NBC found itself facing a social media crisis this weekend after Saturday Night Live writer Katie Rich tweeted the following on Saturday:
As of Sunday afternoon, Rich deleted not only the tweet, but also her account altogether.
While that’s admirable, to protect its brand, NBC itself should take further steps to distance itself from Ms. Rich.
Politics aside, I believe that young children should be kept out of political discourse.
We choose a great many things in life – including our friends, our careers, and our values.
But we do not choose our parents. Barron Trump did not ask to be born into privilege, much less to be born the son of a now-U.S. President.
Further, Barron Trump is 10 years old. Targeting such a young child is inappropriate, regardless of the context.
NBC finds itself in an already-vulnerable position due to the seemingly partisan (here, anti-Trump) nature of the network, home to liberal news channel MSNBC and satirical show Saturday Night Live.
This tweet was misguided on four counts:
1) It unfairly targets a 10-year-old.
As noted above, Barron Trump did not ask to be born into such a wealthy, privileged or powerful family. And the U.S. press has long abided by the unspoken rule that the President’s young children are off-limits.
For those of you who might think he is fair game, imagine a similarly mean-spirited statement targeted at one (or both) of the Obama daughters.
2) It denigrates home-schooling.
People home-school for many reasons, but among the most common are:
- A poor public school alternative; or
- A desire to raise your children with the values that you espouse, which may differ significantly from those of your local formal schooling options.
While I was lucky enough to be born into a family that lived in a suburb with a solid public school, many are not.
Also, my father was not a multi-millionaire and public figure – the kind that might have made me a potential kidnapping target.
That aside, the point is home-schooling is a difficult but valuable option for many.
3) It makes light of school shootings.
From Columbine to Sandy Hook, school shootings are a serious problem in the U.S. They should be off-limits for comedic purposes.
Using such tragedies for laughs dishonors the victims and their families.
4) It’s an example of cyber-bullying, which is a real problem in our society.
Yes – President Trump arguably engaged in cyber-bullying – of individual people as well as companies, when he was President-elect.
But that doesn’t mean opponents of the president should follow his example.
In the words of former First Lady Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”
NBC’s Crisis Response
NBC missed a critical opportunity to get ahead of this social media crisis for its brand by issuing a statement within 24 hours.
Faced with this PR crisis, NBC should do two things:
1. Issue a Statement Condemning the Tweet
While it is clear this tweet was the act of one individual and represents neither the views of Saturday Night Live or parent company NBC, this still needs to be made explicit.
As unfortunate as it is, NBC cannot hope to weather the storm through silence.
Rather, it has been given a key opportunity to demonstrate that it is listening to the public and to assert that it has zero tolerance for cyber bullying.
A short statement would suffice. It will have even greater power, given the conservative right’s belief that NBC (and Saturday Night Live in particular) is vehemently anti-Trump.
2. Fire Katie Rich
While ordinarily I would not advise such drastic measures, Ms. Rich went so far beyond the bounds of decency that she will likely (and should) lose her job.
The tweet was horrifying for all of the reasons outlined above – even more so because there are many legitimate reasons to criticize the new president.
For the news media to have credibility – and the public to have faith in the Fourth Estate as it continues to speak truth to political power – reporters, pundits and network executives alike must unite in agreement that some things are indeed off-limits.
That begins here.