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Commentary: Reporter’s tirade reminds us of journalism’s true purpose

Reporters and journalists hold a critical position in the media. They are meant to ask questions and talk to people for the purpose of making sure news stories are as truthful and unbiased as possible. In a viral, jaw-dropping video, ESPN reporter Britt McHenry abuses both of these principles of journalism. She is not digging for information for a news story in the making – and was not assigned to do so – but unleashed a slew of stinging insults at parking lot attendant Gina Michelle after finding out that her car had been towed.

Professional journalism calls for proper social skills and in some cases, sympathy, and McHenry openly turns her back on these etiquettes with expletives slicing her cutting remarks. She also shamelessly flaunts her enviable occupation by repeatedly reminding Michelle, “I’m in the news sweetheart …” Had she not, one may never have guessed from her horrific behavior. The reporter gives Michelle a dish of not the latest football stats or upcoming games, but instead a downright nasty commentary on the attendant’s weight, teeth and education level that should not have been brought on by simply “an intense and stressful moment” as McHenry had justified in her Twitter apology.

McHenry received only a slap on the wrist for her actions with a week’s suspension from ESPN. The consequences for such incomprehensibly disturbing behavior are a tough call, as employment is not an easy thing to take away from a person. But with the flood of reproach directed at McHenry, there is the question of whether or not the pubic will be able to take her future interviews and reports seriously with her tainted public persona, or if other media outlets will even consider her viable.

It’s been said during life’s toughest moments, a person’s true colors are revealed. After these recent events, it’s likely that McHenry’s toughest moments are yet ahead of her. Shortly before the video of her tirade surfaced, she had posted on Facebook to “take the high road and be nice to people” and “Amazing how a small kind gesture can go so far, yet similarly so can the impact of negative words. Don’t choose the latter.” “Ironic” is hardly the term for the thunderous contradiction between the Facebook post and the video that later drowned out any redeeming kindnesses McHenry might have offered.

Journalism is a profession meant for the good of the people, and comes with a wide array of topics that welcome and discuss diversity. But with her piercing words and strong biases on appearance and education level, McHenry nearly takes on the chilling voice of the judgmental, high-and-mighty side of our society. We can only hope that if she survives the onslaught, she will have kinder words to serve.

Casey Baun is a senior at Orchard Park High School.