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Unsavory Practice

Claim:   A viewer received an insulting response after sending a complaint to ABC's web site about the television series The Practice.

TRUE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, April 1999]

ABC is obsessed (or should I say abscessed) with the subject of homosexuality. I will no longer watch any of your attempts to convince the world that homosexuality is ok. THE PRACTICE can be a fairly good show but last night's program was so typical of your agenda. You picked the 'dufus' of the office to be the one who was against the idea of his mother being gay and made him look like a whiner because he had convictions. This type of mentality calls people like me "gay basher". Read the first chapter of Romans (that's in the Bible) and see what the apostle Paul had to say about it. He and God and Jesus were all 'gay bashers.' What if she'd fallen in love with her cocker spaniel is that an alternative lifestyle? (By the way the Bible speaks against that, too.)
 

Origins:   In April of 1999, an Arkansas viewer by the name of Jim Neugent decided to lodge a complaint about the ABC television series The Practice through an e-mail link on ABC's web site. Mr. Neugent was disgruntled with the 4 April 1999 episode of the series, which featured a story line involving a lesbian couple who wished to get married, and wrote to ABC to tell them so:
ABC is obsessed (or should I say abscessed) with the subject of homosexuality. I will no longer watch any of your attempts to convince the world that homosexuality is ok. THE PRACTICE can be a fairly good show but last night's program was so typical of your agenda. You picked the 'dufus' of the office to be the one who was against the idea of his mother being gay and made him look like a whiner because he had convictions. This type of mentality calls people like me "gay basher". Read the first chapter of Romans (that's in the Bible) and see what the apostle Paul had to say about it. He and God and Jesus were all 'gay bashers.' What if she'd fallen in love with her cocker spaniel is that an alternative lifestyle? (By the way the Bible speaks against that, too.)
Either because Mr. Neugent used the wrong e-mail link or no other link was readily available, his message was delivered to an employee in the tech group tasked with maintaining ABC's web site (not to the Public Relations or Audience Information department) who took it upon himself to respond to the complaint in a rude and insulting manner, even though the issue was clearly one outside his area of responsibility:
How about getting your nose out of the Bible (which is ONLY a book of stories compiled by MANY different writers hundreds of years ago) and read the Declaration of Independence (what our nation is built on) where it says "All Men are Created Equal" — and try treating them that way for a change!? Or better yet, try thinking for yourself and stop using an archaic book of stories as your crutch for your existence.
Mr. Neugent then replied:
Thanks for your reply. Evidently, I hit a nerve from your harsh reply. I will share it with all with whom I come in contact. Hopefully, the Arkansas Democrat Newspaper will include it in one of their columns.
It didn't take long, through the attention of the press and the Internet, before Mr. Neugent's message and the ABC webmaster's reply were causing a stir all over the country. ABC, after having investigated the matter, sent Mr. Neugent an official apology:
Dear Mr. Neugent:

We apologize for the e-mail message that was sent to you with comments that reflect neither the view of ABC nor of its executives. Viewer mail is traditionally handled by our Audience Information department for response. Your message was inappropriately handled by a programmer from ABC.com. I want to assure you that the response that you received does not in any way reflect the views of ABC Television, and most importantly is not at all consistent with the manner in which KATV, our valued partner in Little Rock, would ever treat their audience/community members.

Unfortunately, as in any organization, there are bound to be a few individuals that step out of line. To that end, we completed a comprehensive investigation into the matter earlier this afternoon. While the individual was deeply contrite and wanted to apologize to you, we felt that his actions were reprehensible and terminated him immediately.

Specifically in response to your original concerns regarding the subject of homosexuality in our programming, the ABC programming department has tried to treat
such subjects in a sensitive manner. We recognize that we are serving a large, diverse audience with a wide range of attitudes towards all types of entertainment programming. We believe that programs thoughtfully reflecting social issues existing in our present society constitute proper television faire. We appreciate your original comments and take serious note of your thoughts on the potential direction of future story lines.

We are glad that you brought the e-mail incident to our attention. We truly regret that this happened, and we hope you understand by our actions that we will not tolerate this kind of behavior from any member of our staff.

Finally, I would like to once again add that the response that you received should in no way be attributed to our partner in Little Rock, KATV. As you well know, KATV has been the news and public affairs leader in Little Rock for years, and will be for many more. A finer, more committed television station does not exist. I would not want their reputation to suffer in any way due to our mishap.

Please accept our apologies and regrets.

Sincerely,

Daren Benzi
ABC Television Network
Mr. Neugent's receipt of an insulting response from ABC's web site was the product of an overzealous employee's overstepping his authority without authorization, not an expression of official ABC policy. ABC promptly investigated and determined what had occurred, and it then reacted responsibly by terminating the employee responsible and sending an official apology to Mr. Neugent. The only person really at fault here is the anonymous employee who took it upon himself to express his personal opinions as if he were a representative of ABC.

Last updated:   21 May 2009

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