That the journalism profession is a misogynistic fiefdom is an understatement of epic proportions, particularly in Canada where so many female “on-air talent” are bleach blonde, too skinny, and look like the vapid gun molls in B-list straight-to-video movies, particularly on the local level – the critical one to gain access to the larger markets, even in a more diverse mosaic such as Canada. But in the mid-90s when I began, the blatant sexism in the profession was horrific.
When I decided to go undercover, as it were, studying journalism by becoming a journalist myself, I realized I had to look the part: I kept my naturally brownish-black hair blonde, and dressed fashionably in pretty, but professional clothes, and then made an excellent hard news demo tape in j-school so I could get interviews in television newsrooms to see how young women like me would be treated.
Broadcasting was never my thing. Scripts are akin to a cage and shackles to me. I am a word person and a public speaking person, but covering the bases meant researching every facet of the profession.
You will notice this site has yet to have a single video of me, for instance, and I am hard pressed to even do podcasts. I am more of a Teller than a Penn.
When I got hired to write stories for print, many times, it was just over email and that was it – the pitch was good enough and I did my work, got published, got paid, and even got to do encores. Sometimes email was half the battle, and a congenial phone call sealed the deal, and I would get to write the story. Rarely, I had to go to the publication for a face-to-face interview, and though it did not always end up with me writing for that publication (twice I missed the mark: the day of one of my interviews at a daily newspaper, the editor was called away by the publisher for an “emergency budget meeting” and the pitch I had was one of the victims of the slashing, and the other time, I hit it off with the editor, but someone else with more experience who was a better fit got the assignment, though I was given an invitation to pitch more stories, which I did not as other assignments came up), other times, I did get the greenlight. For print, for one exception, I cannot say I had bad experiences during the “getting to check you out in person” phase.
Broadcasting in Ontario was an entirely different story, especially in most Toronto stations where I secured an interview with almost every major broadcaster at the time. These weren’t small-market places who didn’t know how to run things.
I would put in a résumé, but when I got an interview, I was not told in advance that there was no actual job opening. This phenomenon never happened to me in print publications. I would pitch a specific idea for a single story, or a series, and it was either yay or nay.
The first time it happened, I was in for a surprise: I would be expected to make a long trek to an office to get interviewed with someone very high up in charge. When I asked what was the opening for, I was told there was no opening. Sometimes, I didn’t even get to ask as the first words were, “There isn’t a job opening, but I liked/loved/was intrigued by your letter/c.v., and I wanted to interview you.”
Well, that did not exactly sound professional or on the level to a young twentysomething woman. People looking for a job do not always have infinite time or resources to dress up, waste gas, and pay for parking just to chew the fat with someone who has no intention of hiring them when they could be busy sending a résumé or twenty to a place that actually has the potential to be the place of employment.
It was always a white, middle-aged man. It was always some sort of excuse why I was dragged all the way from another city with no actual position to offer, but, I was always told, I was really, really qualified, and I had what it took…but the business was so hard, mean, tough, and the openings so few…
I realized early on that this spiel was a game. If there was nothing for me, then, of course, the logical thing would be not to haul me over in such a deceptive manner. “We have no opening; do you want to come in to be interviewed just because…?” would normally generate a polite, “no, thank you,” from me as I am a bottom-line woman and time is money. They saw my work with my demo tape, and they either had work for me or not.
If the demo wasn’t good enough, then fine, their right to reject me, just don’t call me in to see you in person, as I was working in print, and didn’t exactly have free time to waste.
But as I was not a typical job candidate, I would agree, knowing full-well by the third interview what was taking place. A young, gullible, and nubile girl who had stars in her eyes would do anything to get her little foot in the door. I was calm, showing my enthusiasm for wanting to work in the business, but not making any overtures to use my feminine wiles to procure it. I wasn’t naïve. The interview ended with no job…
But more times than not, I would get a call back from the same radio or television outlet for another jobless interview weeks or months later. I was already employed in journalism writing for publications for the entire time, but it was just a feeler interview: what was I willing to put out to break into the business?
Aside promising to work my best and hardest using my knowledge and numerous journalistic skills, I wasn’t going to marry the job by consummating a quickie with the scuzzball in charge of hiring (no, I wasn’t Starlight putting out for The Boys in a Garth Ennis comic book). I felt like a version of biblical Eve, but one who was offered to take a bite of the forbidden fruit to get into the Garden of Eden. I wasn’t buying that one either, thank you very much.
One major broadcaster called me three times with the same jobless interview.
I never used the casting couch to land work. Not my style. Only once did one local newspaper try to play that kind of game with me – purporting to hire me for a position that I was obviously not qualified to handle, and one I did not actually apply for (it was managing editor position, and I was applying to be a municipal politics reporter. There is a big difference, and I was suspicious from the get-go, but I figured I would last a half-day at the most, and I won that bet with myself. I was honest about my greenness – not that I thought he did not see the obvious, but as to give warning that I fully saw it as a realist, too – and kept trying to leave, but the publisher kept stalling, keeping me alone in the same room with him for several hours, and it was obvious that I was supposed to do anything to keep this job I thought should have gone to someone who worked as an editor before – or someone else in the newsroom. Young Alexandra Kitty had no business getting hired here. I managed to get out of that small potato’s viper’s den, got home, and continued writing my first article for Presstime magazine, where none of those manipulative shenanigans ever took place.
I took copious notes and compared the ways of print with the ways of broadcasting, not just with how potential (non-?) employees were treated, but how male and female reporters were assigned stories, what beats they covered, and how they handled their subject matter.
It does not take a genius to figure out the obvious: people in power rig the game to keep power. They ensure they are the gate-keepers who hold the reins of power – and the paper crowns of pseudo-power: they keep others from gaining the real power and make people do very degrading things (recorded, of course, so the pigeon is blackmailed and shamed for being conniving and playing the game) to go after the jobs that have no longevity or clout, but seem glamourous and powerful. The gullible think they have hit upon a solution, not knowing the ones in power wrote the rules and build the game board and want to bait their victims to compromise themselves from the start, but they are running so fast on the hamster wheel they got lured on that they never see it’s a fix. Duh.
As a strategy to sexually harass ambitious women with no guidance or life experience, it is a very effective one: when things go south and the woman is discarded for a new crop of naïve and ambitious young women to toy with and manipulate, the woman believes that she cannot stand up to her abusers and say she was sexually harassed and victimized: she was the one who offered sexual services in exchange for a job – and the balance of blame seems to fall on the vixen, not the man in authority who threw bed-crumbs for the one without power to follow straight to his crotch.
Of course, he has no true talent, creativity, or skills – he relies on doling crumbs out to those desperate pigeons to do all the work to make him look capable, competent, and even a genius visionary. He knows how to find true talent and then luring those suckers on a hamster wheel as he harnesses their energy to build his own bank account and legacy.
Fox News’ Roger Ailes was kicked to the curb by his employers at News Corps (masters of the Fox News Channel, an outlet I covered in my 2005 book OutFoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s war on journalism) when he was sued by former anchor Gretchen Carlson for workplace sexual harassment, when, according to New York magazine, more than two dozen women said they, too, were harassed by Ailes. Many journalists and anchors get in, but not always through hard work or talent: some use the casting couch, others have their well-connected mommies and daddies whose name gets them a ticket into the business – or they are just gullible and desperate airheads who are working with no remuneration at places worth billions.
For those who do make it with talent and without compromise, they know it is a grueling road, but one where the returns can never match the investment. They get harassed as if that were a normal thing and a logical way to comport yourself at the workplace. While many journalists (male and female) earned their way, television is still considered the most enviable and coveted job in journalism, meaning those who control who gets on the air can do it any way they wish: if the job candidate or employee doesn’t play along, she is soon out of a job as Gretchen Carlson found herself, though she was smart enough to use her iPhone to record her boss’s swinish overtures, which he had tried to deny without success. Siri doesn’t lie.
It is the reason abuse can go on in places such as these: there are always a crop of younger – and more gullible models waiting in the wings, and even #MeToo will not put a stop to backdoor and indirect forms of sexual abuse at the workplace because it is not focusing on the kinds of harassment where a young woman thinks it is her idea to use the casting coach to turn a jobless interview to one that gets her work.
The game is rigged from the get-go by the gate-keeper. These women are assigned beats and stories that let the world know they are not respected for their brains or abilities by those who know them – it will always be some fluffy little beat or light-weight stories, and they will be the first axed when the ad revenue takes yet another dive. She will not be covering a Watergate, but telling viewers, that, golly, it is so hot outside in the summer!
Those who are determined to claw their way to hard-hitting beats find it an uphill battle as talent is easily replaceable and audiences don’t always care what fodder they see on the screen.
For those who take the down and dirty route to success, often they engage in affairs with management; however, when the relationship sours or her job ticket gets the pink slip when new owners bring in their own employees, she is the first out the door.
But it is not a pleasant business. It is one where the most predatory of personalities find their place to terrorize those who depend on them for employment.
But the sexist stench is still strong in Canada as witnessed by the sanctioned debauchery of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi – there were complaints from underlings regarding the behavior of the former Q radio program host, but the answer from management was simple: put up and shut up. He was fired – not for workplace sexual harassment, but by purportedly feeling entitled enough to show management a smartphone video he recorded on himself on a date where he was physically and verbally abusive to his companion. One dark turn took another, and he found himself being charged with sex crimes against three women. The media circus made it seem as if his fate was sealed behind bars.
Of course, he was acquitted of all charges because the women he dated continued to contact him even after the alleged abuses, but for anyone who knows anything about abusive dynamics, they know it is common for women continue to interact with men who assault them (and, hello! some women go on to marry their abusers. Sometimes it is a question of self-esteem, denial, fear, or the belief he is a beast who can be tamed by a beauty) – and the judge would have to know this phenomenon as would Ghomeshi’s attorney who used it against the three women who made the allegations – yet the Crown who seemed oblivious to reality.
How many women who were raped were forced to marry their attackers (abusers of women, historically, were not seen as rogues, but as confident men who went after what they wanted)? How many battered wives return to their husbands, even if they end up murdered? Do we just shrug our shoulders to this troubling, but not uncommon dynamic? If a man kills his wife who stayed in the bad marriage, should he not be charged with murder just because she stayed until it was too late?
But once upon a time, those battered wives were often battered girlfriends first.
Somehow, we forget that human dynamics do not function on an algorithm. We have “friends” who take advantage of us, relatives who exploit us, bosses who terrorize us, and governments who oppress us.
Is it all right for their ways to go unchallenged? Do they get off the hook because we didn’t beat them up the first time they pulled a stunt? Are they in the right because we endured and went back for more?
No, of course not. We often blame ourselves, too afraid to fight back, let alone confront, and we put up, often for a lifetime.
But when a few say “enough” even when it is long overdue, their previous retreating and enduring of abuse is used as “evidence” that no abuse ever took place.
The judge in the Ghomeshi Affair accepted that very argument in his ruling.
Even journalists covering the trial – the ones who have covered numerous trials over the decades, just didn’t get it. Christie Blatchford – a National Post columnist who covered it, wrote rambling articles as if she had never been exposed to court cases involving abused women, blithely deferred to authority in her February 11, 2016 column:
As one veteran Toronto put it this week, “the criminal justice system has been hijacked by ideology,” in this instance, the feminist cant that accusers must always be believed.
So there, people who thought the trial was a rigged farce!
Blatchford may be a well-known columnist, but as a chronicler of reality, she is one of the most logically sloppiest reporters Canada has ever tolerated. After all, where are her figures supporting the assertion that rape victims get a free pass in Canadian courts?
That is a sweeping statement and a serious charge.
After all, if you throw in an ignorant quote from a lawyer to puff up a mediocre article, you better find out if that assertion has any truth to it. Keeping it in without verification implies what has been said is truth.
Journalism is a predatory industry that’s sees nothing wrong with predatory ways. It is part gatherer, but no one should forget it is also part hunter. There is no shortage of people who bully and lord over people who have mortgages and bills to pay and very few opportunities to find employment if they should stand up and try to purify the work environment.
The CBC’s own internal investigation confirmed that, yes, they allowed one of their radio “stars” (yes, the benchmark is low) to denigrate the workplace. He was enabled to do it and any female within his radius had no protectors from his actions.
But sexual harassment is not the only way journalism displays its brazenly sexist side.
It is also opportunity and the bottom line: pay.
And women in the business are never seen as visionaries or innovators with genius or gravitas.
Without exception, women in the communications disciplines are NEVER SEEN AS VISIONARIES OR INNOVATORS WITH GENIUS OR GRAVITAS.
Because they are never considered the vanguards of the future.
But should anyone suggest making any change to the profession is met with open hostility, especially if the critic happens to be female. It does not matter that journalism and publishing is plummeting to oblivion: inventing alternatives to reinvigorate both is not something a female can suggest and be taken seriously.
I know that one personally on many levels: when I pitched Don’t Believe It! to publishers, the rejections were nearly identical: there was no truth, accuracy, or credibility problem in the profession, according to them; I was just a shrill and hysterical woman making a mountain out of a molehill, even though I had to update my proposal every week because that’s how many new cases of journalistic hoaxes were being exposed. It was an epidemic of stories proving to be out and out lies, yet suggesting one book that brought attention to this inalienable fact was somehow reactionary, alarmist, and not realistic.
My book was published and many more hoaxes have been exposed since its publication.
Even though I was a journalist writing about the business of journalism, I had publishers and juried reviewers put down my qualifications: I was published in an academic journal, Skeptic, and many trade magazines read by those in the business, but my being a Canadian correspondent for Presstime magazine, published by the Newspaper Association of America was just not experience enough, according to one juried reviewer, and I should team up with an older white male newspaper columnist instead.
Sure, like everyone will think the younger woman came up with the idea and did all the research and work.
The Disinformation Company gave me the go ahead to write the book solo and I did so with relish.
I do not expect applause or to get every one of my ideas accepted: but even the hashtag #MeToo implies something very sexist in itself: women are all interchangeable victims, making them cannon fodder like a character in The Walking Dead.
It is a real problem, and not one that can be ignored or mislabeled a victory. Like the jobless interviews, there are ways to abuse and harass potential and current employees, and those ways have not even be addressed.
There are too many corners for predators to hide, and it’s not acceptable in 2017.
But most importantly of all, a profession that abuses women cannot report on the world properly.