A reputation nightmare: Becoming the ’sexting’ mascot
Earlier this year, the media went crazy over “sexting.” It has all the elements of a great, salacious, audience-attracting story: flirtation, cell phones, nude photos, and oftentimes, teens. For those who somehow avoided being inundated with the stories, sexting is the sending of sexually explicit messages or photos between cell phones.
One of the stations which ran a series of these stories is WLWT in Cincinnati, Ohio. The station repeatedly used a photo of a cell phone with a text to Joanna Argus saying “Hey baby, I got what you want.”
Joanna Argus, an Ohio woman in her late twenties who works as a fundraising consultant, found out about this for the first time when one of her clients called to ask about it. She was shocked, confused, and worried about who else would see it. She complained to the station, and the station’s manager promised it would not happen again. But it did happen again: at least six times over nine months, and was also used as the image for a presentation to a group of high schoolers on the dangers of sexting.
Argus is not the scandalous sexting type. An independent consultant, she works for non-profits, like the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and helps raise money for foundations. Being self-employed, her reputation is important for her work, and “Cincinnati may be the most conservative city in North America,” said her lawyer, Michael Lyon. On Monday, Argus filed a lawsuit against the Hearst Corporation, the media conglomerate which owns the T.V. station, for invasion of privacy, defamation, emotional distress, and negligence.
After the jump, find out about Hearst’s insulting offer and how the station got the “sext” in the first place.
The lawsuit complaint is available via Courthouse News Service [pdf] and goes into great detail about what happened to Argus. A question it does not answer though is how WLWT got the sext text in the first place. Argus’s lawyer, Michael Lyon, told me that an employee at the station is a good friend of Argus’s, with their friendship dating back to third grade. When the station decided to cover the sexting phenomenon, some newscasters didn’t understand exactly what sexting was. The friend decided to send Argus a few sexting texts as a joke between them and as an example for his co-workers.
His co-workers took a photo and then proceeded to use that photo as THE image to accompany all future stories about sexting, without the friend’s knowledge, said Lyon.
The image has since been seen by clients of Argus, her mother, her friends, and potentially “millions” of others, according to the complaint [pdf].
Argus and her friend complained many times to the T.V. station and were told the image would not be used again, but it was. Repeatedly. The last time was in March.
Hearst sent its general counsel to Ohio to speak with Argus after Michael Lyon took her case. According to her lawyer, Hearst offered to make a $5,000 donation to the Cincinnati School of Journalism in order to make amends for the damage to Argus. But the donation would be in Hearst’s name. Yeah…
And that’s why Argus filed the lawsuit this week seeking $25,000 in damages. Her lawyer says it’s not about money though. Argus wants the chance to go to court before a jury and defend her name.
“It takes a long time for a woman to build a positive reputation,” said Michael Lyon. “She’s not a public figure. If Hearst has First Amendment protection for this, I quit.”