain that her “physical condition hasn’t improved for many years” and noted that she has a “responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
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In her eloquent response, Livingston confidently noted that it wasn’t the viewer’s obesity critique that forced her to sound off. “Do you think I don’t know that?” she railed, confidently and unapologetically. Instead, she took the opportunity to deliver a humbling public service announcement, noting that October is National Anti-Bullying Month.
Before taking to the airwaves, she exchanged a few emails with the man, later identified as local lawyer Kenneth Krause. But Krause kept insulting her, she told Poynter. The comment that drove her to sound off was one that called her a bad role model: “Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular.”
As the mother of three young girls, Livingston wondered about those in her community and how such comments affect them. “I have a very thick skin,” she explained on-air, “and that man’s words mean nothing to me… But this behavior is learned – it is passed down from people like the man who wrote me that email.”
The backlash against Krause’s letter actually began days earlier, when Livingston’s husband Mike Thompson, also a TV personality at WKBT, posted the lawyer’s note on his Facebook page. Over the weekend hundreds of people expressed shock and anger to the note. Many said they could relate to Livingston’s humiliation. Thompson said he never thought his post would strike a chord with so many people.
So, on Monday night, after putting her girls to sleep, Livingston decided to do more than shrugging off the insult. She decided to address Krause’s attack on her show. And the powerful message she gleaned from Facebook was prominently reflected in her segment: “Do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience — that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”
Indeed, Livingston’s very public takedown of the bully became her “community responsibility.” And with poise, she delivered.
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