You may not immediately recognize the name Catherine Bosley. But if you were asked the same question in 2003 or 2004, you probably would have.
That's when the former Youngstown TV news anchor was fighting her way through the ultimate social nightmare.
While on vacation in Key West, she went a bit overboard in a nightclub and ended up being photographed and videotaped dancing naked.
When the photos surfaced, her employer of 10 years, WKBN (Channel 27), immediately fired her, and the story and photos went viral — at a time when the term itself hadn't yet gone viral.
She was “The Naked News Anchor,” for all the world to see.
Bosley became the poster child for public humiliation and what we now call cyberbullying.
The backlash wasn't immediate. She had no inkling that her life would change completely until nine months later, when she played back a vicious message left on her answering machine on Christmas Day.
“... Everyone has seen you in your full attire,” snarled an unknown woman. “Honey, your days are over. You think you're such a prissy little b****, but your days are over.”
Merry Freaking Christmas.
The story exploded from coast to coast and even made it to the United Kingdom.
At the time, multiple search engines were popular. In one of the biggies, Lycos, searches for “Catherine Bosley” hit No. 1, topping even Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, who were near the peak of their fame. The difference was that Hilton and Spears craved the attention, while Bosley was absolutely horrified.
How bad did it get? She wound up on a David Letterman list: “Top 10 Good Things About Having a Stripper as a News Anchor.”
Except she wasn't a stripper. Not even close. She was with her husband, Rick, sharing a vacation to celebrate her return to health after two major scares.
A one-time marathon runner, Bosley needed surgery to repair a hole in her heart. Then she encountered a life-threatening lung illness, cured only by the use of experimental drugs. The initial prognosis had been grim.
If you've ever partied in Key West, you know things can quickly ramp up and push hard against the social envelope, usually fueled by alcohol. Bosley wasn't drinking that night because of the post-illness medication she was taking (prednisone). But she certainly got caught up in the spirit.
Her actions were totally uncharacteristic, and she was embarrassed almost immediately. Heading back to their room, she made a pact with her husband that they would leave it all behind, 1,400 miles from home.
But in the 21st century, “what happens in Vegas,” or in Key West, or in almost any other place on the planet, does not stay there.
Camera phones, which were just starting to take off, were not her downfall, as is usually the case today. Unbeknown to Bosley, a production company was capturing the action for a “Girls Gone Wild”-type website.
The verbal abuse continued, on and on and on, via the internet, over the phone, through the mail and in person.
Bosley thought things might improve if she submitted to one of the countless national interview requests she received, so she sat down with Diane Sawyer for a “Good Morning America” segment, trusting that Sawyer would treat her fairly.
Sawyer did, but things only got worse. Bosley had catapulted herself even farther into the national spotlight.
Because of the blowback from “GMA,” she turned down Oprah (who does that?) and a bunch of other big-time shows.
It got to the point where she feared for her safety. People harassed her on the street, heckled her at the mall, yelled toward her house as they drove by.
The ridicule grew so intense that Bosley seriously considered suicide. The bottom drawer of her nightstand was filled with enough prescription pain meds, left over from her surgeries, to do the job.
“I had that drawer open a few times,” she says while sitting in a Panera Bread in Twinsburg. “And I've laid in bed and I've thought, ‘Tomorrow.’ ”
But Bosley, 52, has come all the way back — and then some. If you don't believe that, punch up her powerful 15-minute TEDx Talk called “My Naked Nightmare: A Lesson in Surviving Humiliation.”
The key sentence in her presentation is this:
"In this day of digital everything, every single choice we make has the unprecedented power to determine the trajectory of our lives.”
Truer words were never spoken. Employers and college admissions people do their homework. In some cases, failing to land a job or get into the college of your choice is the LEAST of it. Even if you're not a public figure, a single camera-phone photo has the potential to make your life a living hell.
Relentless cyberbullying takes a huge psychological toll. How many times have we read about people taking their lives because of it? Bosley is doing all she can to remind folks, young and old, that hardly anything stays a secret in 2019.
She speaks to middle school, college and corporate groups, acts as a personal coach, is working on a book and occasionally freelances for the Cleveland TV station that gave her a second chance, WOIO (Channel 19), where she was a morning and midday anchor for 14 years, ending in 2017. (Check out her website: www.catherinebosley.com.)
As the ridicule mounted, Bosley decided to fight back. She won copyright ownership of all of the photos and videos, and when people used them anyway, she sued. Among her victories was a $135,000 settlement from Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine.
A native of Ashtabula and a graduate of Kent State, she lives with her husband of 17 years in Boardman, where he owns a concrete company.
Bosley is articulate, poised and passionate, and she is on a mission.
“I believe it could literally save lives, because when you come under attack online — whether it's your doing or you're just a random target — it does cause that torment that can lead you to taking your own life.”
She has come so far that today she can actually laugh at the Letterman Top 10 list, a reaction that was inconceivable for most of the intervening years.
Her favorites are the No. 10 and No. 2 “Good Things About Having a Stripper as an Anchor.”
“No. 10: Finally, a way to get teens interested in current events.
“No. 2: Studies have found that clothing detracts from viewers' ability to process news.”
I love both of those, and also am quite fond of No. 9: “Easy way of fulfilling the station's FCC nudity requirement.”
Bosley didn't kill anybody, sexually abuse anybody or even have consensual sex with somebody she shouldn't have, as did her biggest predecessor in public shaming, Monica Lewinsky. (Bosley reached out to Lewinsky through social media but didn't get a response.)
Another big part of Bosley's message is that, if you DO screw up, it's not the end of your world.
“There's life after this,” she says, her gaze steady. “And it can be a very rewarding life.”
As she emphasizes near the end of her talks, “This. Too. Shall. Pass. I promise. I'm living proof.”
She certainly is.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31