You may have heard about this story that went viral last week.
(I guess that's what we say instead of "made headlines" now...sigh.)
Anyway, a Wisconsin newscaster received an email from a viewer calling her to task over her weight.
It read, in part, "It's unusual that I see your morning show. 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."
Her response? To read it on air and offer an emotional plea against bullying. The Internet quickly rose to her defense.
Now, while she had every right to be offended, this journalist decided to not only broadcast the news, but become it. And she went over the line in declaring this admittedly undiplomatic viewer a bully. He wrote a private email that about her weight, and suggested she reconsider given her public role as a potential role model. She chose to make it public, and responded in kind.
I'm the last person to suggest that everyone we see in mass media be portrayed as anorexic runway models, and I certainly don't want to come across as the bad guy here. But you don't see too many television characters—real or imagined—smoking cigarettes, driving drunk or even driving without seat belts these day.
Hell, most of your favorite sitcoms even show characters using their cell phones on speaker while they're driving. These aren't simply aesthetic acts of self-censorship—period pieces such as Mad Men notwithstanding—but common sense portrayals that reflect a society that's learned its lesson about things such as cancer-causing cigarettes and fatality-inducing car crashes.
As the latest numbers have already shown, obesity now costs us more in public health care spending than cigarette smoking. Sure, there are some conditions that make losing weight more difficult than normal, as is apparently the case with the newscaster in question, but writing off obesity as a harmless lifestyle choice is irresponsible, both privately and publicly. And dropping the bully card as a smokescreen is nothing less than offensive.
On a final, lighter note, debates were all the rage last week. And while I'll wait 'til next week to weigh in on the presidential one, I actually found the more tongue-in-cheek melee between Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly more entertaining and insightful. (Because, honestly, Obama didn't even bother to show up and a blowout rarely makes for good television. Just ask the NFL.)
Sure, it was funny as hell, but I loved that these two media icons were able to have such different opinions and viewpoints—and argue over them—while remaining friendly. Because it's been clear for a long time, given how frequently they appear on each other's prorams, that these two are friends. In this toxic era of bipartisanship, it shows we can disagree—even passionately—and still share a drink after.
And it gives me more hope than any presidential candidate ever could.