September 21, 2007
Kentucky Weatherman Controversy Raises Issues About Privacy, Copyright, Context, and Information Traces

An event that got a lot of people talking over the past few weeks back in Kentucky, and elsewhere, have--for some people--brought up the somewhat unsavory side of online video, user-generated content, and issues of privacy and context. The weatherman and morning television personality for a local news station in Kentucky, WBKO-13, had a short video clip released of him, off-the-air, waiting for a segment on breast milk donors.

Chris Allen, the news personality, was standing at a screen, juxtaposed against a quite large illustration of the female figure, with the figure's breast next to him. Allen, in an attempt at humor toward his fellow colleagues, started feigning that he was suckling at the breast of the figure, and then reached out to do a grab, complete with "honk, honk" noises.

The few-second clip, when put up on Google, generated a flurry of discussion, particularly among users who were knocking WBKO's quality of journalism, discussing their dislike for the local news personalities and their link to the Bowling Green, Ky., community, and some bringing up another situation with Allen and his credibility as a meteorologist based on comments about how global warming is a hoax in comments on his blog.

Other viewers defended Chris' dedication to responding to his fans and interested viewers on e-mail and all the public appearances and work he did. Many, both from the Bowling Green area and elsewhere, expressed their feelings that this was a moment taken out of context and that the person responsible for posting the video was more of an offender than Allen.

The clip, from some time ago, was leaked from someone who at least had been on "the inside," and of course was never meant to be shown. Aside from the substantial popularity the clip had on Google Video, it also appeared on TMZ, along with a story about the situation. The original video description was, ""A local Weatherman in Bowling Green, Kentucky simulates drinking breast milk. WBKO-TV's Chris Allen then licks and grabs a fake boob. Sexual...all obscenity/harassment seems to be accepted and just a "laugh" at Gray Television, Inc."

However, after a few days, the clip vanished from several places. The Google Video page was taken down, and all the information on TMZ was gone. This is the Internet, though, so there are traces of the video all around. In the current age, eliminating information just isn't as easy as it once was. The video was simply referenced and discussed too many places to be eliminated.

WBKO, and Chris Allen, released a statement detailing where they claim the video came from--a prank pulled on Chris, taken out of context, and posted on the Internet by a former weatherman with WBKO. The statement says. "We are taking the inappropriate actions of a few very seriously. Chris has been reprimanded for his actions and we are in discussions with a former employee who left over a year ago who stole the tape and posted it on the internet...The tape is embarrassing, offensive and certainly does not represent the Hometown values WBKO is known for."

But it also raises questions about copyrighted material. Some might feel that this video, once leaked, was not part of the "official" broadcast for a show and therefore could be shown elsewhere--especially if it came from inside the studio. Others, and the station I'm sure, feel that the video had no right to be shown or leaked, its inappropriateness aside.

There's no question that the situation was embarrassing for those who were offended by it, the station, and Allen. What I think is more instructive here are the questions this raises about privacy online, copyrighted material from "off-the-air" moments, and the rights a public figure has to contain what might be considered private moments.

While the original video posting is gone, there are still several versions floating around on other sites that copied it from its original source.

Update: The video appeared on VH1's Best Week Ever on Friday, ensuring that this will remain in the public eye, and as part of the blogosphere discussion, into the future. I know that it's already become the most popular post here on the C3 blog for the week.


On September 23, 2007 at 1:44 PM, electric said:

The station can't block it from being aired. They can threaten, but ultimately it won't win because that incident is now a news item and news can be broadcast.

That news clip also demonstrates lewd conduct in the workplace and could be shown on sites discussing that.

If any female coworkers sue because of chris' behavior, the video could also be shown in relation to that.

The station could go after the person who released it and after anyone trying to profit from it, but it's now part of the news.


Interesting point, electric. This has come up in other facets of discussion as well. For the most part, news companies have been able to directly borrow content from other guys in order to discuss it in some way, or parody it in the case of the Comedy Central guys. That's considered Fair Use. How about mash-ups, or online videos that discuss the content? One could make the same argument.

As I've amended on the post above, the clip has now shown on VH1's Best Week Ever, as a friend e-mailed to tell me. You are right that, once a clip is considered news, it seems to be fair game to be shown by official channels, but I wonder if that's still the case for an indivdual, rather than an "official" news entity.