Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Beware Slanderous Accusations

"Our intention is that we would like to show her the video and after that we would expect an apology. We had to question all of our co-workers over this and that doesn't feel good for anyone. What's important is that we want to put this whole incident behind us. The public is well aware of our open policy to breastfeeding." 
Madeleine Lowenborg-Frick, Ikea spokeswoman
Dozens of mothers expected at ‘flash-feed nurse-in’ at Ottawa Ikea store
 Brea Rehder says an Ikea employee called her act of breastfeeding her infant daughter in a checkout line on Monday ‘disgusting’. Ikea says it has been unable to find any security video of the incident.  Photograph by: handout photo

A young mother, shopping at Ottawa's Ikea emporium with a friend and the mother's nine-month-old daughter, and purportedly the mother's two-year-old son, accused the store of having insulted her intolerably through the medium of one of their managers' attitude seeing her breastfeeding her little girl while standing in a cash check-out. The manager, whom the young mother summoned to discuss a price she wanted clarified, ostensibly stated: "When you're done being disgusting, we can resume our discussion. In the meantime, take it to the bathroom because you're holding up the line."

There are some people, even shoppers at Ikea, and likely those of a more elderly, less self-absorbed persuasion who might have applauded the reaction of the manager. But a legion of offended nursing mothers, social workers and mothers' 'rights' supporters would most certainly, and in fact, did respond with outrage. And it was up to Ikea to somehow soothe the feelings of those who felt anger over the purported incident. Purported due to the fact that it appears never actually to have taken place, other than in the feverishly offended imagination of the complainant.

Who also insisted that the nasty incident had sparked a reaction in her two-year-old son who witnessed what had never occurred, and who refused that very evening to take part in the customary pre-bedtime nursing at his mother's breast, because, he is said to have cried heartbroken: "the woman said it's icky". What a perspicacious child. Or not. The mother, whose name is Brea Rehder, felt she was due an apology, and what's more her son required an apology to soothe his injured perceptions.

Ms. Rehder had sought publicity over the issue. She contacted a local newspaper to ensure that they would follow up on her story. And she had sent a complaint to the store's Facebook presence. Whereupon the manager of Ikea's store called to apologize, asking for complete details to enable the store management to follow up on the incident. The store did follow up, questioning every member of the sales staff, reviewing closed-circuit videos, and nothing whatever came up.

No staff member had any knowledge of what Ms. Rehder complained of, and nor was there any evidence on video.

And then they discovered that Ms. Rehder was indeed in the cash lineup, but at 6:45 p.m. on March 10, not when she had stated, hours ealier. And nor was she with her child, but rather alone, "with a smile on her face". The video did not show Ms. Rehder breastfeeding. The incident hadn't occurred. Two B.C. academics who are also psychologists involved in training judges, police, lawyers, psychologists and others in the art of spotting lies were recently interviewed for a news column.

Among other things they said was that "We generally assume others are telling the truth -- unless given reason to think otherwise" -- even though most people themselves lie, often, in little ways, usually harmless. Lying, the pointed out, appears on the rise. And narcissism happens to be a personality trait associated with lying. "They often show something called duping delight. They enjoy pulling the wool over people's eyes and a trained observer can detect a little smirk."

Be that as it may, it would certainly appear that Ms. Rehder indulged herself in quite the fantasy of resentment, to garner for herself public attention, photographs of herself as a young, beautiful adoring mother of her infant child decorating the news coverage of the dreadful event that had occurred to her at the Pinecrest Mall Ikea store. Except that it didn't happen other than in her feverish imagination. And perhaps it had occurred to her that she would like a little admiring attention due her status as a loving, nurturing mother.

There are two involving elements in this sad tale. One, the need of someone to attract attention to themselves, as a sacrificing, dutiful, loving mother to two very young children. There was also malice aforethought, for her accusations and the hysteria of condemnation that rained down on the reputation of a store that has indeed made accommodation for nursing mothers a customer priority, as have many other retailers done in this current climate of public-nursing-entitlement-and-get-used-to-it. The bad publicity foisted upon the store resulting from this woman's fantasy could have been ruinous.

The Ikea spokeswoman commented for a business news story that her company has not been able to contact Ms. Rehder since it completed its investigation. The store spokespeople did divulge to the media their findings, which were devoid of the evidence that would affirm the claims made by Ms. Rehder, but they refrained from casting fault or blame anywhere, though Ms. Lowenborg-Frick did mention the store would appreciate an apology due them from the mother of two nursing infants who claimed she had been insulted and shamed by a store employee.

The incident is now being used as a case study by those invested in public relations, and by academics for whom such events can be used as a teaching opportunity. Josh Greenberg, for example, associate director of Carleton University's School of Journalism commended Ikea's handling of the allegations: "It's a challenge. The issue they were dealing with was highly charged, emotionally and politically. Corporations always face the risk when they respond to the activist community that they're going to be seen as the proverbial Goliath taking on David."

"There are two errors you can make: Under-respond or over-respond. They didn't over-respond by hanging their employee out to dry and say, 'We'll automatically believe the customer.' But within the culture of the company, getting to the facts should be an important part of any company's corporate culture". explained Barry McLoughlin, president of the PR firm McLaughlin Media. "Ikea could have been on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars (in lost business) if they had mishandled this story.

"I thought they were quite tactful in the way they dealt with it. They allowed the consumer of the information to conclude for themselves as to the veracity of her story. They didn't directly call her a liar, but a reasonable person reading the subsequent stories would draw the conclusion: this appears to be a made-up story. They were very smart in not over-reaching on that. They were measured in what they said."

"You have to tell the truth. You have to be authentic in the circumstances of what happened. That has to be the golden rule", added Laura Peck, McLoughlin Media's vice-president.

And perhaps Ms. Rehder, still very young, has learned a lesson, to think ahead to consequences of issues relating to poor judgement, and to make an effort in future to stifle her appreciation for thespian drama in the bid to draw positive attention to herself. Instead of the glowing attention she craved, those involved ended up glowering, sending her into seclusion with shame for company.

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