"I’m on television and you’re in a f**kin’ trailer, honey”: Britt McHenry’s tantrum video puts angry, entitled celebs on notice

An ESPN reporter gets suspended -- thanks to the power of video

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published April 17, 2015 6:32PM (EDT)
Britt McHenry       (CNN/LiveLeak)
Britt McHenry (CNN/LiveLeak)

We all have "intense and stressful moments." We've all had to call the cable company or deal with some yahoo in traffic or pick up a package at the P.O. or take public transportation during weekend service interruptions. They are soul crushing, demoralizing experiences that will infuriate the best of us. But only some of us default to the classic "I am a superior human being and you are garbage" routine when our backs are against the wall. And in both her original actions and her lame apology, ESPN reporter Britt McHenry appears to be one of those people.

In a heated exchange that recently appeared on LiveLeak, the 28 year-old sports reporter ran through a Greatest Hits of angry entitlement after getting her car towed from an Arlington Chinese restaurant. In the video, she tells an Advanced Towing attendant, "I'm in the news sweetheart, I will f___ing sue this place." She goes on to berate her, "That's why I have a degree and you don't." She says the woman has "no education, no skill set" and asks her, "So I could be a college dropout and do the same thing? Why, 'cause I have a brain and you don't? Maybe if I was missing some teeth they would hire me. Cause I'm on television and you're in a f___in' trailer, honey. Lose some weight, baby girl." Northwestern must be so proud!

According to Busted Coverage, Advanced Towing's Gina Michelle has been trying to get attention for the encounter for a few weeks now. Earlier this month she asked on Facebook, "As a woman in the public eye and posting on her Facebook page about negative words hurting others, is this appropriate?" ESPN has now suspended McHenry for one week, and on Thursday, McHenry posted an apology, saying, "In an intense and stressful moment, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me and said some insulting and regrettable things. As frustrated as I was, I should always choose to be respectful and take the high road. I am so sorry for my actions and will learn from this mistake." As Sorrywatch notes, she did not, however, apologize directly to the employee she insulted, or acknowledge her particularly grotesque class and body shaming technique.

McHenry had been out at a restaurant earlier, so it's possible her judgment may have been impacted by something she consumed. And having very recently been out with a friend whose car was also towed while we were cozily ensconced inside, I know that chasing after one's vehicle and having to shell out hundreds of dollars to retrieve it is not the optimum way to end a night out. I can attest that one does not feel too warmly toward the person one is handing a credit card over to, for the privilege of driving one's own car. And Advanced Towing specifically does have a less than a stellar reputation for customer service — and a long history of what appears to be some very zealous towing and a Yelp rap for damaging vehicles. That said, don't be abusive. Period. And your comeback to someone you're mad at for taking your money shouldn't ever be that she's overweight. It makes you like young Conrad Hilton, whose air rage blowup over the nightmare of flying with a bunch of "peasants" and vow that "I could get you all fired in five minutes. I know your boss. My father will pay this out," got him charged with interfering with a flight crew.

On USA Today, writer Chris Chase says that ESPN "got it wrong" in suspending McHenry for merely a week, saying, "Represent your company well and have the comportment, confidence and trust of someone we want to let into our homes every night. After that video and a mini seven-day vacation, how can ESPN expect anyone in America to want to do that for Britt McHenry?" It's a valid question — and one that will likely continue to be asked about other temper-prone personalities. It's foolish to assume there isn't a security camera recording your prissy meltdown, or an interested bystander with a cellphone willing to step up. Note how, in the video, the insulted clerk fights back with the threat, "I'll play your video, so careful." McHenry, at that moment, sees herself as the person with the advantage, because as she itemizes, she's on television, she went to a good college, she feels her weight and teeth are superior to that of the woman behind the desk. What that woman has, however, is the power of the image.

We are all too eager in our culture to pounce upon legitimate and honest mistakes and foibles and to shame people — women in particular — for being human. But there are also still moments when truly bad, selfish and mean behavior is justifiably exposed. Most of us don't know McHenry or know what she's like when she's not browbeating towing company employees, but it's a safe bet her tirade didn't come out of nowhere. It came too quickly and easily to believe that. As if perhaps it wasn't the first time she'd ever entertained thoughts like that. I believe that people can learn from their mistakes and grow. But I also believe that until McHenry figures out who she needs to tell she's sorry, she's not there yet.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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