The pioneering American journalist John Chancellor once said, “The function of good journalism is to take information and add value to it.”
It’s not one of those self-righteous journalism quotes that presents the job as the last remaining thing standing between civilization and the Visigoths (although sometimes it actually is). It’s a basic principle, that having the privilege of a platform means you should use it for good.
There’s another axiom of journalism, that requires us to hold the powerful accountable, to ask uncomfortable questions of the comfortable.
When you’re neither adding value nor holding the powerful accountable, it’s hard to see what part of journalism you’re actually doing.
Instead, one might describe this as merely trolling, which the Cambridge Dictionary defines as, “someone who leaves an intentionally annoying or offensive message on the internet, in order to upset someone or to get attention or cause trouble.”
So it’s hard to see what value people like Megyn Kelly, an influential, smart and accomplished journalist, despite her well-known and well-earned controversies, are adding when they use their platform to attack a struggling 23-year-old female tennis player for the sin of appearing on the cover of a magazine.
After Naomi Osaka, one of the best tennis players in the world, withdrew from a major tournament and revealed she was battling some mental health issues, many of her fellow athletes, sports reporters and sponsors came out in full support, commending her on what they believed was a courageous admission.
At a time when mental health is slowly but surely being de-stigmatized, and importantly in communities of color, Osaka’s announcement was an impactful one that could show others that it’s OK to not be OK.
As someone who struggled with mental health and suicidal thoughts as a young girl, I can personally attest to the fact that these stories matter in reassuring someone else that it’s not weakness to seek help or treatment.
Anyone who’s looked even superficially at the issue of mental health knows depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts do not care about your wealth, status or success. Osaka’s financial comfort does not make her a powerful person against her demons.
So attacking her credibility and integrity isn’t some noble version of holding the powerful accountable. It’s just cruel and totally unnecessary.
And yet, Kelly piled on a tweet from professional bully Clay Travis, which read: “Since saying she’s too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches, Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue.”
Instead of reading this inane tweet for what it was — a trolling, lazy, parasitic attempt at attention (that reeked of a little misogyny, to boot) — Kelly added “Let’s not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!”
Of course, Osaka didn’t need to defend herself for sharing her story at a time and in ways that she could comfortably. Nevertheless, she wrote back, “Seeing as you’re a journalist I would’ve assumed you would take the time to research what the lead times are for magazines, if you did that you would’ve found out I shot all of my covers last year. Instead your first reaction is to hop on here and spew negativity, do better Megan (sic.).”
Then, Osaka did what many mental health professionals might suggest: She blocked.
To which Megyn responded: “Poor @naomiosaka blocked me while taking a shot at me (guess she’s only tough on the courts). She is apparently arguing that she shot her many covers b/4 publicly claiming she was too socially anxious to deal w/press. Truth is she just doesn’t like Qs she can’t control. Admit it.”
How disappointing. In what universe is this a good use of her platform? Attacking a woman for her mental health struggles, harassing her on social media, calling her weak and a liar — who is Kelly serving here?
The truth is, I like Megyn Kelly. But this is grotesque and shameful. As a parent, all I want for my kid is not to go through the mental health battles I did. But if he does, I hope he is met with nothing but support and encouragement from the people around him, including his larger community and society, not Twitter trolls doubting him and egging him on. Kelly is needlessly perpetuating the stigmas that prevent people from seeking help, that keep their pain a secret, that can end tragically. Why she would use her talents and reach to do this is inexplicable to me.
There are no political points to score here. There are no winners and losers. It’s not a public service to harass a woman over her depression. It’s just cruel, irresponsible, unnecessary and abusive. I’d implore Kelly to understand that it’s not just Osaka she is hurting, but so many others who are facing mental health challenges, and wondering, “What will people say if I admit I have a problem?”
Hopefully not this.