Have you ever had a really bad day? I mean one of those days when the slightest thing will set you off and you bite someone’s head off for no particular reason? Having a rough day can cause anyone to lash out for no apparent reason. The unfortunate recipient of such wrath could be your kids, a co-worker, or even a clerk at a towing company.
Last week ESPN sports broadcaster Britt McHenry did just that, but she added a few frills and dressings that she now most likely regrets. More accurately, she probably regrets that there was a security camera recording every moment of her vicious tirade leveled at a towing company clerk in Arlington, Virginia.
By suggesting that McHenry may have been reacting to a bad day, I am certainly not defending her. She clearly has some deep-seated personal insecurities to be so mean to, well, anyone. She had her back to the wall and we may have seen a glimpse of the real person behind the media façade. But, ignoring the woman’s obvious personal shortcomings, how many of us would be appalled to see our behavior replayed for the entire world after a difficult experience?
As for McHenry, I’ll grant her that it’s not easy to be a normal human being in the public eye, although, in truth, not being a sports consumer, I’d never heard of her until this incident surfaced. Still, no one is perfect. We all have our warts, but, for some of us, sometimes they’re a bit uglier than we realize, no matter how much we try to conceal them.
A difficult experience can bring all of that ugliness to the surface with great force, sometimes beyond our awareness. And, once it’s out there, it’s out there, particularly if you happen to be a public figure in a world of constant surveillance and instantaneous social media.
One op-ed I read after the incident commented more on McHenry’s apparent self-image, suggesting that she clearly exhibited an, “overblown sense of entitlement and evidence of a mean girl who never left high school.” The writer then went on to defend her somewhat, noting how quickly she was judged by the public without the other side of the story ever being revealed.
Well, since this is my op-ed column, I will say that, given her behavior, the other side doesn’t really matter much. Being angry at the situation and lashing out is understandable, particularly if you just had your car towed. But McHenry’s personal, demeaning attacks against the clerk were just plain vial. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say she was arrogant, snobby, and just plain brutal.
Others in defense of McHenry call the release of the video a “public shaming,” but I can’t agree. McHenry shamed herself, no one made her behave that way. We all make choices and we have to live with the consequences. The pretty, popular and famous people of the world can’t be held to a higher standard (since they’re human too), but they are certainly no exception.
One thing struck me even more oddly. I have worked in media for many years and I have to ask how it never occurred to McHenry that there were probably security cameras on her? Even after the camera was pointed out by the clerk, she continued her rant, which became even more despicable.
After that, she got what she deserved. In my professional opinion, from a public relations standpoint, the best thing her bosses could do is show her the door – permanently. She’s bad for business and constant judgment and public scrutiny are the price of life in the media. Those who choose that life don’t get to whine about it.
Everyone has the right to be upset in difficult circumstances but no one has the right – not even the rich and famous – to belittle a person because of his or her own delusions of grandeur and privilege. Perhaps we could all learn an important lesson from McHenry’s behavior? Difficult situations might be more tolerable if everyone involved behaved as though the cameras are on them.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Deer In Headlines is distributed by GLD Enterprises Communications. More at gerydeer.com.