Something that has garnered increasing attention over the past few years, for better or for worse, are bullies and their pulpits. In this age of digital media, we’ve made it far too easy for bullies to do their thing, and along with it, people have lost the ability to deliver a sincere and heartfelt apology. Case in point: Recently in Minnesota, we were riveted by the headlines made upon learning that a 27-year old mystery was solved (see my prior post “The Monster Down the Road“) when Danny Heinrich confessed to the abduction and murder of Jacob Wetterling, and led authorities to where he’d hidden Jacob’s remains. Jana Shortal, a reporter with Kare11 in the Twin Cities, came on the air to provide updates on the case. Jana is a seasoned professional, well respected and has been with Kare11 for a number of years.
Unfortunately, Jana became the victim of another local “reporter’s” bullying. A gossip columnist who goes by the initials “CJ” at the StarTribune, Twitter handle @DishCentral, blasted Jana for the pants she was wearing on air. Her pants! Instead of using her brain and thinking for a moment about what was happening, that perhaps the community was reeling from the shock of the news, CJ tried to make it about fashion. First off, who cares? Second, and more importantly, Jacob’s mother Patty Wetterling had shared a request with the community the day before. It read:
“Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us.
Say a prayer.
Light a candle.
Be with friends.
Play with your children.
Eat ice cream.
Help your neighbor.
That is what will bring me comfort today.” -Patty Wetterling
In spite of those words, a bully used her pulpit to hurt someone in Jacob’s name. But Jana didn’t take it lying down. She fought back and wrote a scathing rebuke on Facebook, (Sept 7) which is going viral and garnering attention with news outlets everywhere. It’s strong and powerful, and amazing. Reading the responses to it from complete strangers, and the support she has received makes me believe that there is hope for humanity, however.
The StarTribune took notice, and not only deleted the offensive post, but offered a public apology to Ms. Shortal, admitting that the column failed to live up to their journalistic standards. While I admit that’s a start, one question I’ve seen asked in comments, and have to agree with, why was no one overseeing this woman’s column? With all of the attention that’s been given to bullying in the last few years, why have they ignored CJ’s brand of misanthropy and downright ugliness toward people in general?
CJ has also offered an apology. As apologies go, I have to say it’s pathetic. It sounds like something that was written a) in haste and b) with just enough minimal effort that her attorney said would suffice to likely keep a lawsuit away. There was nothing in it that sounded remotely like she understands how words hurt, how the platform that she’s been given shouldn’t be used as a bully pulpit any longer.
What has happened to us that we’re no longer able to offer sincere, genuine apologies that mean something? That as a society, in general we offer this psychobabble bullshit in an attempt to pacify the masses? When you do something wrong, admit it. Own it. Don’t pussyfoot around it. I had to do that recently with a friend. I admitted I had been careless, put my foot squarely in my mouth and was mortified by something I had said that had potential to hurt her and her partner. I admitted stupidity and asked for forgiveness. Fortunately for me, she is a good friend and will stay that way in spite of my foibles. I’m truly blessed.
More often than not, however, it seems apologies are a lost art. People will toss off a “sorry” and walk away, with little or no sincerity to accompany it, as if throwing the word out is adequate. Plopping those 5 letters into a dialog bubble over your head are’t enough folks, they just aren’t. You need to make eye contact when you can, but more importantly be genuine, and acknowledge what was wrong. Good grief. Grow a pair. If you’re old enough to talk, drink from anything other than your mother’s breast, walk, chew gum…you get my drift. Take a deep breathe, take accountability for your self and your actions and do the right thing. In spite of how scary it might feel at first, I promise nothing feels as good as the relief of doing the right thing, even if the person you apologize to won’t accept it. You know you’ve done the right thing, and your conscience is clear. But acting like a brat, playing by toddler rules and yelling “mine!” as you launch into a pout with a lower lip stuck out so far that it’s miracle you don’t trip over it? That has no place in adult, civilized society, yet that’s how so many so-called adults behave. Little wonder their children are worse, showing no remorse, because they see no need to apologize. This attitude of “I’ve done nothing I regret” has to stop.
Folks have called for the StarTribune to remove CJ from the gossip column, stating they don’t think the paper should allow her to remain in that capacity, that her bully pulpit has been used long enough. I don’t know if that’s the right answer, or if that’s just another form of bullying. I do know that she was way of out of line in her reaction, and I’m saddened by her inability or unwillingness to express a sincere mea culpa for the incident. Jana Shortal didn’t deserve to be treated that way, none of us do.