Fighting Bullies

No one likes a bully. So why are Rose Mofford, Janet Napolitano and MTV distancing themselves from Arizona's Safe Schools, Safe Students program?

"Certainly teen suicide is a big concern . . . ," she says. "But I'm not aware of any data that was collected systematically to find the real causes of suicide."

Limber also says she's never heard of the Beaumonts or their anti-bullying group.

Back in Prescott, Beaumont makes a telling remark, revealing how the cyberspace curtain can disguise who is really behind a Web site.

Graffiti spray-painted outside the headquarters contained anti-Semitic messages and a reference to the Devil Dogs, a violent Gilbert white supremacist gang.
courtesy of Safe Schools, Safe Students
Graffiti spray-painted outside the headquarters contained anti-Semitic messages and a reference to the Devil Dogs, a violent Gilbert white supremacist gang.
From left, Louie Koch, Kat Beaumont, Jared Phillips and Elijah Otten are among the teenagers who volunteer to answer phones at the hotline center.
Paolo Vescia
From left, Louie Koch, Kat Beaumont, Jared Phillips and Elijah Otten are among the teenagers who volunteer to answer phones at the hotline center.

"One of the really neat things about the Internet is that you can be a one-man operation and have a Web site that makes you look like a multinational operation," he says.


Dr. Rod Beaumont, self-proclaimed international crusader for child safety, has built himself and his organization into larger-than-life entities thanks to the anonymity of the Internet. Using an aggressive e-mail-based public relations campaign -- one that sometimes includes two or three "urgent," "critical" or "very serious" press releases a day -- the Safe Schools, Safe Students group and its hotline have gotten coverage from media outlets across the country, including some big guns.

On October 17, Beaumont appeared on the CBS Early Show, chatting with Jane Clayson in the aftermath of a Secret Service report that revealed two-thirds of schoolyard shooters reported being bullied.

Ten days later, Time for Kids, a version of Time magazine aimed at schoolchildren, featured the group and its Safe Communities = Safe Schools campaign in a cover story.

The Christian Science Monitor, the New York Daily News and the New York Post have even made mention of the group, its efforts and its Web site.

Once the group shared the screen with Jane Clayson and Bryant Gumbel and graced the cover of Time (even the pintsize version), media coverage had a snowball effect. The anti-bully Web site boasts of these connections and includes the Time, CBS and Christian Science Monitor logos on its home page, lending it credibility that reaches far beyond its headquarters in an alley off Miller Valley Road in Prescott.

A spokesperson for Time for Kids says the story came about not as a result of press releases sent by the Beaumonts, but by a researcher investigating the topic on the Internet. Debra Richman says the magazine interviewed Rod Beaumont and area teachers to check out the group's efforts.

Beaumont claims he and his efforts (including his pre-bully work) have been featured on more than 3,500 radio shows, 100 TV shows and written about by more than 2,300 magazines, newspapers and journals. (A Nexis search returns a handful of actual news stories about him, but also dozens of press releases sent by the group using the public relations newswire service, a firm that helps disseminate news releases for organizations or companies.)

Publications or programs that mention, even briefly, the anti-bully group or just contact it are likely to find themselves listed on the Web site as a supporter, a group "on board" the tireless campaign to eradicate bullies. Sometimes the relationship is tweaked to make it sound like the Safe Schools group is a lot more popular and influential than it really is.

Three troubling cases in point:

• When the Arizona Republic wrote an article about a January 4 graffiti attack -- purportedly by a hate group -- on the anti-bully headquarters, the newspaper itself became part of the news, mentioned in subsequent press releases to lure more media coverage.

But the Safe School, Safe Students group did more than herald the coverage by the state's largest newspaper. In an obvious case of Web site doctoring, it published what was reputed to be a copy of the Republic's online version of an article by reporter Mark Shaffer on its own Web site. But after the last paragraph, the bully fighters added two extra sentences: "To help Safe Schools, please call 520-443-9941 Ext 14. They need your donations and support."

The article closed with the Republic's standard tag line. "Reach the reporter at . . . ," making it look like Shaffer had pleaded for help in his original story.

• Safe Schools, Safe Students was just one of many groups -- located using an Internet search -- that MTV appealed to late last year for help finding students adversely affected by pop music and culture. And network spokesperson Erica Terry says the response from the Prescott group was great.

"The Safe Schools folks have been totally awesome," she says. "They've been very helpful."

None of the individual stories drummed up by the anti-bully group was quite right for inclusion in the documentary MTV is producing, but Terry says she was grateful for the group's help. "It seems like a really good organization," she says.

What she didn't know was that the Beaumonts were representing themselves as "partners" with MTV, heavily involved in the making of the show.

In a December 6 press release, the Safe Schools organization announced: "The National Anti-Bullying Hotline in partnership with MTV News will be producing an hour long special on pop culture's negative impact on young people."

Informed of that wording, Terry said that wasn't true. "They are not in a partnership with us," she says.

Terry says the network is very careful about who it declares a partner, and she says she has e-mailed the group asking it to quit using that term.

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