ABC News’ Suzan Clarke and Katie Kindelan report:
Jennifer Livingston, a morning anchor with WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wis., is used to getting feedback from viewers. But when a male viewer wrote her a letter chiding her for being overweight, the mother of three took action.
In an on-air editorial address Tuesday morning that lasted more than four minutes, Livingston acknowledged being overweight – even obese – then added, “To the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that?”
She followed up by thanking her colleagues, family friends and the others who have come to her defense.
“I will never be able to thank you enough for your words of support and for taking a stand against this bully,” she said. “We are better than this email. We are better than the bullies that will try to take us down.”
Livingston’s bold statement in her own defense made headlines around the world and today she told “Good Morning America” why she decided to speak out.
“This was a personal attack,” Livingston said. “Calling me obese is one thing. Calling me a bad role model for our community that I’ve worked at for 15 years and especially for young girls when I have three girls was a low blow and I thought it was uncalled for and I wanted to call him out on it.”
In a story on its website, WKBT identified the letter writer as Kenneth W. Krause.
“I think, in his mind, he [Krause] views himself as being helpful which is what I think a little bit of the problem is,” she said. “He doesn’t see that the way that he approached it was clearly hurtful to me. He’s trying to shame me into losing weight. That’s not being helpful. That’s being a bully.”
Livingston’s husband, Mike Thompson, who is an evening anchor on the same station, posted the viewer’s letter on his Facebook page. As posted, the letter read:
“It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years. Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Thompson defended his wife on “GMA,” explaining that Krause, like others who comment anonymously, did so without knowing the facts.
“What really angered me more so than his attack on her not being a role model for the community is that he doesn’t know Jennifer. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know our family,” Thompson said. “He doesn’t know that Jennifer has ran triathlons. He doesn’t know that she ran in a race last weekend, a 5-K race. She works out two or three times a week. She is going to run in a race this weekend. He doesn’t know that.”
“He doesn’t know that she has a condition, a thyroid condition, that makes it harder for her to lose weight. He doesn’t know any of that,” he said. “He just decided to attack her for no reason.”
In her on-air address, Livingston also pointed out that October was National Anti-Bullying Month, and advised parents to be careful how they conducted themselves around their children so they didn’t pass on negative lessons.
“I do believe that for the majority of kids out there, this behavior is learned. It’s coming from somewhere else,” Livingston said on “GMA.” “We all as adults need to take the time to have the discussion with our children about what’s important, about whether kindness is the way that we want to be or do we want to be critical about the way someone looks.”
Livingston also urged children who were victims of bullying not to allow themselves to be defined by those bullies, a lesson she said she and Thompson passed along to their own 10-year-old daughter.
“We basically told her that this might be something that she has to deal with in the future,” she said. “She needs to be strong and hopefully she can follow my example and now the example of people all over the world.”
Commenters on Thompson’s page engaged in a fierce discussion about topic. As of Tuesday night, more than 1,500 people had posted their opinions.
“This story is all over Facebook and your wife is amazing!!! Seriously can you imagine having to be the person who wrote the email, to have to live each day as a mean and rude person. I feel sorry for the person who wrote it. That person is a jerk and that is a miserable thing to be,” one person wrote, echoing many emails of support.
But others felt differently, including one poster who took Livingston to task for her response and her weight:
“Since when is it a virtue to be obese?” the commenter wrote. “And where is the bullying in the e-mail? The tone of the e-mail does not offend. It is normal that a viewer would write about a public personality about her excess weight. The fact that you love her with her excess weight Mr. Thompson does not mean it is ok to be fat … don’t hide behind bullying, this man is not bullying you, he is just asking you to do something about your excess weight. GIVE UP A FEW BURGERS AND CUT THE CHEESE. START MOVING JENNIFER!”
WKTB said Krause submitted the following statement in response to Livingston’s editorial:
“Given this country’s present epidemic of obesity and the many truly horrible diseases related thereto, and considering Jennifer Livingston’s fortuitous position in the community, I hope she will finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee Region children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year, and, to that end, I would be absolutely pleased to offer Jennifer any advice or support she would be willing to accept.”