At the beginning of my career, I significantly screwed up a headline and story, rightfully making me the laughingstock of the Internet for nearly a week. I went to work at 5:30 as usual (part of the issue, I was exhausted!), but by 10 p.m., a major TV anchor was calling out my careless mistake and even rolling his eyes at me for writing for my college newspaper. I deserved the wrath for sloppy work, but what I didn’t expect was blatantly sexist criticism about my error. One commenter wrote, “I don’t think Ms. Donovan needs to worry about the future … She’s attractive enough to appear on any number of the Fox News shows as a ‘Republican strategist.'” Another male framed the story as if I’d been assaulted, stating the TV anchor “smacked Donovan around, dressed her down, didn’t like it, dressed her back up, bopped her, pulled her, and twisted her for bad journalism.” Because metaphors about sexual and physical abuse against women are just too freakin‘ hilarious to pass up.
What I experienced was tough, so I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be for successful and well-known female reporters to do their jobs when so many unhappy men are around to call them stupid and unworthy on a generous day. Lara Logan, CBS News’s chief foreign affairs correspondent and war correspondent for 60 Minutes, has faced this throughout her career, and though she’s indicated before that it doesn’t bother her, the way people use her looks to judge her reporting, whether strong or weak, is definitely an issue.
Last fall, the South Africa native’s reputation took a dip when after an inaccurate Benghazi story aired on 60 Minutes, forcing her to apologize on television and take a leave of absence. It’s still unclear whether she’ll be invited back later this year, and that’s the heart of New York writer Joe Hagan’s profile on Logan. While the focus should be on the Benghazi controversy, especially with an eyebrow-raising headline like “Benghazi and the Bombshell,” Hagan uses much of his 8-page piece to highlight Logan’s physical appearance and star quality, which have nothing to do with the actual botched report. On page two, he points out that Logan possesses “a telegenic sexual charisma, a highly useful attribute for a woman who wants to succeed in TV journalism.” Fair enough, but it doesn’t stop there, not even close.
After stating Logan used to be a swimsuit model, Hagan continues, “From the start, she had two qualities that seemed to mix profitably, if uneasily: exceptional courage — and, of course, her looks.” He also talks about some of the sexist headlines that have been written about Logan, who didn’t appreciate being told to put her “bazookas” away by the press. “Logan protested these reports as sexist. But she was also open-eyed about the uses of sex in her profession — it was a tactic, and not to use it would be stupid,” Hagan writes, insinuating that women in news cannot have it both ways.
Perhaps sexism is an ugly part of the job — any job, really — but tabloids would still write about Logan in a gross way whether she’s open about utilizing her wiles or not, and once again, Logan’s looks have nothing to do with the failed Benghazi story.
Hagan doesn’t suggest Logan only got where she is today because she’s pretty, but he does imply that she’s always gotten her way as a result of her appearance, which ultimately opened the door for a big story about Benghazi. It’s important to know, however, that all journalists make mistakes. This was a huge one, but it didn’t happen because Lara Logan is a good sight for sore eyes. It happened because everyone let their guard down and didn’t do their homework. Logan, a known fearless hustler, wasn’t the only person at fault for this. She, along with CBS News, is just the face of the Benghazi story, and she’s taking the fall for it.
The profile, which has been labeled as sexist by certain writers, is one example of female sexist treatment in news. Though she admitted the law field is more sexist than journalism, Fox News’s Megyn Kelly acknowledges there’s sexism in her current line of work. During the Occupy protests in D.C., then-Daily Caller reporter Michelle Fields was called the “c” word during one of her interviews, and the shirt she wore for one of her TV appearances garnered the headline, “Fields Takes Fox To Titty City.”
“It actually was a good thing because I feel like I gained so many more fans who saw this as someone who was unfairly targeting me,” Fields told BuzzFeed earlier this year. “People wanted to see what I was about and they added me on Twitter.”
There’s always some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, but that doesn’t make the position of female journalists any easier. A story centered on a faulty news report should be structured around that, not the way a journalist’s looks may have benefited her throughout her career. It’s just not important.
What do you make of the Logan story and Benghazi controversy? How about females in journalism? Share in the comments section.
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