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That the women who appear on Fox News are very young, very beautiful, and very heavily made up is news to no one. And despite the often combative nature of the on-air segments, the backstage experience seems to be much more relaxing. “Honestly,” says Basse, “99.9 percent of guests are jazzed about being there because it’s almost like a mini-spa. They do full hair and makeup [at the Fox News studio], and the people there are nice. They’re just nice.” But, she continues, not everyone who sits in her chair wants to have their makeup done. “Sometimes a guest is more low-key and low-maintenance, and they’re really nervous, and all I’ve ever said is, ‘Makeup is meant to make you look your best,'” she says. “I let them think I’m giving them exactly what they want, but in the end, I always get exactly what I want. Because I know what the producer’s looking for. If for some reason I get someone who’s really pushing back, I’ll tell them a little bit more about what’s going on instead of just slapping something on their face.”
But this, of course, is just the drumroll to the real complaint:
[Former Fox News contributor] Dr. [Caroline] Heldman is more critical of Fox News’ beauty rules. “They never write anything down, but there are unofficial rules, like you can never put your hair up,” she says. “They’re definitely looking for certain physical types. There’s not really any doubt about that.” She added, “When you go on Fox you’re automatically not legitimate. You’re there as eye candy and to be scoffed at. That is your role on Fox if you’re a woman.”
And then the regular Fox-haters show up:
Hannah Groch-Begley, a research fellow at Media Matters, devotes her time to tracking how conservative media in general—and Fox News specifically—talk about women, treat women, and report on policy topics that are of concern to women. She and her team are constantly tracking and documenting particularly glaring examples of sexism, from Fox News’ guests all the way up to its chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes. “What we really find is that sexism is rooted in Fox’s DNA,” she tells me. “If you look particularly at the things that Roger Ailes has said, it becomes clear that the culture of the network permits, and I think in some cases encourages, degradation of women and a dismissal of the serious issues that are facing women today.”
According to Groch-Begley, we can categorize sexism on Fox as falling into two categories. First, there’s the sexism that’s rooted deeply in Fox News’ business model—including recorded examples of how Roger Ailes treats the women on his channel, from high profile hosts to guests of the network. “There’s repeated evidence that he treats them as objects that are there purely for their physical value,” she told me. “They’re there for their physical appearance. They’re there as eye candy. And maybe they’ll say something interesting, maybe they won’t.”
But can’t the same be said about Steve Doocy? Or Shepard Smith? And it’s not as if CNN was thrilled to have Candy Crowley on the air.
From my perspective, as someone who has done some time in the Fox News Hair and Makeup Department, there are only really two conclusions: 1) There’s only so much any hair and makeup professional can do. Whenever I get a glimpse of myself on camera — something I try hard to avoid — I’m always struck by how even and un-red my skin tone is, which is a welcome change, and how imperative it is for me to lay off the bread. And 2) That almost all of the women I’ve ever seen in the hair and makeup chair know exactly what they want and exactly what the professional should be doing.
And then there’s this complaint:
Heldman argues that the particular subset of the population to whom Fox News caters on a nightly basis—a majority of their audience is white, male, and over 68 years old—like to see her get attacked and cornered by Republican men on air. “The Fox viewers are older and male and white,” she says, “And so I think that those audience members, at least for me, really enjoy me getting piled on 3-on-1 or whatever.” Male liberal guests do not face the same set up situations and do not experience close to the amount of trolling, Heldman tells me. “A lot of the commentary is sexist—it’s about my hair, it’s about my weight, it’s ‘dumb blonde’, ‘bleach blonde’, ‘you’re a prostitute’, all of this gendered. And it also happens any time I say anything controversial about race: I get ‘N-word lover’…on and on, constant sexist stuff. So the sexism comes out from fellow panelists, it certainly comes out from the hosts, who are condescending, and it comes out also from the trolls and the audience.”
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Which boils down to, basically, conservative men are pigs. But if Dr Heldman thinks that she’s unique in getting nasty comments after an appearance, she should check out my Twitter timeline sometime. Or, ask Katherine Timpf, from NRO:
More than a month ago, I made some jokes about Star Wars on Red Eye, a satirical political comedy show that airs at 3 a.m., and it has resulted in me being verbally abused and told to die by a mob of enraged fans for the past four days now. The capital-offense comments were: “I have never had any interest in watching space nerds poke each other with their little space nerd sticks, and I’m not going to start now.” And: “Yesterday I tweeted something, and all I said was that I wasn’t familiar with Star Wars because I’ve been too busy liking cool things and being attractive.”
Kat is a very very funny and sharp commentator and I always enjoy being on TV with her. But here’s what she got after making those comments:
I received a few death threats right after I posted the aforementioned tweet — which, by the way, was why I was saying Star Wars fans were “crazy” in the first place. Overall, though, it wasn’t a big deal, and I kind of forgot about it. Then, this week, one Star Wars super-super-super fan who calls himself “AlphaOmegaSin” made a ten-minute (!) video brutally ripping me apart.
And here’s how she reacted:
Obviously, the totally insane whackjobs who have been attacking me don’t represent most Star Wars fans. But the fact that so many adults have responded with so much unhinged emotion astounds me. After all, I have a cat, and would never have reacted this way to someone making a joke based on the stereotypes about cat ladies being crazy and lonely or whatever. You know what I would have done? Absolutely nothing. Because I have a life, and seriously, who cares.
Kat, by the way, always looks terrific on TV.