What’s Really Wrong With Britt McHenry’s Actions on That Video

Updated Apr 20, 2015

Once again video is our collective social conscience, or at least the instant replay of life that enables all of us to sit back, hit “play,” and judge.

If you’re on social media, I’m sure you’ve seen the video rant of ESPN’s Britt McHenry as she got her car out of a tow company facility.

Right there, I’m biased.

I generally like ESPN. And I’ve had cars towed before where I’ve found it’s a miracle if your car isn’t damaged in some way when you recover it. I took one towing company to small claims court once in Massachusetts and won. Just try collecting from them.

So I begin partial to the poor consumer.

But the poor consumer happens to be a reporter.

And here’s where McHenry crossed the line with me during her rant. It’s when she talks to the towing company worker and utters the phrase, “I’m in the news, sweetheart.”

To me, that was the defining moment.

It doesn’t matter if the video was edited, or if the parts that egged McHenry on were cut out.

I didn’t need to see any of that, though what is heard from the tow company employee seems very soft-spoken and understated.

More importantly, she’s not a public person like McHenry.

And that to me is where ESPN got it right in suspending McHenry.

Nobody put words in McHenry’s mouth.

And if you’ve seen the tape, you know the words are typical of a nasty cat fight. .

When she talked about the employee’s weight, it got into “fat-shaming,” which some people pointed out in social media.

But it wasn’t “fat-shaming” so much as it was “class shaming.”

Whenever you pull the “I’m on TV and you work in a trailer” card, that’s sheer class shaming.

And it leads to the real ugliness in this whole matter.

I’ve been on TV and radio, national and local. I know what can happen when you think your press pass somehow makes you more special than you are.

People in the media, high and low, get these “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM” moments. It’s because “MEDIA PRIVILEGE” is more intoxicating than “WHITE PRIVILEGE.” And when you are white and in the media, it’s even more toxic.

For people who protest McHenry’s suspension by saying it’s not work related: Who do you think is watching the news? It’s all those people who work at towing companies. That’s the audience on the other side of the camera.

How could McHenry have acted? How about civilly? Get her car and if there’s action to take, then pursue it legally. Or use her power positively. She represents her company.

McHenry could have “killed them with kindness.”  But young TV people often have what I call a sense of “media entitlement.”

The suspension should work as a wakeup call for McHenry, but it’s also for all those on the so-called “talent” side.

As a former adjunct, I’d say it’s a good lesson for those who teach young broadcasters and journalists in higher ed. Students need to remember, as a journalist, they’re a public person, and their actions on video are not private. Not when the reporter represents the media organization.

Once again, the keyword is video.

That McHenry’s arrogance was caught on tape and has taken up our mind-space is telling.

For all things big and small, video reveals us to ourselves.

To date, we’ve had all too many shocking, un-rebuttable videos of aggressive police misconduct from tongue-lashing (New York), to suspect-ramming (Arizona), to outright murder (South Carolina).

Maybe we just needed a different kind of viral video to obsess over.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics  for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog)  Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok