The XX Factor

A Good Night for Women in Politics. A Bad Night for Women on TV.

Last night was a terrific one for women in politics. A record number of women were elected to the Senate! The brigade of old white men who decided to share their terrifying opinions about sexual assault with the rest of us went down to unanimous defeat! Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay member of the Senate, and Tammy Duckworth beat out incumbent Rep. Joe Walsh to become the first woman injured in combat to serve in Congress.

But even as these substantive victories were unfolding, it was a strange evening for some of the women on television announcing the results. First, there was Diane Sawyer on ABC, whose performance—”Our music! We need our music!“—was so loose that it led to speculation that she’d gotten lit before taking the anchor’s chair.

Or maybe she was just exhausted. Or over-caffeinated. The presidential election is, after all, a grueling thing to cover, and election night in particular is a bizarre beast, a series of spaced-out moments of extraordinary import interspersed with hours of essentially dead air that must be filled. But it was still unsettling to watch Sawyer get bogged down in sentences or meander off into silly tangents. You kind of expect that the networks would make sure that their anchors are in top condition for such an important night, especially in an election that some thought might require recounts and legal battles to resolve.

Then, there was Fox News, which rather than suffering under pressure, doubled down on one of the more backwards facets of its brand. As New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reported in a piece about the network’s choice to question its own decision team:

With neither side backing down, senior producers had to find a way to split the difference. One idea was for two members of the decision team, Mishkin and Fox’s digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt, to go on camera with Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier to squelch the doubts over the call. But then it was decided that Kelly would walk through the office and interview the decision team in the conference room. “This is Fox News,” an insider said, “so anytime there’s a chance to show off Megyn Kelly’s legs they’ll go for it.” The decision desk were given a three-minute warning that Kelly would be showing up.

A woman’s place may be in the House and Senate, but on Fox News, attractive female anchors still get handed the gussied-up secretarial work and reminded to use their bodies, not their heads.