Editorial by John Ziegler

Did she think I meant "h--ker"?

5/14/2002

As broadcasting professional who has been fired several times for making allegedly insensitive remarks on the air, I am no stranger to how little it takes to offend someone in this era of political correctness.

However, something happened the other night that stunned even a hardened cynic like myself. I somehow managed to insult a very prominent female journalist because I referred to her as a "looker."

The regional TV show on which I work, CN8, The Comcast Network's "It's Your Call with Lynn Doyle," was doing a program on "Sexy Female Athletes." We had as our in-studio guests two of the more attractive and talented members of a Philadelphia Charge soccer team that has become as well known for its collective looks as it is for being one of the best teams in its league. We also had the quarterback for the Philadelphia Liberty Belles football team who, if you met her, you would never suspect that she played the least feminine of all major sports.

Finally, we were joined in Washington D.C. by Christine Brennan, who is a columnist for USA Today, a best-selling author, and one of the most outspoken advocates of women's sports in the country. At least until the show began, Christine was also a friend of mine.

It was, apparently, the beginning of the show that caused numerous problems for Christine. After Lynn Doyle opened the program with an honest description of the issues regarding sex appeal and female athletes that we would be addressing over the next hour, I briefly introduced each of our guests.

When we do the introductions we are usually trying to have a little fun, and I almost always make myself the brunt of the joke. Minutes before the show, as I was reading over what I had written that night, I suddenly realized that I was planning on giving four of our five female panelists a sincere compliment on how nice they each of them looked.

Christine Brennan was the lone exception. Feeling that this would seem like a snub and because I thought I knew Christine very well (she has appeared numerous times on various radio shows of mine and has never hesitated to be flirtatious) I decided to finish her introduction by saying "USA Today columnist, and a looker herself, Christine Brennan."

It was immediately clear from Christine's on-air scowl that my intended flattery had hit a decidedly sour note. Still, I was shocked when Christine broke the cardinal rule of TV guesting and immediately criticized both the nature of the show and the individuals (Lynn and myself) involved in the production of it.

During the first commercial break, Christine actually threatened to walk off the set, which is something she has never done in her many years as a national television pundit. Our producer explaining to her why I had added the "looker" comment seemingly did nothing to assuage Christine's agitation.

Had we not spent an unprecedented amount of money for her studio, satellite time and limousine, I am quite certain Lynn would have been glad to have her leave.

The greatest irony of the situation was that the three athletes involved with the show (two of whom had definitely heeded our request to "dress to impress") had absolutely no problem with the complimentary nature of the program and seemed as confused as we were as to why Christine was so upset.

To her credit, Christine did in fact remain with us for the full hour and even endured several phone callers who were clearly irritated by her hypersensitivity. However, the next day I sent an e-mail to her asking for her perspective on what she thought was wrong with the show. I received a return e-mail (the essence of which I have divulged here without notifying her first) from her confirming that she was extremely disturbed with my description of her as a "looker," as well as with the overall character of the program. She said she felt demeaned, and she even called me a sexist.

While I fully realize that this was an isolated and perhaps unique circumstance, I have to wonder if the feminist movement has gone more than just a bit too far when an intelligent, attractive and well-known woman can be so angered and insulted by someone she knows calling her a "looker" on a television show dealing directly with the sex appeal of female athletes.

While it is obviously wrong to judge a woman (or a man for that matter) based only on their looks, it seems just as inappropriate for someone to view a genuine compliment of their attractiveness to be somehow demeaning to the rest of their personhood.

While it is hardly innovative to observe that that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" and "no good deed goes unpunished," it does seem that we may have hit a new low when it is no longer safe for a man to tell a woman that he likes the way that she looks, even when he is just trying to be polite.

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