George Bernard Shaw once said, “Never wrestle with a pig. You get all muddy and the pig enjoys it.” (I’m paraphrasing.)
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback would have been well-served to follow such advice, and as Christopher Budd points out, his office did an excellent job of making a minor blip into a major media circus. To make matters worse, much of what appeared in the original news story never actually happened.
Long story short: Emma Sullivan, an 18-year-old high school student, in Topeka for a Youth in Government session with the Governor, posts the following off-color Tweet:
The Governor’s office sends a nasty-gram to Youth in Government, (rightly, in my opinion), expressing displeasure at the student’s lack of respect for the Office. Her school principal calls her on the carpet and demands she write a letter of apology. The story lands on the front page of the Kansas City Star, becomes a free speech issue, and the Governor ends up apologizing to the student.
And the student’s roster of Twitter followers grew from 65 to 15,851 and counting.
Is this a great country or what?
Unfortunately, the meeting in the principal’s office, which became the eye of the media storm, didn’t happen the way it was reported.
The Star’s Nov. 23 story stated that Sullivan’s principal was, “forcing her to write an apology to the governor’s office, with the principal even giving her talking points to hit. [Shawnee Mission] East principal Karl R. Krawitz declined to comment on the matter Wednesday, calling it a disciplinary action: ‘It is a school issue, a private issue, not a public matter’.”
Turns out, Krawitz’s reluctance to initially discuss the matter became a “Three’s Company” moment. Only there’s no Regal Beagle in Kansas.
According to a blog post by Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah:
“It turns out one of teen tweeter Emma Sullivan’s original claims—that her principal was forcing her to apologize for an offensive tweet last month about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback—wasn’t true.
Shawnee Mission East Principal Karl Krawitz says in a blunt email to Brownback’s staff that ‘The governor should know we did not force any letter of apology.’ (The email is in a report by NBC Action News.)
And Sullivan belatedly this week acknowledged the same thing: No apology was ordered.”
Turns out the story was fed to the media by Sullivan’s older sister, a poli sci major at Wichita State, and many facts of the case were lost in translation.
But why should the facts ever stand in the way of a good story?
Personally, I agree with with the Governor’s communications director, Sherriene Jones-Sontag (as quoted by the Star):
“[The tweet] wasn’t respectful…In order to really have a constructive dialogue, there has to be mutual respect…It was important for [Youth in Government] to be aware of the comments their students were making…It’s also important for students to recognize the power of social media, how lasting it is. It is on the Internet.”
Listen up, corporate big-wigs, government leaders and persons in power: YOU ARE NOT GOING TO WIN AGAINST THE LITTLE GUY IN THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION. Not ever.
But feel free to pig-wrestle. Just do so at your own risk. And think twice before going after someone smaller than yourself.