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Froma Harrop
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Tuesday 4 December 2012
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.

Meet the Undressed: Newswomen on TV

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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 show 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 buisness  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 Current, 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.


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ABOUT Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers, including The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Times, Denver Post and Newsday. The twice-a-week column is distributed by Creators Syndicate, in Los Angeles. Harrop has written for numerous other publications, ranging from The New York Times and Institutional Investor, to Harper’s Bazaar and Metropolitan Home. Previously, she covered business for Reuters Ltd., in New York, and was a financial editor for The New York Times News Service. A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary, Harrop was also honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Over the years, the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has named her for five awards.

Good point and I'm surprised

Good point and I'm surprised it doesn't come up more often. While I confess the allure of attractive women in tight fitting cocktail dresses and bare legs and arms stirs my genes, in the context of a news program the difference in men's and women's dress strikes me as rather peculiar. I'd love to see a parody in which the men appeared in sleeveless T-shirts and bicycling shorts while the women were fully dressed!

For those of you are younger,

For those of you are younger, sleeveless dresses were all the rage when Jackie Kennedy was in the White House. Now, fashion has repeated this trend. I don't see anything wrong with this. I do object to low--cut dresses showing cleaveage. However, I don't think women have to dress like bank employees to look professional. Could it be that Froma is frumpy?

I stopped reading when you

I stopped reading when you compared a sleeveless dress to a "cut-off T-shirt and flip-flops" and then referred to Ann Curry as "Ann Current".

I hate "women's suits" -- no

I hate "women's suits" -- no matter how well tailored, and even apart from the dreadful "power red" so beloved of female political candidates in their suits, they look lousy. When few women appeared in court (I'm old enough to remember the disparity way back when) it seemed that they wanted to dress as much as possible like men, so that they would be "taken seriously." I didn't think it true then, and surely don't now. I believe that wearing very informal clothes, skimpy or revealing or not, is inappropriate for TV journalists; but see nothing wrong with beautiful dresses, blouses, skirts, pants, which are distinctly feminine. And to Palsimon, bull -- intelligent women are quite able to focus on themselves, their appearance, and "the issues" which interest them. The weather girls just let the rest of us focus on their bodies, I suppose, yet I still believe it important to know the weather. And because I am interested in actual news, I have no idea what the women on Fox News wear -- never watched them.

It is common for young girls

It is common for young girls to be taught (media, movies, parents) to be seductive in order to get attention and what they want (think Toddlers and Tiaras). The same way men are taught to suck it up, rather than show their emotions. So why would these same women stop what has always worked for them? It's their style, M.O., how they feel confident. But it is uncomfortable for those around them when breasts are being generously exposed, or skirts are too tight and short. Unless, of course, you are Ally McBeal.

mujerviajera's picture

Seriously, as a sixty four

Seriously, as a sixty four year old woman . . .who cares? Just give me intelligent content. Leslie Stahl is very pleasing to the eyes and ears. Love the earrings!!

Were the women told what to

Were the women told what to wear, or did they wear what they wanted to wear?

First Ladies have always

First Ladies have always influenced what women wear in this country, and I believe Mrs. Obama started the trend of sleeveless dresses, even in winter, which never was the case. In my opinion, she should dress more appropriately to her office. As to the news reporters, showing too much skin makes them look less influential and, silly, actually, and certainly takes away from their message. Frankly, I would be embarrassed to appear on Meet the Press with uncovered arms.

What a STUPID non-issue!

What a STUPID non-issue! These women are adults, and as such, can choose to wear whatever the hell they want to. Who are YOU (or anyone else) to dictate what is "professional" or not? Are they doing their job? Are they doing it well? Then what difference does it make if they like to be comfortable? Or stylish? Or are we too programmed to accept only a suit talking to us? Men's fashion choices are CONSTIPATED. (And men like it that way -- they don't have to think about what they'll wear, beyond how "flashy" their tie should be.) Seriously, this is a STUPID thing for grown adults to be muddling over.

mujerviajera's picture

Ditto . . .from a female.

Ditto . . .from a female.

DJSTUCREW: You must be a

DJSTUCREW: You must be a male.

Fox "news" is just the most

Fox "news" is just the most agregious example of substituting a leg show for a news report. (I heard Cronkite had good legs but I still would have a preference for Carlson). I suppose it's a good thing for them to have SOMETHING for their viewers since transmitting useful information is not their strong suit. But the other networks are little better. ...... I like Rachel Maddow as well most of the time although she can be over much snarky at times. Legs assuredly not an issue.

For my money the best newscaster in the business, male or female, leg or no leg, is Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! She IS the Cronkite of this generation. Her program is the most complete, and balanced. If her left leaning inclinations are too apparent at times, so what? I do not require "fair" from a newscast. I'll decide what's fair for myself. I require information. I'll sort it out.

palsimon's picture

I have long been critical of

I have long been critical of female news anchors skimpy garments, showing their legs and distracting from the serious nature of their professions. Everyone is at liberty to dress as they wish, but if one wants to be taken seriously on an academic level, they should stick with a more professional attire. Rachel Maddow is my ideal female news commentator. Intelligent women want to focus on issues, not on their bodies.

mujerviajera's picture

Rachel Maddow is gay. . .

Rachel Maddow is gay. . . hardly an example of an "ideal female".

Why would you say that?

Why would you say that?

You are assuming these women

You are assuming these women are allowed to make the decision about what they are going to wear on air. I rather doubt that's the case.

All you have to do is tune in

All you have to do is tune in to Fox & Friends to see that Fox has made a calculated bet on a show of legs. Plus, those in charge have a fetish for blonds. It must appear on their application forms - "Hair color?" - yet, when my husband sees Gretchen Carlson, he says she is NOT at all pretty - and is the definition of the dumb blond to boot. I have to add, along with the guy on her left, Dousy, who has to be the dumbest of the blonds on Fox.
Yes, I agree with you on all counts, including that Rachel Maddow is my idea of a real brainiac. I never miss her show.

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