TV

When News Equals Sex!

Anderson Cooper (press photo / photographer unknown)

Rather than moving away from "lookism", we seem to be embracing it. Even in the most unlikely areas.

Flipping the channels between network, local and cable news of late can be a confusing undertaking these days. Not just because so much propaganda is being passed off as news and not just because so much “news” is really just so much filler. No, it’s all flawless skin, perfect hair and ultra-platinum teeth of all the anchors and reporters that now report the daily headlines. Assaulted with such physical perfection -- men and women -- it’s hard to know if you’re actually watching the news or some new fangled thing on the always looks-conscious Bravo.

I mean, is it me or suddenly are all the anchors and reporters, male and female, really, really attractive?

Having grown up in a world were TV news was exemplified by the likes (and looks) of Walter Cronkite, Roger Mudd, Edwin Newman, Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace, today’s line up of readers, reporters and anchors instead look much more like Star Search’s infamous spokesperson category -- where contestants must be “able to speak effectively in a variety of situations”—has fully come to fruition.

Women reporters have faced this extra, unfair standard for decades with their on-air performance and supposed effectiveness more often centered on their hair and wardrobe than their news judgment and reportage. In fact, lookism and TV newswomen has been such an issue for so long the topic has even make it all the way to the US Supreme Court. In 1983, TV news anchor Christine Craft began a long legal battle when she filed suit against KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Missouri, after she was demoted by the station for being “too old” and “too ugly". Her case came before the high Court in the mid-'80s, though they ultimately refused to re-hear it.

Sadly, I don’t think Craft’s case did too much to change attitudes about women in news and CNBC’s so-called Money Honey Maria Bartiromo would probably agree with me. So would Maxim magazine whose website currently features a slideshow of “TV’s Sexiest News Anchors".

Actually, in subsequent years, rather than becoming more enlightened on the subject of lookism regarding women and news, we have simply started to apply this same standard to men. (I guess that counts as some sort of equality?)

Arthur Kent was probably something of a pioneer in this realm when he earned the nickname the “Scud Stud” from his reporting during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. But Kent wouldn’t be the last. Anderson Cooper’s silver fox sex symbol status has survived even his gay coming out. Meanwhile, dark-haired, dark-eyed David Muir is the rising star of ABC news, reportedly on deck to replace Diane Sawyer on the ABC’s nightly newscast. And Chris Cuomo, Brian Williams and Matt Lauer could each be a month in the Handsome Anchors wall calendar that I’m sure the Freedom Forum would market if they could get away with it. (It’s no wonder that the all-male version of Naked News ceased production in 2007; you can get your eye candy for free these days via broadcast stations.)

All this is not to say that Williams, et.al., are not talented and dedicated journalists. But one does have to wonder how much their looks have aided in their ascent to the airwaves. And one has to wonder what it says when Seth Rogan and Owen Wilson can be leading men in movies but don’t stand a chance of holding down the network anchor desk? This trend seems to look forward to the future predicted by Mike Judge’s 2006 film Idiocracy. It depicts a not so distant future where the evening news -- FOX News, to be exact -- is anchored by barely-clothed fitness models.

Our new found, or amplified, lookism isn’t of course limited to just TV news. Politics has quickly followed suit… or lead the way. Note Sarah Palin’s immediate elevation to full “MILF” status when she entered the national scene as a VP candidate. And here again our obsession our obsession with the physical isn’t limited to just women. Consider Paul Ryan’s fitness and shirtless pics that hit the internet after he was nominated as VP or Senator Aaron Schock’s pec-tacular pose on the cover of Men’s Fitness magazine in 2011. Former Senator Scott Brown, of course, sort of lead the way here when his 1982 Cosmo pictorial was dug up during the 2010 special election. Today, it seems, if you want to get votes, you might first want to look like a romance cover model.

That people like to look at pretty people is nothing new. It’s as ancient as a Roman statuary and Renaissance art. There are even scientific reasons for it. (Check out Nancy Etcoff’s 2000 book Survival of the Prettiest for the details.) And no doubt that when news reporters and anchors (and politicians, for that matter) have to deliver to us unfortunate information, it probably helps when these facts come from someone fine.

But what price are we potentially paying? How many excellent journalists are being kept from the news desk due to receding hairlines, double chins or thicker waistlines? If Walter Cronkite or Ed Newman were coming up the ranks today, would they stand a chance of ever being in front of the cameras? Maybe… once they get a makeover.

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