The Washington Post

Wisconsin anchorwoman takes on a bully

I’ve often likened my job as opinion writer to that of a rhetorical combat soldier on behalf of the voiceless. I poke my head up above the foxhole and take on opposing fire so that others who might agree but are afraid to say so don’t have to.

Some of the nastiest responses I’ve received come from cowards who don’t think anyone will actually see or read their pixelated hate. But some days, battling bigots with braces on their brains can work my last nerve. That’s why Jennifer Livingston gets a “You go, girl!” from me.

After receiving a caustic and condescending email from a viewer about her weight, the WKBT “News 8 This Morning” anchor in La Crosse, Wisc., did something I’ve always wanted to do yesterday morning. Livingston called out her bully on the air.

Livingston acknowledged the outpouring of support for her ever since her husband, also a WKBT anchor, took off after the guy on his work Facebook page. But she wasn’t whining about the letter. After all, “We realize that it comes with having a job in the public eye,” she told viewers. Instead, she used the man’s mean missive as a teachable moment.

October is is national anti-bullying month, and this is a problem that is growing every day 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 luckily for me, I have a very thick skin — literally, as that email pointed out, and otherwise. That man’s words mean nothing to me. But what really angers me about this is there are children who don’t know better… The internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become 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, and you are 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.

Amen! There needs to be more civility in our public discourse and the best place for that to take root is in the home.

Livingston stuck up for herself and others who are fat, as she acknowledged she is. But she expanded her message to include children who “are lost and struggling” with their weight, their race, sexual orientation, disability “or 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 cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.

Livingston’s wonderful four-minute message won’t stop the bullying. It won’t stop the ugliness that festers within hearts and spews unabated on social media. But it no doubt will give courage to the bullied — and to potential allies who were too afraid to poke their heads over the foxhole for fear no one would back them up.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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