Also published in The Huffington Post on 2/28/08
Dear anchor woman in the bikini,
I am sorry, but I am determined NOT to commit your name to memory, or should I say mammary.
I am the reporter who wrote the story about the United States quietly ignoring a United Nations treaty on discrimination. The treaty was supposed to insure U.S. reports on discrimination, racism and torture by Americans — that included abuses by the U.S. military anywhere in the world. Abu Ghrab and Guantanamo would likely have caused concern about spin control, so the U.S. just quietly ignored its promises. My story was on the left; your bikini-waxed thighs were on the right.
Guess which story people are still talking about today? Guess which story got the most attention? Guess why I am writing this now? It’s simple really. You need a history lesson. Objectification is not the same as admiration. It is just a sad attempt for anatomical standing ovations. You are an anchor woman for goodness sake.
I’ll bet you could have heard a pin drop in the editorial meeting the next day. I’ll bet the other women in that room wanted to strangle you while the worst of the men looked lasciviously at your behind. Hoping the pictures weren’t bluffing.
I often lecture journalism students attending universities and one thing I tell the broadcast journalists is to go to Hollywood if they just want to be a “star.” Do us all a favor, because if the mirror is your magnet, you should never, ever call yourself a journalist, even if Rupert Murdoch says you can.
When I first started in television journalism I had a co-anchor who refused to let the female anchor co-lead. In other words he had to begin every newscast. This, of course, was sexism. We all knew having the man begin each broadcast just reinforced the woman as his pretty but un-equal appendage. In fact, this was such a big deal to those of us fighting to be taken seriously, the anchor woman quit partly because she was the last female anchor in the country forbidden from alternating leads–thus creating the impression she was second rate. Now this may sound silly, but remember, equality was the issue. The male already made an ungodly amount of money compared to the woman. And, anyone who knows anything about broadcast journalism understands the lead story says everything about the values of a newscast–in this case–it said everything about the undervaluation of the female anchor.
When I came on board, I signed a contract agreeing that in six months we would begin alternating anchors. On the night of the switch over, I noticed the producer’s rundown did not reflect the agreement management had made with me. I called the general manager at home and reminded him of the date. I then heard the anchorman’s phone ring at his desk as I walked into the “green room” which, by the way, is never green and never glamorous. I looked up to see the anchor man standing there.
He said, “Leslie, I believe you have earned your stripes around here.” I had been reporting from all over the world for the last 14 years. He continued, “I have decided to let you lead the broadcast tonight. As of tonight we alternate.” He had decided. I smiled and said a quick thank you then turned away. It was clear he expected a jubilant hug.
A dozen years later, this same anchorman has told people he considers me ungrateful. I’ve even read about his belief he “gave me my job sitting next to him at the anchor desk.” What he gave me was a glimpse of the road ahead.
So, please bikini girl–keep your clothes on.