What Is True/Slant?
275+ knowledgeable contributors.
Reporting and insight on news of the moment.
Follow them and join the news conversation.

Aug. 7 2009 - 11:19 am | 275 views | 1 recommendation | 4 comments

A reputation nightmare: Becoming the ’sexting’ mascot

Joanna Argus is caught up in a reputational nightmare thanks to a T.V. friend's joke

Joanna Argus is stuck in a reputational nightmare thanks to a T.V. friend

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.”


2 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 4 Total Comments
Post your comment »
  1. collapse expand

    I don’t understand the need to post Ms. Argus’ photo with this story. Her problems originated when she became the “face” of Cincinnati sexting. While your article ostensibly decries the invasion of her privacy by the small market association of her image with sexting, by including her photo, you have now helped to broadcast her image to a more national audience. I regret that now I too associate not only her name, but her face with sexting. It appears Ms. Argus has a completely founded fear that her image might be seen by “millions” of viewers. It’s a shame that this article alone has added more than 6,000 to that growing group.

  2. collapse expand

    Cheatham– I certainly see your point, but this article is not accusing her of being a “sexter.” In fact, it’s clarifying that she is not one. This article is about a young woman fighting against a huge media company after being wronged. I think it’s a completely different context.

    • collapse expand

      Ms. Hill- I understand that the body of your article works to clarify that Ms. Argus is not a “sexter” (or would prefer not to be identified as one). I admit that the text does a laudable job of conveying the privacy issue raised by her situation. I do not believe, however, that the substance of your article benefits from the inclusion of her actual photograph.

      When grabbing headlines from your blog, I read “A reputation nightmare: Becoming the ’sexting’ mascot,” and I see her name and face. The message I take from this two-second scan is that an identifiable Joanna Argus is a sexter. This is exactly the type of public reaction I believe Ms. Argus wishes to prevent. I grant you that a full reading of your article indicates that the smiling Ms. Argus is unlikely to publicize images of her unmentionables. From a privacy standpoint, however, I have trouble understanding the need to photographically identify her. An image of a cellphone with its screen blurred would seem equally effective at grabbing reader attention (what? sex?!), without further publicizing the face of a woman who does not want her face publicized.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
Log in for notification options
Comments RSS

Post Your Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment

Log in with your True/Slant account.

Previously logged in with Facebook?

Create an account to join True/Slant now.

Facebook users:
Create T/S account with Facebook

My T/S Activity Feed


    About Me

    I am a writer, reporter, editor and blogger. I'm an editor at Above The Law, where I blog about lawyers, judges, law firms and the legal industry. Here at True/Slant, I write about our changing notions of privacy.

    If you have story ideas or tips, e-mail me at kashhill@trueslant.com. I've hung out in quite a few newsrooms over the last few years. Currently, I can be found in Breaking Media's Nolita office. In the past, I've been found in midtown Manhattan at The Week Magazine, in Hong Kong at the International Herald Tribune, and in D.C. at the National Press Foundation and the Washington Examiner.

    I have few illusions about privacy -- feel free to follow me on Twitter: kashhill. Or friend me on Facebook... though I might put you on limited profile.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 401
    Contributor Since: March 2009
    Location:New York, NY

    What I'm Up To

    • Staying Above The Law


      Over at Above The Law, I write about lawyers, law firms, judges and the legal industry.

      We especially like “colorful news.” (Yes, that’s a euphemism for gossip.)

      Check out the site here and my stuff here.


    • Writing with real ink

      While most of my writing occurs online at Above The Law and True/Slant, I do occasionally venture into the world of print.  These are some of the magazines and newspapers that I’ve written for:

      The Washington Post

      Washingtonian Magazine

      Time Out New York

      The Orange County Register

      The Washington Examiner

    • Recent projects

      washingtonian issue for tsThe latest (and longest) “real ink” project: the cover story for Washingtonian Magazine’s December issue.

      While I’m usually a writer and reporter, I’m sometimes asked to play pundit. In November, the New York Times asked me to write a mini op-ed for its Room for Debate blog. In December, BBC radio asked me to talk about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook privacy settings for its Newshour (19:00 minute mark), based on this True/Slant post.

    • +O
    • +O
    • +O