Allow me to share with you a story I’ve never told; one which perfectly demonstrates everything that is wrong with today’s American society and culture.
I have long argued that this nation’s biggest problem is a self-esteem deficit. Beginning in the 90’s, I began to point out that if individual people were more confident, self-assured, and self-aware the plurality of our problems would be solved almost instantly. Now more than ever, as we live in a social-media-driven world filled with everything being called “shaming,” our self-worth is dictated by how many likes and re-tweets we get. People literally need the approval of others, and in many cases, strangers, via their Instagram and Snapchat posts.
We have created a world in which everything we do must be instantly shared and reported and, most importantly, validated. And remember, if you say anything negative, or God forbid you express an opinion contrary to what the narrative is, you are a bully.
Enter this gem of an illustration which I lived through first hand: (to protect those involved and in the spirit of the Non-Disclosure-Agreement which was entered into mutually by all parties involved I will be vague about specifics, but the “money shot,” will not be lost).
In my 28 years of doing professional radio I have been slandered and/or libeled a few times. It takes a lot to offend me, and I also understand that if you’re going to dish it out, you have to take it, so I usually look the other way, even when blatantly false things are being said. For example, a few years ago we made some major personnel changes on the show. Immediately, social media “knew” everything and lie upon lie about what was done, why it was done and how it was done was spewed. Many in my inner circle demanded I go after the people spreading the lies, impugning my character, and calling me everything from a coward to a bully. I refused. I wanted to look forward and not backwards, and as I said at the time, “you can’t sue everyone.” Plus, showing actual damages would have been rather difficult since the show skyrocketed in popularity and in the ratings as a result of the changes made.
I’m willing to take a lot of shots, but I have my limits. When someone says something provably false about me which calls my character as a man or human being into question, I simply can’t and won’t tolerate it.
As an aside, I should dispel a popular misconception. There’s an urban legend that says you can’t slander a public figure. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if your livelihood is based in whole or in part on your reputation and good standing (as mine is) it is actually quite easy to slander that person and even easier for the public figure to win a settlement. Trust me, I’ve been there and I’ve never lost.
And so, at various times throughout my career I have had to fight back, and when I do, I fight hard.
Such was the case when someone posted a comment on our show’s Facebook page which was patently and provably false and attacked my personal integrity as both a man and a human being. I was beyond livid and immediately instructed my lawyer at the time to find the person and initiate restitution talks.
Long story short, the clown admitted freely that he had absolutely no proof of his claim whatsoever and he made it up for no reason other than to say something mean about me. Side note; the only form of pushback we got from him was when he said “how can a stranger slander someone they’ve never met?” I thought my lawyer was going to die from laughing in his face at his ignorance.
So…there we were…he admitted it was a lie, and after having slander explained to him, he admitted he had slandered me. The ball was now squarely in my court. I could have easily demanded a large financial settlement and, had he refused, could have ushered him into court for a slam dunk victory on my behalf. Instead, I asked for one very simple thing; a public apology in the exact same forum he had made the slanderous claim. Nothing more than a post on our Facebook page that said “on such and such date I claimed that Rob did X, Y, and Z…none of it was true, I made it up and I apologize.” That’s it, that’s all I asked for, and nothing more.
I’m usually pretty stone-faced in meetings like this but I’m almost certain my mouth dropped to the floor.
Here we had a guy acknowledging slander, knowing the potential consequences, and being given the gift of leniency on my part, and he says “no, I can’t do that. I can’t let people know that I made it up. My friends will disown me and my Facebook followers will unfriend me.”
What a world.
Having done our research, my lawyer and I knew this guy had no money to speak of, so we figured the threat of a financial penalty would scare him into accepting the terms of our offer so we said “OK, if you’re unwilling to apologize publicly than we demand that you sign a document pledging, under threat of perjury, that you will never again speak of Mr. Williams and that you donate a five-figure-sum to a charity of Mr. Williams’ choice in his name.”
“Can I use my credit cards to make the donation,” he asked. My lawyer at the time made sure to clarify what he was potentially agreeing to. He would be literally maxing out the only three credit cards he had, with no reason to believe he’d be able to pay more than the minimum monthly payments anytime soon, with no tax benefit, as the donation would be made in my name, all so he didn’t have to apologize on social media for something he knew and admitted was false. He acknowledged that he understood and again repeated that he wasn’t willing to be viewed by his friends and followers as someone who had been caught in a lie. The prospect was devastating to him. Sitting across from him, I felt nothing but pity for this lifeless soul, but not enough to let him off the hook. Choices have consequences and his was nigh.
In the end, we sat there and watched as we facilitated the call to my chosen charity and he promptly used every ounce of credit he had, including having to call one of his cards and ask for an extension on his limit to complete the transaction. He then signed the agreement that he’d never again speak of me and we mutually agreed that specifics of the deal (names, dollar amounts, etc) wouldn’t be revealed or discussed publicly.
Take a moment and let that all sink in. Think about how pathetic someone must be to be so afraid of the scorn of social media that he is willing to financially devastate himself to save whatever reputation he thinks he has. Once you’ve thought about it, explain to me how you see a positive future for this society.