Kevin Smith, Southwest Airlines and Reporting Etiquette
Don’t Rile Silent Bob Up, or He’ll Use “The Force” on You
Hollywood director Kevin Smith took to CNN once again and made it clear why a Brand and even the media should take personal ownership of their mistakes. And sometimes an apology is almost as hard as a “Jedi Mind Trick.” Almost.
It’s almost a year ago to the day that Hollywood Director Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest airlines flight, for reasons that are still yet to be determined. (His words.) Due to my sudden lack of technical prowess or the Blog Gods being mad at me, I cannot embed the video hosted by CNN. Therefore I am providing a link to watch Smith’s latest interview with CNN Host Joy Behar, via the CNN website, that aired Tuesday evening on February 2, 2011. During the interview, Smith discussed his ouster from a Southwest Airlines flight on that fateful February day.
What do Southwest Airlines and Kevin Smith have to do with mistakes that writers can make?
Well, if you look back to a November post from our very own Crystal C., you’ll see a section devoted to the one and only Mr. Smith (also affectionately known as Silent Bob). Crystal’s post discussed a handful of brands who encountered some pitfalls when it came to their social media efforts and how they can Avoid Social Media Meltdowns in the future.
During Smith’s interview tonight he discussed a few “ill practices” that were committed against him not only by Southwest’s social media team, but the main-stream news outlets as well.
So let’s go over some of Kevin Smith’s gripes, real quick:
1) Be Fair to Your Subject
Just because Smith uses self-deprecating humor about himself, it doesn’t mean that writers have the right to use the terms he uses so liberally. (i.e., Smith while in his Silent Bob character and his cohort Jay refer to himself as Lunchbox, fat ass, again you get the point). Smith pointed out how main-stream news outlets pretty much threw around the “fat” words. Only a few outlets used quotes around the words.
2) What’s the Story
Smith pointed out that his situation turned into a weight-related story, because everyone just assumed that was why he was kicked off the flight. Smith to Behar, “What frustrated me more than anything in the world was… I felt like nobody told the real story. The real story was, I was a consumer that a company ‘F-d’ with. Poorly. And without good reason. That to me is the real story. Fat guy in a little chair [sang Smith]…. Because I used [the word] fat in my Tweets; that it became a fat story.” Smith then referred to Philadelphia newspaper that ran a header, “Blimp Landed.”
3) Tell the Truth
Then Smith went on to bring out the heavy (pun not intended) artillery. When the powers that be removed Smith from the plane, he pointed out that he was buckled securely in the seat and had his arm rest safely down. In other words, he was a passenger who was riding in accordance to the rules.
After his ouster from the flight, Southwest (as mentioned in Crystal’s Nov. Blog Post) Airlines, which has a heavy social media presence, took to its blog to discuss the Smith fiasco and made a few boo-boos along the way. One such boo-boo was where the blog specifically mentioned that the pilot requested Smith’s removal because Smith was too heavy. Ever hear of the phrase, “Don’t write a check that you can’t cash?” If the bloggers for Southwest Airlines hadn’t yet, they probably have by now. Almost immediately after hearing the pilot story, Smith took his rather prominent social media outlets and called their bluff about the pilot story. It was removed almost immediately. Why? The pilot came out and said he had nothing to do with it. To this day (as stated earlier) Smith wants to know “Why?”. He wants the true story told. Smith even challenged Southwest Airlines to join him on the Daily Show, have him buckle into one of their seats in front of a live, televised audience. He’s still waiting.
What else did Southwest Airlines do wrong? They never once issued an apology (which is pretty much what its looking like Smith is asking for), nor did they issue a correction or apology to the pilot story. I’m curious as to how the pilot feels about this. Although my guess is that he is probably just happy to not have his name in the press next to an angry Smith.
4) Whose Words Are They Anyway?
Just because Smith calls himself names, doesn’t give anyone a journalistic license to. It’s visually obvious that Smith was overweight as of last February. However, phrases used in the articles at that time were making reference to Smith speaking about himself, except they never had a direct attribution added on to the statements. Instead, sentences took on a life of their own where the author took on the role of antagonist. Essentially, by not attributing the “fat-speak” to Smith himself, the author was calling Smith fat. During tonight’s interview with Behar, Smith took the time to point that out. And if you pay close enough attention at how he speaks about this situation it helps drive home the point that words can hurt – whether they are being used by the originator or used at the originator.
So, what do you do when you are caught in uncomfortable situations, such as one of the ones Smith called out?
For starters, “Man/Woman-Up, admit your mistake(s). That is of course as long as you can’t be sued over the apology. Remember, admission can sometimes open you up to being sued, but that’s a whole other article sitting in my brain waiting to hit this Blog on a rainy day. For now, all we can do as humans is hope that the party receiving the apology will understand and everyone can move on from there. Until then, we get to watch the charming Mr. Smith school anyone who crosses his path and doesn’t apologize.
Uncomfortable mistakes happen. They can happen anywhere you go.
Whether you are online, offline, in a line, walking a zig zag, or are standing in place or sitting in an uncomfortable budget-airline seat … you get the point, stuff can happen. If you are a writer who predominately posts on the Internet, it’s important to remember that you have a certain responsibility to keep your writing as accurate as humanly possible. It’s also important to remember that your work will immediately be at the mercy of the public. Let me also remind you that no one, I repeat no one is infallible. We all make mistakes at one point or another. It’s how we handle them can set the tone for the fallout that can occur.