SALT LAKE CITY — Longtime Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby apologized Thursday for his behavior toward Utah writer and blogger Courtney Kendrick at a symposium earlier this summer.
Kirby's Facebook response followed a Facebook posting by Kendrick Wednesday that described an encounter between the two at a Sunstone Education Foundation event in Sandy in July, which has not been disputed by Kirby. Kendrick told the Deseret News she was hesitant to say anything at all about what occurred, knowing she would likely "face terrible reactions."
"You never want to have to tell this story — first, because you don’t want to live it, and second, because you don’t want to relive it in the telling of it," Kendrick said. "But when I think of my daughters being treated like I was — or countless women have been — you can’t help but feel compelled."
Kendrick wrote that she had met Kirby for the first time, just before appearing in a conference session together. And what happened later left her feeling "embarrassed and belittled."
"The very first thing he said to me when we were alone in the convention center hallway was, 'Let's pretend I picked you up from an escort service and we'll walk over to that table over there together and sit down and chat,'" Kendrick wrote. "I was there as a colleague and fellow writer, and he didn't know me at all. And wasn't he supposed to be the guy who we could be safe around? The progressive man with the newspaper column we all love, right?"
Kendrick wrote that Kirby also offered her a marijuana edible, which she accepted. She noted she felt uneasy about it, but felt "pressured" to please someone she considered having celebrity status.
"And here's the thing, I would like to say that at that point I had the wherewithal to have some sense in me," Kendrick wrote. "The truth is, I was still stunned and shocked, and inside me remained that voice, 'Just please him' and 'He's a big deal, you don't want to reject him.'"
Kendrick wrote that Kirby later announced to the symposium participants, without her permission, that she was "high."
"I was then completely blindsided when he proceeded to tell everyone in our session later on that I was high, because he — the great Robert Kirby — gave me weed," Kendrick wrote. "No permission, no checking with me, he just announced it to the crowd as if it were a punchline, rewarded with huge laughs."
On Thursday, Kirby posted a link on his Facebook page to Kendrick's post and added his own response, which included an apology as well as some other commentary on the encounter.
"I owe Courtney Clark Kendrick a sincere apology," Kirby wrote, in part. "I had no idea that I made her feel this way back when I was joking around at Sunstone. Much of what she describes in her account took place, albeit without some of the more sinister intentions many have alluded to. The simple fact is that she deserves an apology from me and I herewith offer it to her — now that I’m aware of how I made her feel."
Kirby and Tribune Editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce did not respond to multiple requests from the Deseret News for comment.
Kendrick wrote that while she shared a written account of the encounter with Sunstone organizers, she hadn't planned on taking any other action until reading a Kirby column earlier this week about the recent conduct of McKenna Denson at an Arizona church meeting.
"Kirby wrote an awful column about an assault survivor," Kendrick wrote.
Kendrick told the Deseret News that she neither asked for, nor hoped for, an apology from Kirby.
"The conversation is much more important than his reaction to it," Kendrick said. "I think men need to know that — an apology doesn’t mean your behavior goes away. We still need to have the conversation. And sometimes that means it will be a public conversation."
Kirby notes in his posting that he believes the incident could have been resolved "amicably" if Kendrick had contacted him sooner. He also underscores that his comments were meant to be humorous.
"Given the abrupt nature of our meeting, I misjudged how she would take my sense of humor," Kirby wrote. "For that and any discomfort I’ve caused her, I deeply apologize."
Kendrick told the Deseret News that Kirby's insistence that he was joking, and that she didn't get the joke, isn't a viable excuse.
"Saying that the victim doesn’t understand humor is a tired tactic that no longer stands," Kendrick said. "First of all, my sense of humor is not negated by not wanting to be called an escort. And second of all, it’s not even funny in the first place. How is calling a woman an escort funny?"
While Sunstone did not respond to inquiries from the Deseret News Thursday, the organization posted a notice to its Facebook page on Friday announcing Kirby will not be invited to participate in future symposiums.46 comments on this story
"Sunstone was recently made aware of an incident where Robert Kirby, who was one of our final presenters, made a comment in a private conversation that violated our anti-harassment policy at the 2018 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium. All presenters are made aware of our policy against harassment. We have since communicated with all parties, and the Sunstone board has decided that for the foreseeable future, Mr. Kirby will not be invited to present at future Sunstone events," the statement says.