question of the day: What could the press have done for Kevin Smith?

Of course we’ve all been hearing about Kevin Smith’s misadventures with Southwest Airlines, but I wasn’t sure that there was much to say about it beyond what Smith has already said. In my leftover links this past weekend, I pointed you to Smith’s own account of the affair, in which he explains why he’s so angry: it’s not about how it came as a newsflash to him that he’s fat; it’s about how Southwest has shitty customer service. Shitty customer service is something that pisses me off too, but it’s hardly a newsflash, either, that customers are absolutely the last thing that many companies worry about.

But today I came across an article at MTV in which Smith’s perfectly reasonable anger takes on another perfectly reasonable angle:

“Everyone’s going, ‘He’s fat’ for the next f—ing three days; the top of Google News is everyone in the world telling me I’m fat. Everyone on network [TV] telling me I’m fat; ‘Entertainment Tonight’ put a f—ing chick in a fat suit and put her on a plane. I’m like, ‘What does this have to do [with anything]?’

“The [fat story] is the sexy story that everybody wants to write … I was so mad at the press because for 15 years I’ve done nothing but tell you the truth and give you interesting sh– to write about. And this one time, when you could have come to my aid, all you did was let me dangle and let these f—ers call me fat. Heartbreaking, heartbreaking.”

As Larry Carroll, the writer of the piece, notes right at the top of the article:

In the entire history of the cinema, you’d have a hard time finding a filmmaker who has made himself more accessible than Kevin Smith. From his low-budget convenience-store beginnings to his current incarnation as director of the Bruce Willis comedy “Cop Out,” every move the guy has made over the last decade-and-a-half seems to have been chronicled in some sort of media report, blog, tweet, book or podcast.

Is Smith right to feel let down by those to whom he has given so much over the years? Or is it “just” that the mainstream media is in the same place as an outfit like Southwest Airlines, placing quality service — like substantive journalism — way down at the bottom of its list of priorities? I mean, some journalist could have used Smith’s experience as the jumping-off point for an in-depth look at how so many corporations simply don’t make customer service a priority, or about how much the experience of airline travel has declined in recent years, or about how we’ve all gotten so used to be treated like shit that it takes a celebrity complaining about it for it to be heard. But instead it becomes a sideshow masquerading as news.

What could the press have done for Kevin Smith?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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Wed, Feb 24, 2010 12:54pm

It’s all about the spectacle. Everyone (or at least everyone who flies and doesn’t use private jets) knows that the experience is hell. So that’s not news. Nor is the fact that Kevin Smith weighs more than Callista Flockhart. But the imagined visual of a big guy wedged into a seat must have seemed compelling. Maybe there might also be an element of schadenfreude — the masses enjoying a director with name recognition being booted from a plane. While I have sympathy for his being pilloried, and in no way approve of this form of journalism, I’m not sure the press owes him any gentler treatment than anyone else.

Bill Mason
Wed, Feb 24, 2010 1:40pm

So wait. He deserves to be a headline story because he’s “fat” because…he’s not owed anything better from the press?

Never mind what the press owes or doesn’t owe him. (I do think it’s somewhat egotistical for him to complain that the press owes *him* personally anything.) Doesn’t the media owe *us* something better? Us being the general population that Kevin Smith is included in.

The answer would be yes. Which means it won’t happen because it’s not eye-catching enough to do those stories for an audience with a 30 second attention span.

Yes, I am in a cynical mood today. But I’m also not sure I’m wrong.

Wed, Feb 24, 2010 2:03pm

The problem with the news story was that it wasn’t accurate. According to his Twitter feed and podcast, Kevin Smith met SWA’s criteria for flying in a single seat: He fit between the armrests. He did not even need a seatbelt extension (which isn’t a requirement). Neither of the other passengers seated on his row complained. Southwest Airlines lied to him about why he was being removed from the flight (saying the pilot made the decision) and misrepresented the incident on their blog.

The majority of the press took the easy route, relaying the “too fat to fly” story, probably from a SWA press release. Lee Stranahan at Huffington Post eventually wrote a factual piece, but the conventional wisdom has pretty much already been established that he was taken off due to his weight.

Wed, Feb 24, 2010 2:08pm

I think the media did owe him better treatment. Not BECAUSE he was KEVIN SMITH but because he is a human being. The media made this a joke , a 30 second clip where people can laugh at “the fat guy” They glossed over the real facts about the situation .
It was handled like gossip and rumours in junior high school.
There was a much better story here then just a famous big guy on a plane.
People care to much about size and less about human dignity and fair treatment for all.
Is it healthy to be overweight or underweight? No . Do those people who are stick thin or very large deserve to be treated like a lower life form? No.

Everyone deserve respect and consideration. The airline was being dishonest and down right rude.
The media was just looking for a joke.

I know that is the way the world works. Everyone says oh well life isn’t fair.
I just think that is a cop out. Just because this is the way it is -doesn’t mean you stop trying to be a better person, to hold the media to better standards and try your best to be fair,honest and considerate .

Remy Michael
Remy Michael
Wed, Feb 24, 2010 2:26pm

I really don’t think that Kevin Smith is saying that the press owed him anything – just that he’s angry about the way the story was handled – which I find perfectly reasonable.

I’ve been following the story fairly closely, mainly because the original subject matter hits especially close to home, and frankly, I’m angry at the way the media handled the story as well.

I do think that the media owed it to everyone to do a better job at this story; 1) because it’s their job, 2) because there is a bigger problem they could have covered other than Kevin Smith’s weight problems, and 3) because it should have actually been an easy story to get right since there are only a few people involved and the facts were agreed upon by Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines something like 30 minutes after the incident.

The day the news broke, I thought it was unfortunate for Kevin Smith (as I am a fan), but more unfortunate for the girl on the second plane (that almost no one reported on) and for others who will never get their story told. But just for a moment, I was hoping that the coverage would have brought up the issues at hand, exposed some of the fat-bashing going on everyday, and maybe even put a human face to it. Instead, we ended up with a bunch of garbage reports, misleading headlines, and a spark for even more hatred and awful behavior.

So I guess my answer to “What could the press have done for Kevin Smith?” is: they could have told his story – factually and in a timely matter – or passed on it altogether. Isn’t that what we should all ask of our media?

Wed, Feb 24, 2010 3:34pm

I hate sitting next to fat people in cramped quarters like planes but I do feel for Kevin Smith in this instance. If nobody was complaining about it and he passed the arm rest test, then it seems like the airline were being air-nazis for chucking him off the plane.

However, he may be a bit naive to expect anything from the media. He just fills a column in a newspaper, a minute of air time. This happens to many people all the time. He’s just lucky he’s famous enough to put his own side of the story out. Cos most people have no recourse.

Wed, Feb 24, 2010 5:28pm

I wonder how many people hate sitting next to me because my shoulders are wider than the armrests. (That’s why I prefer sitting by the aisle even in movie theaters.) All those years of weight lifting, just to get thrown off a plane someday.

Wed, Feb 24, 2010 6:24pm

This whole story makes no sense at all. I fly SWA all the time. They are routinely polite and easy going. Extremely large individuals are a routine event.
Let me be clear. I have seen Kevin Smith and his weight is no way outside of the ordinary SWA passenger guidelines.
On top of that, the Smith twitters make it clear that he was flying bulkhead (row #1). That row has more legroom and routinely accomadates people with physical disabilites.

Makes no sense at all.

Wed, Feb 24, 2010 8:25pm

drewryce, those are similar to the points that Mr. Smith makes. He is angry because he suspects that the reason he was thrown off the the plane is not because he was fat. In fact, he claims to have made eye contact with a much larger individual as he was leaving who was not ejected.

I agree that he was treated poorly, but after listening to about two minutes of the rambling diatribe on his podcast, I have trouble feeling any sympathy for him. He talks like a person who is used to being surrounded by people who pretend to be interested in every single word that comes out of his mouth. I wish he’d just state the main points (the podcast is around an hour long) which are:

1) Southwest lied to him about who requested his removal
2) Southwest’s weight policies are not clear and obvious to all passengers and are enforced in an inconsistent manner
3) According to their stated policies, he should not have been kicked off

As far as the press owing him anything, that’s ridiculous. If anything, he owes the media for continuing to provide avenues for him to promote his mediocre products. If they want to focus on the fact that he is indeed fat, he’s certainly free to feel angry and betrayed, but he shouldn’t be surprised. A wealthy, successful man who regularly buys two plane tickets jumps on an earlier flight and is kicked off… and the press is supposed to spin the story so that the average American feels sorry for him? In this economy? The same press that is obsessed with young, slender, semi-nude celebrities? Think harder Silent Bob.

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Thu, Feb 25, 2010 7:59am

it’s about how Southwest has shitty customer service. Shitty customer service is something that pisses me off too, but it’s hardly a newsflash, either, that customers are absolutely the last thing that many companies worry about.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 10:40am

What could the PRESS have done?

Simple answer: THEIR JOBS.

By which I mean checking out both sides of the story before printing it. The story here according to Smith is that he was within their own guidelines and they lied to him about their reasons to get him off of the plane.

I kind of have to admire Southwest for their evil brilliance- their press releases are horrible from a customer service point of view- disclosing and stretching confidential information and so on, but impressive from a PR perspective- dangle the fat angle in front of the media to distract them from the real story, manipulate the truth where convienient, and suddenly the attention is off of them and on him.

The problem I have is how readily they went for Southwest’s angle. Most of them looked up one or two twitter quotes at most for flavour and then structured their stories around the Southwest press release. I’m really disappointed in them, if not quite surprised. If I was a more paranoid type I’d be be yelling conspiracy over how one-sided the spin has been- protecting the corporation by suppressing facts and the publics righteous indignation. To be fair, Smith did make it harder for them- pages and pages and pages of (endlessly entertaining) twitter howling to sort through, multiple blogs, and an unwillingness to do direct interviews for fear it would look like a publicity stunt for his movie. But that is no excuse to not do your job. And it’s worse when you pile all the crass fat jokes on top of that.

Jim Mann
Jim Mann
Thu, Feb 25, 2010 10:40am

it’s about how Southwest has shitty customer service.

But one of the things that makes this story unusual is that Southwest’s customer service is usually pretty good. They are one of the few major airlines that don’t act like they really dislike their customers.

Hank Graham
Hank Graham
Thu, Feb 25, 2010 11:21am

The press owed him what it owes everyone: get the facts straight.

In this case, led by Southwest’s corporate blog, the media went for the low road and, as Mo points out, used the fat angle to deflect attention from their screw-up.

What was more disturbing was the number of self-righteous sods who piled on Kevin Smith, following that line. Check out Laura Washington’s piece in the Chicago Sun-Times, where she took it upon herself to chide Kevin Smith for his weight for several inches of column and got every single fact of the story wrong in doing so. In comparison, at least the anti-fat editorial in the NYT was on the op-ed pages rather than in the news coverage.

Remy Michael
Remy Michael
Thu, Feb 25, 2010 11:27am

But one of the things that makes this story unusual is that Southwest’s customer service is usually pretty good. They are one of the few major airlines that don’t act like they really dislike their customers.

Jim Mann – This is actually one of the points Kevin Smith makes in his original telling of the story. He says that he uses the airline all the time, and that even on the flight he was ejected from the Flight Attendant was very friendly.

Thu, Feb 25, 2010 4:15pm

I especially hate sitting next to people with wide shoulders – you get crushed between them!

Thing is, in these days of embedded journalists, I think most reporters do just print the press release.