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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Meet the Undressed: Newswomen on TV


On a recent "Meet the Press," host David Gregory presided in a tailored jacket and tie. Panelists Al Sharpton, David Brooks and Ken Burns appeared similarly professional. But the two female panelists, Andrea Mitchell and Carly Fiorina, seemed ready for cocktails, not coffee, in form-fitting dresses, arms naked to the world.

"Meet the Undressed" — or, to put it more melodramatically, "Meet the Oppressed." In addition to saying intelligent things, the women seemed required to flaunt their flesh and blink under three layers of eye shadow. They were, sartorially speaking, inferior.

Half naked may be the babe rule for entertainment shows, but must that dress code extend to women of substance on news programs? So it would seem.

I'm not the first woman to be astounded by the dolls on daytime cable news, their overall impression being arms, legs and lip gloss. Why anyone would think "sex sells" on information-oriented news shows is beyond me. The audience can find more and better (sex) on other channels.

Fiorina is a serious woman. She was CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in California. But sleeveless in pistachio green, she looks less authoritative than Al Sharpton. Mitchell is NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent, for heaven's sake. Why does she have to display her bare triceps in a red sheath at the age of 66? (I don't care how good her arms are.) A professional newswoman shouldn't have to do that at age 22.

By contrast, filmmaker Ken Burns gets away with (and looks fine in) the nerd combo of white shirt, brown jacket and matching brown tie. We couldn't see the panelists' footwear, but one doubts that Gregory, Brooks or Sharpton walked on the set tottering on stilettos. Such movement-inhibiting shoes would have been entirely plausible on Fiorina or Mitchell.

What the women gained in attention, they lost in stature. And in many cases, the women would rather not be vying for that sort of attention.

News executives and their stylists are pressuring smart women to serve cheesecake with the expertise — and justify the ugly business as evidence of gender equality: Ladies, you don't have to prove anything anymore, so forget about those '80s power suits and wear whatever party dress you want to on "Meet the Press."

"Ten years ago, professional dress meant a Talbots suit for women," the head of a marketing firm that consults with news networks told The Washington Post. Things have changed for the better," he said. "The audience has equal regard for female and male anchors. It's given women far more liberty to be feminine."

A crock.

If no one has to prove anything, why doesn't David Gregory wear a cut-off T-shirt and flip-flops?

Ann Curry, former co-anchor of NBC's "Today," told a women's magazine how she was pressed to wear "ridiculously high-heeled shoes." Mika Brzezinski complained that when she started on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," she was pushed into clothes that were "short, skimpy, tight." She somehow escaped and now wears sweaters and collared shirts, which is what Joe wears.

Rachel Maddow has dismissed the cable TV news look for women as "un-businesslike." How interesting that the minimally adorned Maddow is MSNBC's hottest commentator, challenging Fox News and attracting the younger demographic. I have no idea where Maddow gets her jackets, but Talbots would not be an impossibility.

You wonder whether the news executives tarting up their female journalists aren't the Ron Burgundys stuck in the age of disco. Perhaps they're the dated ones, not giving women the liberty to be serious.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




7 Comments | Post Comment
Froma, I couldn't agree more -- but let's not be naive. You wrote: "Why anyone would think 'sex sells' on information-oriented news shows is beyond me." First of all, sex ALWAYS sells, and this isn't all that new. Perhaps you recall Don Henley's hit "Dirty Laundry." It was released in 1982. It includes the following lyrics:

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five
She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It's interesting when people die. Give us dirty laundry

Sure, the song was primarily about the public's insatiable appetite for airing other people's "dirty laundry" -- but it's no coincidence that he refers to a bubble-headed bleach-blonde. Another lyric from the song notes that the news reporter doesn't need to be clear, he just needs to look good. So, this has AT LEAST been around since before 1982 -- which is the same era you lovingly harken back to about women wearing power suits, etc.

So, while I completely agree with you that the double standard for female journalists is RIDICULOUS -- I'm not going to pretend that this is something new. And I'm not going to pretend to be "astonished" by the fact that "anyone would think 'sex sells' on information-oriented news shows." At least the female journalists here in the U.S. are, in fact, fully clothed. In other countries, they're topless.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Lisa
Tue Dec 4, 2012 7:15 AM
LW1: Bare arms = half naked? LOL Wow, I love how a woman can't be taken seriously if she bares her arms. This article is ridiculous and the writer is seriously stupid.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Diana
Tue Dec 4, 2012 7:48 AM
I'm a 45 yr old white male. I'm college educated, informed, working professional. I read enough online and in print to care less about news or political programs on TV. The *only* reason I'd stay tuned in to one of the shows this author is writing about as opposed to watching some mindless sports show or HGTV is specifically because of the attractive women on them. If that is some sort of horrendous sin then I'm terribly happy that I don't care.
Comment: #3
Posted by: John
Tue Dec 4, 2012 8:48 AM
At the same timwe I have to wonder out loud, why does a woman have to be limited by this author's regulations in order to be taken seriously in the first place? Grow up. Just because someone dresses with styule and flair doesn't mean they aren't brilliant too. Ridiculous.
Comment: #4
Posted by: John
Tue Dec 4, 2012 10:51 AM
Thank you for this editorial that addresses the state of "undress" that plagues our women news anchors. No matter what show I watch, I see women with low cut tops & sleeveless arms. What gives with this? Andrea Mitchell, who is so accomplished, always looks like she's heading out to a club. Is is a constant irritation that women still have to expose their flesh. It's particularly rampant on cable news. The only woman that dresses in a conservative way is Rachel Maddow.
Again, thank you for addressing this issue. Women will never achieve parity as long as we have to expose our flesh in ways that men don't.
Comment: #5
Posted by: sheraa10
Wed Dec 5, 2012 8:33 AM
I really can't believe my eye's. My mother a 82yr old conservative republican from Indiana and I had a huge argument 2 months ago about this topic. She referred to Mrs. Obama as "old Bare Arm's". She went on to say how terrible it was that she "pranced around in a sleeveless dress". The way my mother was talking, it was as if Mrs. Obama was at a strip club pole dancing! I brought up Andrea Mitchell and Jackie Kennedy as other respectable women who (OMG) went sleeveless. My mother had nothing good to say about these women either. I asked if being sleeveless was = to showing cleavage and she was silent only saying "I don't like it"! Come on now! I really don't care what they wear. There is no need for cleavage or thighs but sleeveless?????????? Do we know that Andrea Mitchell secretly desires long sleeves, if so then I support you. I agree women should not be forced to wear short dresses with stilettos. If Andrea Mitchell wore Ken Burn's outfit each day....would she then be criticized for not embellishing her femininity?
Comment: #6
Posted by: Katrina Fossa
Wed Dec 5, 2012 11:30 AM
Re: Katrina Fossa
I agree with you, Katrina, but your misuse of the apostrophe is very distracting. The plural of eye is "eyes", not eye's. The plural of arm is "arms", not arm's. An apostrophe is used only to when a letter is left out in contractions (aren't for are not, I'm for I am, etc.) or to show possession ( Mary's clothes, chair's leg, etc.)
Comment: #7
Posted by: Georgie
Mon Dec 24, 2012 10:09 AM
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