My jaw literally dropped when a friend sent me the link to Vanity Fair’s new joint profile of Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski—and I hadn’t even gotten to the text yet. It was the picture that did it: Scarborough in a blue suit and blue, open-collared shirt lounging comfortably in a chair next to a butcher block table. On which is perched Brzezinski, his Morning Joe co-anchor, posed with her left leg skyward, ass just barely covered, balanced on one spindly black high heel. The takeaway: A man is a man and a woman is a table-top ornament.
Brzezinski’s hardly the only female news anchor to be presented as decoration rather than a source of information. In 2010, GQ titled a Q-and-A with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly “She Reports, We Decided She’s Hot,” and shot a portrait of her halfway out of an item of clothing that barely qualified as a dress.
The biggest offense of these shoots is that they are editorially boring, and they say a lot more about what these magazines want from women than they do about the women themselves. Mika’s heel thrust in the air says, Hey, having political opinions doesn’t keep a woman from being a kicky, cheeky broad. Megyn Kelly’s cheesecake shot is reassurance that reading the news—and occasionally taking forceful stands on issues like paid maternity leave or debunking transphobic nonsense—doesn’t automatically shrink a woman’s breasts or delete her sex appeal. Anchorman’s portrait of women coming up in local news in the ‘70s was more thoughtful and subtle about gender, sex appeal, and newsrooms than these portraits are. (Even if Brzezinski and Kelly volunteered to pose in such a ridiculous manner, Vanity Fair and GQ have editors to presumably make better judgment calls.)
That’s not to say it should be mandatory that news anchors pose wearing windbreakers in front of bombed out buildings, or don Rachel Maddow’s serious reporter plastic frames, or stick behind their desks for photo shoots. In fact, precisely the opposite. If someone’s distinct enough to merit a profile or a Q-and-A, they’re distinct enough to merit some thought about what kind of portrait best communicates what made them a worthy subject in the first place. If these magazines think Brzezinski or Kelly are only interesting because of how hot they are, they haven’t been watching much TV news.