I’m just going to come out and say it: We have not “all done it,” and I’m willing to bet none of us ever will.
Sure, it’s the oldest, tritest idea in advertising that sex sells. Of course, there’s a difference between the idea of sex and actually selling sex. Then we’re talking about prostitution.
And Netflix’s new 13-hour political shocker “House of Cards” wants you to believe that female reporters are paper-publishing prostitutes.
It all started with this breathy confession from Cards character Janine Skorsky: “We’ve all done it … I used to suck, screw, and jerk anything that moved just to get a story.”
That quote spawned this pensive piece on Washington reporting by Marin Cogan, which then wrenched open a can of worms in the news gossip mill such as has not been seen in some time.
The truth of it is, if you were to go about conducting your reporting in that fashion, very quickly your work would lose all credibility: if you’re sleeping with your sources, that’s a pretty big bias, wouldn’t you say? And what other corners could you be cutting?
For those of you who aren’t in the industry, this may shock you, but in journalism reputation is everything. Despite the skeptical judgment with which the public usually regards reporters, the reality is this: if you can’t be trusted, even in the small things, then forget working in news.
So the consensus is this: While the plot behind House of Cards is fictional, the concept of sexual bargaining in the news industry is far from it. But, newsflash! As in most industries, it’s not the women pushing for the bargain: it’s the men.
In the sports arena of reporting, it’s even more problematic than in politics. In politics, they have something to lose: their reputation. In sports, sex is your reputation–or at least, an acceptable part of it. In my time spent as a reporter, particularly while working on my documentary on LeBron, I’ve interviewed many athletes. Several players tried to lure me out immediately after the interview, whereas another flat-out stated he wouldn’t agree to an interview until we had wine first.
As flattering as all that is, there is no ethical way I could agree to these conditions. But what’s more, these men knew it, so even as professional athletes accustomed to getting a pass for such behavior, they made these offers well out of earshot.
“I don’t want to get in trouble,” one player texted me.
Well, then, don’t make any trouble, right?
This discussion just so happens to perfectly coincide with the rise in popularity of the Said to Lady Journos tumblr, a collection of crass and clueless comments delivered to female reporters and shared anonymously on the social media site. It’s a goldmine, and I’ll let you know right now: none of it was solicited.
Here’s some primetime pickin’s:
(Man, have I gotten that last one a lot.)
And la crème de la crème, with a source named specifically:
... That’s commendably ballsy, to actually name the perpetrator of the comment. And it’s worth pointing out that every single submission to the Tumblr is anonymous. No female reporter in her right mind would go on-record to publicly identify the offenders--not unless she’s willing to put her reputation on the line and on a bulls-eye for trolls.
On Twitter, journalists took the ball and ran with it. Even a Scientific American reporter received the brunt of a sexist remark.
As expected, there’s always backlash.
You can’t point out any uncomfortable truth without people snapping back at you like wounded animals. When the Daily Mail covered the story, the comment section was its usual treasure trove of skeptical trolls:
And therein lies the rub, doesn’t it? We believe we’ve made such leaps and bounds in the area of sexism and sexual harassment, but these attitudes continue to pervade the industry: that women are asking for it, especially if they’re attractive by any measure. That it’s just “banter.” That they’re complaining too much.
And then there’s always the fear that if you ask the wrong questions, you will be sexually stalked by the same sordid commenters that hounded Sarah Ganim, a 24-year-old journalist whose crime was simply her Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Joe Paterno scandal.
A guarded gathering of women, whispered recollections of their affronts, and a cloak of anonymity shielding their identities from a world of skeptics.
Don’t get me wrong. We’ve all seen that viral video of one of the most nefarious ratings-driven decisions ever, that Cleveland weathercaster stripping on-air (which, by the way, I tried to find for you, but only found hundreds of examples from Spanish media instead, and that just isn’t a good example!). But I believe we all know she didn’t strip to get where she is.
So, to sum: No, you can’t be my Clark Kent. But you can start looking at the camera instead of at my chest and give me a damn quote.