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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

Buy Love Monkey for $4! "Hilarious"--Maslin, NY Times. "Exceedingly readable and wickedly funny romantic comedy"--S.F. Chronicle. "Loud and brash, a helluva lot of fun"--Entertainment Weekly. "Engaging romp, laugh-out-loud funny"-CNN. "Shrewd, self-deprecating, oh-so-witty. Smith's ruthless humor knows no bounds"--NPR

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    More on Britt McHenry

    By kyle | April 20, 2015

    Cross-posting from Facebook my reaction the comments.

    To the multitudes who have made this story the 4th-most-read one on our site this week, thanks! And to the hundreds of irate commenters and e-mailers, a few points.
    1. No, I don’t want a date with Britt McHenry. By the way, I’d never even heard of her until Thursday.
    2. I didn’t say, and don’t think, that two wrongs make a right. It’s perfectly possible to think both that she was out of line and that she was treated too harshly because of it.
    3. I posted the Yelp reviews not because they’re infallible but because they indicate at least the possibility that Advanced Towing employees seem to act like they’re above the law. This in turn raises the possibility that McHenry’s loss of temper might have been understandable. Or not. We don’t really know.
    4. Before everything started “going viral,” we used to have a national understanding that accused people deserved at least a bit of an inquiry into the facts. One such process was known as trial by jury. But even private companies looking into complaints would, you know, look into them and try to figure things out before rendering punishment. Today we have an extremely unattractive combination of an online lynch mob mentality with a need for people to collectively assert their virtue by being among the first and loudest to detect and denounce someone else’s lack of virtue. (I understand the new Jon Ronson book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed has more to say on this.) Today it’s all, But we have one piece of evidence! Let us render judgment immediately!
    5. The day this all “went viral,” my reaction was: I don’t care. If a celebrity (especially one I’ve never heard of) loses her temper, what importance has that? I would only click on it if it were someone I find kind of interesting in the first place, like Alec Baldwin. Why are you all so fascinated by famous people being caught off-guard?
    6. I am aware that Virgiina is a “one-party state” hence making the video was legal. So what? Something can be wrong without being illegal. You know, how it’s wrong to berate an innocent person who is just doing her job. How would you like it if someone made a video of you at your worst moment, then shopped it to the media for the sole purpose of embarrassing you?
    7. We all lose our tempers from time to time, so spare me the self-righteousness. When you lose your temper, you tend to stray into ugly, ad hominem territory. This is why we call it “losing our tempers,” not “angrily making a perfectly-controlled and logically unassailable argument.” One is not in a rational state of mind.
    8. At this point the ESPN suspension seems almost irrelevant. The incident has cost McHenry dearly in reputation. She’ll be lucky if she can walk out on a sports field without being booed. She’s been buried in calumny. The waitresses will be spilling coffee in her lap forever. This punishment is disproportionate to her offense. As I made reference to in my column, Keith Olbermann is notorious for frequently losing his temper as a routine occurrence on the job. This has more relevance to whether he is fit to be employed than an off-the-job tantrum.
    9. Why does anyone care? I’m puzzled. I get a lot of comments along the lines of, “she revealed her true nature!” Aha, you Javerts of the soul, score one for you! So what, though? She’s not running for office. She never said she was a symbol of all that is good about human nature. She’s a flawed human being. So are you. I can’t help but notice a personal sense of hurt, though, one that turns McHenry into a sort of representative of all the Mean Girls who shut you out of their clique or made fun of your shirt. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post put it, “as someone who was bullied in high school, this really bothers me.” (Or words to that effect.) Pardon me, but if you were unhappy in high school, don’t take it out on her. And if your idea of empathy only goes as far as “I feel for people as long as they remind me of me,” you’re not doing empathy right. Strangely, many have projected their weirdly personal reaction to this contretemps on me, i.e. I defend her only because I obviously have something in common with this, rich, young, blonde, beautiful TV presenter. Apart from both of us being “in the media,” I have no dog in this hunt whatsoever, and any observer of the media will quickly notice that media people love nothing better than to tear apart other media people, especially those higher up the ladders of fame and fortune than ourselves. I try to reject the sans-culottes attitude. Increasingly, I fear this country is developing the character of mobs braying in the Paris streets of 1789.
    10. As Peter Carlin points out, this is ultimately a popular decision to be made -do we like Britt McHenry? And in a sense the market is never wrong. Still. sometimes the market show poor taste. And sometimes the market can be nudged in one direction or another by media coverage. Let those of us in the media think, “I wonder what the other side of this might be” as often as we think, “There’s a mob forming. What fun!”

    Topics: TV | 8 Comments »

    8 Responses to “More on Britt McHenry”

    1. CKO Says:
      April 20th, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      My response to your points:

      1)No human male with a fully functioning cerebral cortex would give her the time of day, much less date her.

      2)You might not have used those precise words, but they pretty much sum up the mentality behind your article.

      3)The Yelp reviews are beside the point. McHenry was making an @$$ of herself and tried to pin the blame on somebody else for a problem she herself created.

      4)She tried to play the “Do you know who I am?” card. That’s pretty solid evidence against McHenry right there.

      5)If it had been Alec Baldwin in that situation, he probably would have tried to wring the tow truck employee’s neck.

      6)Every time McHenry goes on camera on ESPN you’re seeing her at her worst moment, LOL.

      7)We’re not talking about a momentary lapse of self-control here, Kyle. We’re talking about calculated and vicious personal attacks on somebody whose only crime was not being swayed by McHenry’s celebrity status.

      8)To paraphrase my comment in response to your original article at McHenry shouldn’t just be suspended, she should be FIRED.

      9)Considering you once devoted an entire column to trashing waiters, I’d think twice before lecturing other people about empathy if I were you.

      10)What other side could there possibly be to this case? McHenry is 100% in the wrong here. The end.

    2. kishke Says:
      April 21st, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      Is this cross-posted from your own FB page, Kyle? Can you supply a link?

    3. Kyle Says:
      April 22nd, 2015 at 3:15 pm


    4. kishke Says:
      April 22nd, 2015 at 7:33 pm

      Link doesn’t work, though. I am denied permission to view the page.

    5. Kyle Says:
      April 23rd, 2015 at 7:38 am

      Friend me.

    6. kishke Says:
      April 24th, 2015 at 8:11 am

      I don’t think you can be friended. The friend button doesn’t appear. You probably have your settings that way. It’s okay, no biggie either way.

    7. Kyle Says:
      April 24th, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      I get friended all the time. Just log in to Facebook and do a search for me.

    8. John Stanton Says:
      April 26th, 2015 at 7:05 pm

      Hi Kyle,

      I find this whole episode to be both fascinating and depressing for a reason that you touched on above, and its significance goes way beyond Britt McHenry: “Increasingly, I fear this country is developing the character of mobs braying in the Paris streets of 1789.”

      I couldn’t agree more. I was in the process of working the following into an essay. The way the McHenry situation has unfolded, how people have responded and the sequence of events, has become more the norm than an aberration. Moral preening to justify viciousness, lies in the service of justice and a complete lack of any sense of proportion. But one person in particular and her role in the process – what she did and why she did it – really stands out.

      I apologize in advance for the length, but would appreciate your thoughts.

      There’s much to be explored – and concerned about – where the Internet, mob psychology and morality all collide. Technology is changing the way we think about and apply morality, and not in many positive ways. Misdeeds are amplified and distorted, the ensuing mob justice swift and rarely questioned. A trend that coincides with the ascension of identity politics, a celebration of victimhood that has obviously greased the process.

      The penchant these days for online, public moral preening would off-putting enough if it tended to be done by people who had depth of character and actually walked the walk in real life. But that’s rarely the case. And so we’re treated to the 21st century art of Internet shaming. Astonishing displays of hypocrisy where people highlight their own goodness and morality as they incite extreme, and extremely irrevocable cyber justice against a target du jour.

      Several high profile Internet shaming incidents have caught my attention over the past year and piqued my interest in the psychology at work, with the Britt McHenry episode being but the latest. What particularly interests me, however, is the piling on after the fact, and the way people are so quick to bend reality even to the point of lying – blatantly – to fit their new perception, to give them justification to join in with the mob. Which is why a particular aspect of the McHenry case caught my eye, that a month old blog post documenting an allegedly abusive, bullying Twitter encounter between McHenry and another woman was quickly dredged up and presented as corroborating evidence of her rottenness. Her despicable, attacking, bullying, unhinged, unglued, abusive, berating, belittling rottenness. (To quote language in media reports from around the globe, describing a Twitter exchange that nobody had yet bothered (wanted?) to look into.)


      The Twitter encounter and resulting blog post were documented by a woman named Sarah Sparkman, an attorney from Arkansas. Had the Great Towing Tirade never occurred, her story might also never have seen the light of day. But it did, and Ms. Sparkman seized the opportunity by retweeting a link to her blog post, subtly titled “I was attacked by an ESPN reporter for wanting equal treatment of women”, as soon as McHenry’s story broke. A media sniffing for blood got wind, and the rest is history.

      For her part, Ms. Sparkman has embraced her brush with fame. In addition to retweeting links to her blog post the moment McHenry’s GTT came to light, she actually was approached and sat for an interview on a local news broadcast. Which begs the question as to when Ms. Sparkman actually gets work done as a full-time Deputy City Attorney in Springdale, AR., what with media requests and the dozens of tweets (some days 100+) she sends out at all hours of the day, but that’s another matter.

      Her zeal to be torchbearer for the cyber mob that’s vilifying McHenry is appalling enough in its own right, but all the more so because her description of their encounter appears to be almost completely fabricated. She grossly mischaracterizes a mildly challenging, yet rather pedestrian exchange – the kind that happens, oh, about a billion or so times every day on Twitter (which might have something to do with it being a forum defined by 140 character exchanges). In fact, unless there exists an entire series of tweets beyond what Sparkman presented in the blog post she expressly put together to skewer McHenry, it’s no exaggeration to say she misrepresented literally every aspect of their exchange. And told multiple lies, very plainly, one after another, both in her blog and in a televised interview.

      The blog post reproduces several of Ms. McHenry’s tweets. Presumably, the nastiest, most insulting of the lot, the very ones that compelled Ms. Sparkman to take the time and effort to document the confrontation so thoroughly. The way she parses McHenry’s words, the lengths she goes to to characterize the whole exchange as a vicious, personal attack, is comical. Or at least would be comical, if the consequences weren’t so real. And if you’re unaware exactly how real, spend a few minutes Googling Britt McHenry. The bile that comes up is the same bile that will come up in 100 years. It’s vicious and permanent, forever on the record.


      I loathe the exercise of parsing through a blog post like Sparkman’s to point out the lies. It’s pedantic and a process that’s easily bent toward deception, just the way Sparkman herself did. But once in awhile, you have a case that’s so cut and dried that it’s a pretty quick and painless exercise. And a necessary one, to expose precisely what’s at work here.

      The short summary of her post is that it is one-sided bunk, and not even that one side qualifies as anything remotely approaching her claim of being attacked, bullied, or anything close. Words matter, and hers are completely disproportionate and out of line. She presents several screen grabs of McHenry tweets, absurdly reading vicious intent into each and every one, claiming insults that are plainly not there while selectively excluding other relevant, context-lending tweets from the exchange.

      The deception begins immediately, as Ms. Sparkman blatantly misrepresents what precipitated her encounter with McHenry. It all started when Sparkman decided to post this deep Twitter thought to spark a (140 character) conversation among her followers: “I wish there were more women in sports broadcasting that aren’t completely sexualized”.

      Among the few tweeted responses, one said: “Gets old. They did the same thing with Britt McHenry. But it gets the attention of the desired audience…”. And that’s when McHenry entered the conversation, after she had been cited as an example of a “sexualized” reporter. Something she understandably bristled at. Whether you see her as merely a victim or an active participant, the implication regarding her credibility is the same and it’s not positive.

      At one point in her McHenry-the-bully blog post, Sparkman admits in passing that someone had “mentioned” McHenry’s name in her Twitter roundtable. She makes no such allowance in her recent T.V. interview, stating only that she was trying to raise an issue important to her “…and the next thing you know, she’s entered the conversation. I didn’t know who she was at that point, but she did enter into it”. Clearly a case of the hovering blonde cuckoo, just waiting to swoop down and start crapping on people. For wanting “equal treatment of women”, no less.

      Her omission of context with respect to McHenry’s sudden interest in her Twitter feed is egregious, but it’s compounded by an obliviousness to the very cause she professes to hold so dear. The woman behind a “conversation” to promote the importance of women being taken seriously in their profession couldn’t quite grasp why another woman might mind being presented as an example of someone who’s not being taken seriously in her profession. That’s rich. And so she cluelessly continued on with a series of condescending “hey, relax. You’re a victim here, we’re with you, We’re not saying it’s your fault” type comments, baffled as to why they didn’t mollify McHenry.

      Britt McHenry’s first Twitter message to Sarah Sparkman was this: “…went to Northwestern & played competitive sports. What’s wrong with a woman wanting to look nice & be intelligent?” Challenging, perhaps – again, consider the context – but fairly innocuous. Sparkman saw it differently, describing the moment in her blog thusly: “A woman who is a complete stranger to me entered the conversation and began to attack me. Unfortunately, this stranger who attacked me turned out to be an ESPN reporter.”

      The absurdity of Sparkman’s characterization is self-evident, but also worth mentioning is the disingenuousness of her lament regarding McHenry being an ESPN reporter. The fact that her target was a public figure was the only thing giving her attention-seeking fairy tale any currency.

      The next several comments in their exchange reflect what happens WHEN YOU TRY TO HAVE A TWO-WAY CONVERSATION 140 CHARACTERS AT A TIME. McHenry kept pressing from the standpoint of someone who wanted an explanation of a slight, while Sparkman kept missing her point entirely, repeating the same bromide about having no problem with beautiful women journalists, just objecting to the sexualization part. As a just-cited example of a sexualized reporter, Britt McHenry asked her to “define that”. Given the context, I would take that to mean “how have I been sexualized? What do you mean? What exactly are you saying?” Sparkman chose to ignore the obvious context, pasting in the Wikipedia definition of sexualization instead. Nice.

      The rest of the exchange was unremarkable. Superficial, a few gentle barbs, and generally pointless, which tends to happen WHEN YOU TRY TO HAVE A TWO-WAY CONVERSATION 140 CHARACTERS AT A TIME. At one point an exasperated Sparkman referred to McHenry as a “rando”. McHenry responded by telling Sparkman that no, SHE was the rando. It was brutal, visceral, deeply personal stuff. Gives me the chills reading it, and I wasn’t even the target.

      Later, during her televised interview, Sparkman said the following on camera: ”Well, I can never judge the character of somebody else’s heart, but in both her comments to me and her words to the tow company employee, she attacked us for being uneducated, she attacked our looks, and she brought up the fact that she was on T.V. She was three for three in both of those instances.”

      In reality, Britt McHenry said nothing about Sarah Sparkman’s education, made no reference to her looks and never once mentioned that she was on T.V. A neat little trifecta of lies. Shamelessly spoken into a television camera.


      Spark man claims in her blog post that she left the entire exchange up on Twitter. Several days ago, while her twitter feed was still public, I scrolled back in vain trying to locate the exchange. Unfortunately, because of Sparkman’s prolific Twitter presence, the McHenry conversation was buried beneath hundreds and hundreds of tweets, which stopped rolling back long before I could reach March 12, the day of the attack. I contacted Sparkman via Twitter a few days ago to politely inquire (not much chance to be rude in 140 characters) as to the possibility of her making public her entire exchange with McHenry, not just a few selected tweets. She responded by blocking me almost instantaneously, then moving her entire Twitter account private so it can only be seen by her followers.

      The reality is, I allow for the possibility that Ms. Sparkman had an exchange with Ms. McHenry that was every bit as harrowing as what she described (OK, maybe that’s going a bit far, but anyway…) Maybe there’s another series of vicious, bullying, blood-curdling attack tweets from McHenry that Ms. Sparkman has chosen to exclude from her blog post. For PTSD type reasons or some such. There’s really no way to know. But in light of the fact that her account has been cited and amplified by imbeciles around the globe as proof of Britt McHenry’s rotten soul, and the fact that she felt comfortable sitting in front of a television camera and making a series of accusations that are absolutely not supported by anything she has made public thus far, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for her to clear things up a bit.

      If she can, and has other evidence to validate her claims about the terrible, awful run-in she had with Britt McHenry, I’ll gladly rework this piece so it conforms with the facts. But My suspicion is that nothing else will be forthcoming.

      One of the concluding paragraphs from Sarah Sparkman’s blog post is most telling. Consider it in the context of a fabricated narrative, put together for the purpose of drawing attention to herself and generating cyber hatred for Britt McHenry, a woman already in the crosshairs of an army of web character assassins:

      Sarah Sparkman: “I’m very fortunate that I’m confident in myself. Although I have a good job and have happy with my appearance, my success is not defined by my achievements or the attention I get, but rather in the actions I take to help other people live happier, safer, more loving lives. What if instead of being a confident adult, I was a young, insecure girl trying to share my thoughts with others? Her words could have seriously damaged a person. I’m actually grateful that she attacked me and not someone else.”

      Got that? She’s not in it for the attention, wants a world with cupcakes and butterflies and rainbows all around, and oh, by the way, don’t be bashful about calling are a flat-out hero. What is she hadn’t been there to draw McHenry’s fire? They might still be sifting through the carnage.

      Sarah Sparkman’s blog:

      T.V. interview: