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At CNN, it’s not just the news that’s hot

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April 9th, 2007

Guest Blogger Anna Clark

Is anyone surprised that ’sexiness’ is a job requirement for female news anchors? By now, who hasn’t heard the story of Christine Craft, the anchorwoman who was fired by an ABC affiliate in 1981 for being “too old, too ugly, and not deferential to men”? And in 2005, the Weather Channel seemed poised to follow that pattern by ousting Marny Stanier, due to network guys wanting on-air female talent to be “younged up.” Last year, when a CBS-owned magazine erased about 30 pounds off a promotional photo of Katie Couric we learned that America still can’t trust the news if it’s delivered by a woman with curves that push beyond a size 6.

But it is news when the industry is so bold as to admit as much.

Jon Friedman of MarketWatch wrote a recent column about how CNN — the supposedly most “serious” of news networks– has an unfortunate habit of condensing the worth of its female anchors into sex appeal. “Sex always sells when it comes to TV news” is not a particularly in-depth piece, and it’s not news to most feminists and media activists. But I’m still happy that there are more eyes on this sorry reality. We need as many as we can get.

Friedman writes:

“The occasion was a conference call with journalists after CNN announced that Soledad O’Brien and Miles O’Brien (no relation) were out as the anchors of ” American Morning.” John Roberts, who had come over to CNN from CBS, and Kiran Chetry, recently added from Fox News would be replacing them.

“This is what transpired on the call, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Web site: “As for Ms. Chetry, who joined CNN in February from Fox News Channel, ‘One look at her tells you why she deserves the spot,’ (CBS President Jonathan) Klein said. ‘She’s a terrific anchor who lights up the screen.’”

Klein’s quote also appears in an AP wire story covering the “American Morning” changeover — a story in which Klein affirms that the show will retain its “hard news” focus. He might’ve noted Chetry’s twelve years of experience in television news to back up his claim, but instead, we’re given that ‘one look at her…lights up the screen’ drivel.

Friedman’s column juxtaposes the allusion to Chetry’s beauty-quotient with CNN’s 2002 ad promoting Paula Zahn, in which a voiceover asks: “What other morning show has a host who is brilliant, super smart — and sexy?’”

The point is clear: CNN wouldn’t dare promote a male anchor with those words. Why, that would be ridiculous! They’re serious journalists, after all.

We can conclude that all the brains, talent, and experience in the world aren’t going to help the career-minded anchor who isn’t willing to use any means neccessary to force her body conform to a narrow definition of beauty. Women’s eNews even has a frightening chronicle of female news anchors who push the point to crisis by delivering headlines while nude, topless, or in other various stages of undress. Female journalists who don’t want any part of such a sexist culture don’t end up behind the news desk — and all of us media consumers lose out.

Not everyone’s satisfied with the state of the media. Enter Women in Media and News, which was created in 2001 to transform the media landscape for women. Enter the Women’s Media Center, which formed last year to make the female half of the world present and powerful in the media, the Center for New Words, which hosts a powerful annual Women, Action and Media conference, and the International Women’s Media Foundation, which sponsors courage in journalism awards celebrating groundbreaking work by female jouranlists across the world — and all the other activists, journalists, editors, producers, citizens, and change-makers who can imagine a better way. Cheers to all of you, and thank you.

Bio: Anna Clark is a freelance writer and editor. She maintains the literary and social justice website, Isak

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