Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Women In TV News: Judged By Their Appearance

The lady with the legs who graces the top of this post is Laurie Dhue, who, until a few years ago, was an anchor at Fox News. Yes, a news anchor. I mean, you can see just how much gravitas she has. And yes, I’m judging her by her appearance.

As my mom used to say, sometimes the way you look says more than what comes out of your mouth, although I’m sure mom didn’t have Laurie Dhue in mind when she was giving that advice.

Chicago media critic and blogger Robert Feder wrote a column this morning about an order issued by the Executive Producer of Fox 32 News in Chicago, to his female reporting staff, telling them that they were no longer allowed to wear hats while on live-shots outdoors.

Unless it’s colder than 20 below.

Nice to see more evidence that TV news too often has little to do with substance and a lot to do with style, or appearance. Feder declared that even though it’s early in January, he felt safe in declaring the guy who issued the order the Dumbest TV Executive of the Year.

No need to name the guy; he’s one of many who hold positions like this across the nation, and issue similarly stoopid memos.

Feder’s column immediately went viral among news people all over the country, who linked to the column with posts on social media lamenting the shallowness of such a directive. As a female radio news anchor who’s a former colleague said on a social media post reacting to Feder’s column, “As opportunities for women increase in most spheres, TV is getting more sexist. Men on TV news are judged on the job they do, women are judged first by how they look. And it's getting worse. Honestly, it's the main reason I chose to do radio instead of TV. The sh** my female friends in TV news have to put up with is unbelievable, between management and viewers. It's brutal. At least on the radio, people LISTEN to what I say. They can imagine I look however they want.”

As the husband of a woman who was an on-camera TV news reporter for many years, I know what my friend was talking about first-hand. My bride used to privately grouse about being told to bundle up and go outside to do a live TV report for the 6 o’clock news, when the first really cold blast of January hit Wisconsin – to tell people not to go outside.

At least they let her wear a hat and heavy coat.

Sorta like the nooz folks who are ordered to go out and do a report from the Beltline when it’s snowing, to tell people to stay off the roads.


Here’s the photo Feder ran with his column this morning. The young lady’s name is Natalie Bomke, and the picture is a screen-capture of her from several weeks ago – with a sensible hat on – reporting on the first heavy snowstorm that hit Chicago this winter.

Guess what? It snows in Chicago in December, and here’s proof! See this big piece of snow I’m holding?

Another friend, who used to be one of the nation’s leading news consultants and chose to get out of the business, more than once groused to me about how women were completely objectified by many of the news managers he worked with. It was always about style, and not substance. One time after we’d had a couple beers, he thundered “When CBS-TV News has a ratings problem, they tinker with the set, they tinker with Dan Rather – whether he should wear a sweater or not – they tinker with the lighting, they tinker with everything but never give an ounce of consideration to the journalism – the content of the newscast itself”.

From the Dan Rather reference, you can tell it was more than a few years ago that my friend made his observation.

I’ve told stories before about the things my wife had to put up with from the “high-powered consultant” at the TV station where she worked. The consultant, mind you, was not interested one bit in the content or quality of the journalism my wife was doing on a daily basis. It was completely about her appearance. The color of scarf she should wear. The kind of clothes she should buy. The color of lipstick she should wear.

The crowning glory, to me, was when my wife told me the lady at the hair salon the station worked with  told her she had to dye her blonde hair to brunette, with a reddish tinge. Why? Because the station had too many blondes on the air.

At least the station paid for her hair color and styling.

I have many, many female friends from my years in news broadcasting, and whom I’ve met through my wife’s years in the business. These ladies are smart, polished, ethical, compassionate, talented, and disciplined. They’ve all paid their dues in the biz many times over. And whether they’re doing news, weather, or sports, they’ve frequently been judged by their appearance rather than their competence.

I’m not sure if that will change in my lifetime. The “no-hat-memo” that made the rounds today makes me wonder if we’ve really made any progress at all.