Jennifer Livingston does not know what bullying is

It’s that time again. Another video has gone viral on Facebook and other social media and, as usual, people are hyper-supportive of something that is completely stupid. First, here is the video:

For those too lazy to watch the video, news anchor Jennifer Livingston received an email from some random guy critiquing her for being overweight. She responded to him on air, reading the email as follows:

Hi Jennifer, It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. 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.

Let’s get the facts out there right away:

  • Someone sent this news anchor a private email.
  • At no point in the email was Livingston harassed, nor were any factually incorrect statements made.
  • Livingston admits that the reason the letter became public was that her husband posted it for all to see on his Facebook page.
  • In addition to Livingston’s husband being the one who initially made this all public, Livingston herself went on television and spoke about the letter for about 4 minutes.

I have a serious problem with what’s going on here. Livingston is claiming that she has been bullied by some anonymous person on the Internet because he encouraged her to lose weight. That isn’t bullying. The man does not seem to have sent Livingston email after email. He was not insulting in his critique but, instead, factual. (Whether or not he was in good taste is a separate question.) He did not set out to mock her for some inherent trait like skin color. All he did was point out that she has been overweight for a number of years now, something which is objectively unhealthy. Livingston chooses to live an unhealthy lifestyle. Criticizing her for that is no different from criticizing her for the political affiliation she chooses or the religious beliefs she chooses to have.

I have other problems with what Livingston has said – she seems to say that the man has no right to criticize her because he doesn’t personally know her; she compares her weight problem to sexual orientation and skin color; she says that we should teach our children to be kind rather than think critically – but I’m going to largely skip that stuff. What really disturbs me is the continuation of this fat acceptance movement. It’s terrible. Being fat is not always a choice – many people are burdened with extra weight because their parents gave them a terrible diet, others have disabilities, some have diseases – but living an unhealthy lifestyle usually is a choice. (This is the point where someone inevitably ignores my intentional use of the word “usually” and points out specific examples where a person’s hands are tied in terms of diet and exercise.) The more and more we pretend like people are helpless to get themselves in shape, the more and more people will embrace bullshit excuses for staying unhealthy.

I don’t necessarily support sending off polite emails to overweight news anchors in an effort to curb obesity. Part of the reason is that I don’t know as there is enough time in the day, at least in America. But the primary reason is that I don’t think someone automatically needs to be a role model by virtue of being in the public eye. Perhaps if Livingston is active in her community and/or otherwise tries to be a role model, then her weight is a fair issue and I think she should address it to the best of her abilities. But I’m not convinced that she has to act like a role model just because she stands in front of a TV crew every day.

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10 Responses

  1. @Hawkins. Your rant seems to underscore your hatred. Your ignorance of the anatomical and physiological human response to obesity highlights the misogynist claims behind the tirade you posted. You say it is not bullying but purposely failed to define how you view bullying. How is it not bullying? Had the original email been sent to all news personnel or just the one targeted individual? How is being bullied privately better than publicly? You haven’t presented a post on thinking critically but rather a view of your cynicism.

  2. Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Chickens,

    I do have a hatred of the fat acceptance movement, but what my post really underscores is my distaste for defining things willy-nilly.

    I do not know what you are referencing when you claim I am ignorant of the anatomical and physiological responses to obesity. Do you mean to say I am ignorant of the change in gait found in obese people? Are you saying I am unaware of increased cellular stress in obese people? You are unclear on this point.

    It is difficult to imagine how my post is misogynistic when the sex of Livingston has nothing to do with anything I said. This is another point where you have been unclear.

    While I appreciate your attempt to call me dishonest regarding my definition of what bullying is without actually giving me the outright label, you will notice that I gave three reasons why the email in question was not an act of bullying. For a more explicit definition, however, I’ll help you out: For this man to have been a bully, he would had to have attempted to intimidate, harass, or threaten this woman.

    It is irrelevant whether the emailer sent his letter to Livingston alone or to every overweight newscaster in his area. Only if he sent continuous letters could his actions be called bullying; multiple letters would constitute harassment, and harassment is a key aspect in what often defines bullying.

    When you ask how being bullied privately is better than being bullied publicly, you are begging the question.

    Whether I am cynical or not has no bearing here. That is an ad hominen.

    In summary: You have been unclear on a number of points, you have accused me of being misogynistic even though my post would have been identical if the news anchor’s name was Jeff Livingston, you ignored the reasons I gave for why this is not bullying, you raised at least one irrelevant point, and you engaged in at least two logical fallacies. In short, I don’t see a single instance where you have said something which might change my mind.

  3. Too funny. Begging the question is what I called you on by asking which is better, private or public bullying? What ad hominen ? Base on your post I conclude you are a cynic. The only logical inconsistencies I see are the false generalities you tried to create. Plus the topic of your post based on a single anecdotal example, a women who addressed her thoughts in regards to hate mail. I can point out more “logical fallacies” if you want me to address your ad hominen attack toward me. I wasn’t trying to get you to change your mind, I didn’t even say I disagreed with you, I said your critical thinking here is sorely lacking.

    Regards

  4. It’s pretty funny, Mike, that you accuse someone of ad hominem when you begin your post by calling Jennifer Livingston’s video “completely stupid”.

    I don’t like religion, and “I do have a hatred for” the religious movements that are seeking to make life difficult for the non-religious and others . But if I wrote a private email to a public person who only happens to be religious telling her not to be, I’d feel like a dick and a bully. Why? Because I would be.

    Why does it matter that it was one time? Why does it matter that it wasn’t public? If someone walks up to you and whispers something hurtful it doesn’t make it okay, even if they sugar their words with a coating of “polite” speech.

    “You know, you’re fat, and you really shouldn’t be, because it’s a ‘bad example’ to people around you”.

    Come on! That person is being a dick. An asshole. Is that ad hom? Yes. Why shouldn’t we point out that this guy is being an asshole? Assholes should be ashamed of being assholes. Does it really matter so much that what he wrote doesn’t fit what you consider to be the normative definition of “bullying”?

    That it was “one email” is completely irrelevant. The woman’s zero tolerance is completely justified. That said, though I would have said it differently, I think her response was from the heart and right on. As someone who isn’t an ounce overweight, I appreciated her feelings, and she made me understand them. Since you’re calling this person’s video “stupid”, let me just say that it’s stupid to concern yourself with what you consider excessive empathy in a world filled with cruelty.

    I’m very glad Jennifer called out this guy in public for his email. I don’t pretend anyone who happens to be on TV is a “role model” but she acted as a role model for people who have to face this sort of bullshit on a regular basis. Maybe a few of them will fight back because of this viral video. Good.

  5. Begging the question is what I called you on by asking which is better, private or public bullying?

    Yes. You assumed that what happened was, in fact, bullying. The very issue being discussed is whether or not the emailer is a bully.

    What ad hominen ? Base on your post I conclude you are a cynic.

    Attempting to discredit my argument by name calling is the definition of an ad hominen.

    The only logical inconsistencies I see are the false generalities you tried to create. Plus the topic of your post based on a single anecdotal example, a women who addressed her thoughts in regards to hate mail.

    You assumed an answer in your premise and you attacked me personally in an attempt to undermine my argument. Those are the two logical fallacies I see. As for this being anecdotal, I do not think you understand what an anecdote is. It is not merely the discussion of a specific event. For this to be anecdotal, I would have to make a post about the misuse of the term “bully” in general, eventually pointing to Livingston as an example of someone who used it incorrectly.

    I can point out more “logical fallacies” if you want me to address your ad hominen attack toward me.

    I don’t see where I did that, but you are free to address what you please.

    I wasn’t trying to get you to change your mind, I didn’t even say I disagreed with you, I said your critical thinking here is sorely lacking.

    I am okay with your point being solely to attack me. I don’t find it particularly enjoyable because it doesn’t happen to be at all productive, but I am okay with it. However, I would be surprised to find myself convinced that you had no intention on getting me to see this incident in a different light. Furthermore, I would also find it surprising if I believed that you didn’t have the intention of conveying not only your disagreement with me, but, in fact, your strong disagreement with me.

  6. John – There is a difference between calling something stupid and calling a person stupid. Moreover, calling a person stupid is not necessarily a logical fallacy; it is only a logical fallacy if the attack is intended to undermine an argument. However, all that matters here is that I referenced the point of the video as stupid. It would be no different if I said the point of the video was incorrect or wrong or that I disagreed with it.

    Telling a person that you disagree with him or her is not an inherent act of bullying. I find it absurd that you think otherwise.

    It matters that it was one time because that shows that we do not have a pattern of harassment. As I said earlier, harassment is one key aspect to what defines bullying. This emailer did not engage in that sort of activity.

    It matters that it wasn’t public, in this case, because it demonstrates that this man’s intention was not to intimidate or threaten Livingston into doing anything. Had he written a public email, it could be argued that his intentions were vastly different. (We would have to look at the specifics of the case, however.)

    Your point about the emailer’s words being hurtful do not sway me. Political, film, literature, and other critics write negative things every day. It is highly likely that their words are hurtful to the politicians and artists. That doesn’t mean Roger Ebert is a bully.

    Come on! That person is being a dick. An asshole. Is that ad hom? Yes.

    That is an ad hominen, but it is not necessarily a logical fallacy.

    You have raised the point that the emailer was being inappropriate by sending this letter. As I said in my original post, whether or not his actions were in good taste is a separate question from what I’ve addressed here. However, I did point out that I don’t particularly support what he did. I don’t think Livingston is required to be a role model because she is an on-air journalist. Furthermore, his opinion was unsolicited; as far as anyone seems to know, Livingston hasn’t made it a point to publicly discuss obesity prior to the above segment. (In contrast, I think someone like Mike Huckabee would be fair game to criticize for being a poor role model due to his promotion of unhealthy food, even if his agenda and intentions were purely political in nature.)

    I’m very glad Jennifer called out this guy in public for his email.

    What she did is actually closer to bullying than what the emailer did. I still wouldn’t use that term (because she kept his name and email address anonymous), but her actions certainly were far closer to being those of a bully than the emailer’s were.

  7. I didn’t say “telling someone you disagree with them” is an act of bullying. That’s a straw man, while we’re cataloging logical fallacies. I said that it is bullying to say rude, hurtful things to someone for no sincerely constructive purpose. She didn’t assert on air that being fat was commendable and then receive an email saying that it wasn’t. She IS fat and then received an insulting email that rhetorically presumed to educate her on the health dangers of being fat, as if she wouldn’t know about them.

    There is nothing in the definition of bullying that requires that it be done in public or that it be repeated. You’re using a special definition of bullying. That’s equivocation, another fallacy. Harassment is not a key factor of the definition of bullying, and bullying and harassment aren’t the same thing.

    I don’t know how you get inside the mind of the emailer to know for a fact that he didn’t intend to intimidate her. But that’s irrelevant. If it was accidental bullying, it still deserves response (more about that below). Her weight isn’t a movie that Roger Ebert criticizes. As you effectively say near the end of your comment, i’s not offered for praise or criticism. Your analogy is incoherent.

    “It matters that it wasn’t public, in this case, because it demonstrates that this man’s intention was not to intimidate or threaten Livingston into doing anything. ”

    Publicity isn’t a criterion for intimidation and threats. I don’t know where you get that idea.

    “You have raised the point that the emailer was being inappropriate”

    No, I’ve raised the issue that he’s being an asshole. And he is. That goes beyond “inappropriate”. It not a matter of fact, but more one of judgment. It’s a matter of emotional intelligence, of understanding how to deal with people, of understanding how words affect people. You may very well not understand it. I believe most people do understand it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the emailer understood it. If he didn’t, then calling him out was still appropriate, because he needs to be educated. If he did understand it, then calling him out was also appropriate, since it serves as an example of cruelty that happens all the time to fat people.

    Last, your assertion that what Jennifer did is closer to bullying is laughably absurd. There’s no similarity between bullying and a legitimate issue raised for the purpose of making a point about bullying, using an anonymous person as the example. No one is hurt by that, and the purpose is constructive. The email was hurtful. That it was intended as instructive is very doubtful, but if it was then that sort of clueless behavior needs to be educated into oblivion.

    And, as a postscript, a word of advice: your tone is absurd. Be real. Use a few contractions. Stop changing words like “asshole” into “inappropriate”. Stop calling people “Ms. “. You run a blog. You aren’t our professor or superior. You’re writing a blog comment here, not a dissertation. You fool no one with this act. I assume you’re a fellow atheist and have no religious objection to profanity, so stop acting like you’re too wonderful to use it. “Asshole” is a word in our language, and you aren’t above it, so fucking use it.

  8. For any onlookers, beartiger is John Harrington.

    I’m glad you are disavowing your statement that you would be a bully by virtue of writing to a person to express your disagreement with them (just as Livingston’s emailer did and just as you are doing here), but I disagree with you that being rude and/or hurtful is what defines a bully. You have merely identified two common traits of bullies, nothing else. Moreover, I reject your insinuation that the letter was rude (it wasn’t), not to mention your evidence-less claim that the emailer was insincere and not seeking to be constructive. You don’t know that and the plain text of what he wrote says otherwise.

    She didn’t assert on air that being fat was commendable and then receive an email saying that it wasn’t.

    So? The emailer didn’t wage a public campaign or repeatedly attack and harass this lady. All he did was write a private email because he, evidently, holds the opinion that a news anchor qualifies as a role model by virtue of being seen by so many people. Again, I don’t see where anything you’ve said shows this person is a bully. Your argument largely rests on the fact that you think he’s rude.

    It’s true that there is nothing which says bullying must be public or repeated. A person can be singled out and bullied – just once – off in some dark corner because of his skin color. That would still be bullying. But you’ve missed the point I made. I have argued here that the context for this specific situation demonstrates that the man was not threatening or unduly coercive. He was not trying to intimidate Livingston with his email. I don’t see what he did as even related to bullying. Furthermore, the only counter to everything I’ve said is that he was rude and you think, without evidence, that he was insincere.

    I don’t know how you get inside the mind of the emailer to know for a fact that he didn’t intend to intimidate her.

    I don’t know how you get inside the mind of the emailer to know for a fact that he was insincere. The difference between us, however, is that there is a reasonable explanation for my position: Nothing in the email was designed to make Livingston fear for her safety or personal property. No threats were made against her. If you disagree, I encourage you to quote excerpts that demonstrate your position.

    Her weight isn’t a movie that Roger Ebert criticizes. As you effectively say near the end of your comment, i’s not offered for praise or criticism. Your analogy is incoherent.

    You have made the case that the email was bullying simply by virtue of being hurtful. There are other reasons you have, but you have said that it is not okay to say hurtful things to people because doing so is bullying. Given that argument, I stand by my analogy. Saying things which hurt people’s feelings is not an inherent act of bullying. (Addendum: You appear to be reprising the argument you claimed was a straw man. That is, people say hurtful things all the time, including simply by virtue of disagreeing with someone. Thus, your definition of bullying includes instances where someone disagrees with someone else and the second person is hurt. For instance, anyone who criticizes Islam is a bully under your definition because so many people are offended and hurt by it.)

    Publicity isn’t a criterion for intimidation and threats. I don’t know where you get that idea.

    You’re ignoring context. The email was designed to encourage Livingston to reconsider her eating and exercise habits. Had this man made that encouragement into a public campaign, it could be argued that his intention was to use publicity to embarrass Livingston, thus implying that the harassment would continue until she had been coerced into acting differently.

    No, I’ve raised the issue that he’s being an asshole. And he is.

    If the emailer happens to read that and is hurt, you’re a bully according to your own arguments.

    If he didn’t, then calling him out was still appropriate, because he needs to be educated. If he did understand it, then calling him out was also appropriate, since it serves as an example of cruelty that happens all the time to fat people.

    I’m pleased to see you couching your arguments as to the sincerity of the emailer in “if, then” statement form. This shows marked improvement over your previous, evidence-less claims that he was being dishonest. That said, whether or not his email was in good taste is a different point of discussion from the issue I’ve raised here. All I want to say is that the man, right or wrong, is not somehow a bully. Livingston is using a hot button word either because she knows it will get attention or because she has been duped into believing that every other thing today is bullying or for whatever random reason. Whatever her motivation, neither she nor her supporters have presented a compelling case for why this man is a bully.

    No one is hurt by that, and the purpose is constructive

    How do you know the emailer isn’t hurt by it? Maybe he takes things really personally. How do you know he didn’t tell his friends and families that he was sending out those emails? Perhaps he is now embarrassed because he has been called out. How do you know his purpose wasn’t constructive? (You have still yet to present any evidence for your claim.) It could be that he sent out a few dozen emails to overweight news anchors.

    The email was hurtful.

    Again, simple disagreement hurts people sometimes. Is that bullying?

    That it was intended as instructive is very doubtful, but if it was then that sort of clueless behavior needs to be educated into oblivion.

    You keep jumping between claiming that the man was insincere in his attempt to be constructive to saying that you don’t know his intentions. Which is it?

    And, as a postscript, a word of advice: your tone is absurd. Be real. Use a few contractions.

    I generally consider myself a fairly humble person. The one area where I ignore that consideration, however, is my writing. I am excellent when it comes to words, in part, because I try to be very methodical and intentional. For instance, I have cut back on my use of contractions for the sake of coming across as deliberate. Disagreements like this one are almost always buried in emotion, so to come across as less warm and more calculated in my posts acts as a counterbalance. You aren’t required to like it, but I suspect it has reigned in some of your response, making this exchange more productive than it might have otherwise been.

    Stop changing words like “asshole” into “inappropriate”.

    I didn’t do anything to alter the point you made. Deal.

    Stop calling people “Ms. “. You run a blog. You aren’t our professor or superior. You’re writing a blog comment here, not a dissertation. You fool no one with this act. I assume you’re a fellow atheist and have no religious objection to profanity, so stop acting like you’re too wonderful to use it. “Asshole” is a word in our language, and you aren’t above it, so fucking use it.

    As I said, I am methodical and intentional in my writing. I referred to Silkie Chickens as “Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Chickens” because he or she decided to randomly trot out a claim of misogyny. My point was to demonstrate a consideration for equality between the sexes while at the same time noting the silly username.

    I am an atheist who has no religious objections to anything, but that does not mean you could possibly have any idea if I object to anything on any other grounds. Atheism is descriptive; you can’t know an atheist’s values before he tells you what they are.

    That said, it does so happen that I have no objection, religious or otherwise, to profanity. That has nothing to do with my atheism – it couldn’t – but it does happen to be the case. I have simply chosen not to engage in the emotional aspect to all this. You have done the opposite, at least to some small extent.

    For my posts on language, I encourage you do look through the category I have for it. You can also search for “language” and “rhetoric” to find posts I made prior to the creation of the category. Search hard enough and you’ll even find a couple of posts where I argue for the use of profanity. Search even harder and you’ll find 10 pages worth of posts that use the word “fuck” in one way or another, including a few with it in the post title.

  9. Oh, look, you responded again.

    “I’m glad you are disavowing your statement that you would be a bully by virtue of writing to a person to express your disagreement with them…”

    Mike, I never said any thing like that, as you’re about to prove by completely failing to find a single quote by me saying any such thing in any comment I’ve made here. I’m sure you’ll find a quote and try to pretend it says that, but it won’t. It won’t even imply that, as any fair reader will see.

    On the internet, where of course no one is ever wrong, I’ve learned that when your opponent’s argument is completely with straw men, as yours is now, it’s the end of the debate. And I’m going to give you the last word. I’ve made my point, and you seem to know it, since you’ve given up arguing with me and are now arguing with your mannequin, so I’ll leave you two to chat about Jennifer’s video.

    But since you bring up your humility in other areas of life as well as your excellence “when it comes to words” (that’s actually not a straw man, believe it or not, if anyone else is reading), I’ll write a bit about that.

    You really aren’t excellent with words, and I can substantiate that. For one thing, a writer, to be effective, has to be able to project honesty, or at least not deal in obvious ploys. When you straw man an opponent in a debate, you fool nobody, not even someone who agrees with you. I know this, because I’ve sometimes been embarrassed to see that tactic used by people who I agree with, and I try to call them out on the bullshit and set them straight when I see it.

    Misunderstanding words doesn’t suggest someone who’s excellent with words. Or an obvious deliberate misunderstanding of words gives the impression you think you’re putting one over on the reader, when you aren’t, showing you don’t understand the effect your words are having. Either way, that’s not a point in your favor and already disproves your claim of excellence.

    I won’t even get started on intellectual honesty, since you didn’t make any claims about excellence there, and I’m going to assume you know you need to work on that. But that’s pretty important, too.

    Second, you say writing with fewer contractions conveys that you’re “deliberate” in writing. That’s an unjustified superstition. It doesn’t, actually. It doesn’t impress at all, or make any positive difference. Thinking that it does is the sort of mistake that a lot of novice writers make. Usually it’s made because this is the way students are taught to write essays so people think it’s the correct way, or because the writer believes it makes him or her sound intelligent and, well, precise, I guess, or deliberate…or whatever. It’s the way some formal writing is done, but it’s not the way most writing should be done for the simple fact that in almost all contexts it comes across as stilted, awkward, legalistic, pretentious, dull, pedantic, cheap, and, well, just tone-deaf. “Tone deaf” because it has a tone of inappropriate formality where one isn’t needed, like, oh say, in the comments section of a blog.

    Since you’ve got humility in other areas of your life, I think you should adopt some humility about your writing, too. Even if you were a perfect writer, I’d recommend the same. But as it is, it’ll do you good and open the door for some learning, which you need. I didn’t say you were a bad writer, just not an excellent one. There’s nothing in your writing, and I’ve read a lot of it now, that shows unusual ability. I know you’ll bluster and want to call this ad hom, but I hope you’ll also internalize what I’ve written about this. You brought it up, after all, so I thought it was fair fodder. Ciao.

  10. Mike, I never said any thing like that, as you’re about to prove by completely failing to find a single quote by me saying any such thing in any comment I’ve made here. I’m sure you’ll find a quote and try to pretend it says that, but it won’t. It won’t even imply that, as any fair reader will see.

    You can attempt to poison the well all you like, but logical fallacies are not your friend. You said you would be a bully if you wrote to a religious person with the intention of changing that person’s position. Anyone still reading this can decide for themselves if that is the same as saying you believe the expression of unsolicited disagreement qualifies as bullying.

    And I’m going to give you the last word.

    This is a common strategy in a debate. At the juncture when one person wishes to end it, he will note a number of final points whilst saying he is going to give the final word to his opponent. This allows that person to appear to take the high road – why, you’re above the fray of endless retorts – while also allowing for the possibility that he may get the final word. That is, if I want the high road for myself, I have to actually give you the final word. So well done. Your strategy isn’t original, but it is tried and true.

    As to the straw men you claim I have been making, you have only identified one. And even then, you had to poison the well immediately thereafter. But other than that, it appears that you either have no other identifiable straw men arguments to address or you are simply too lazy to type a little bit. Whatever the case, that’s okay. Anyone who may be reading this can see that my post largely addressed the nature of bullying and how it fails to apply in this case. Indeed, most of my post wasn’t about your arguments, but rather it was about why I disagree with Livingston. You have little to do with what I’ve said; this isn’t about you, John.

    As to my writing, I need not address most of what you said. I have full confidence that my composition is positively notable. Moreover, most of your criticism relies on your (evidence-less) perception of my tactics, not my writing. For instance, you have attempted to tie dishonesty to the quality of my prose. The two are mutually exclusive. (And, in the instance of the first one, non-existent.) Indeed, this is reminiscent of your repeated (though inconsistent) claim that the emailer above had been insincere in his letter; all you have done here is call someone a liar rather than deal with the substance of the arguments presented.

    Finally, you are incorrect that a lack of contractions does not convey a deliberate delivery. Think back to Clinton’s denial of a sexual relationship with Lewinsky: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Or to Obama’s red state, blue state speech. Do you remember him ending with “We are the United States of America” or “We’re the United States of America”?

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