FOX-2 doubles down on story with explicit comments about Whitmer’s looks

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her first State of the State address | Casey Hull

FOX-2 spent the day getting dragged on social media for its bizarre story featuring random commentators leering at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s appearance, often in explicit detail, during her first State of the State speech.

But on Thursday evening, the station refused to apologize and instead doubled down.

That was after the governor weighed in Thursday afternoon with three tweets calling the story “way out of line” and noting “women have to deal with this garbage all the time.” Whitmer concluded by telling women, “I’ve got your back.”

So here’s what happened. When I read the story Thursday morning, I could hardly believe that anyone in newsroom management (or with an ounce of common sense) would think that was a good idea in 2019. So I wrote a column that it was sexist and sleazy clickbait, while pretending to be high-minded:

The story features a dude on Facebook who lewdly congratulated the governor — who served 14 years in the Legislature, holds a law degree, and taught at the University of Michigan Ford School for Public Policy — for her “nice rack.”

Stay classy, guys.

Naturally, the FOX-2 story pretends to be somewhat high-minded with this lede: “Gov. Gretchen Whitmer emphasized infrastructure, education and water in her first State of the State speech.” That’s a popular technique for outlets writing about sleazy subjects for clicks while still trying to maintain journalistic credibility.

Things kind of took off from there on social media. A number of elected officials, including state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), who often opposes the Democratic governor’s agenda, criticized the FOX-2 story.

Chatfield tweeted it was “ridiculous & never should have given these losers a platform to make these inappropriate statements. Her speech was what mattered! I support her 100% on this!” He even ended with  in a show of unity.

State Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) called the story “cringeworthy” and told FOX-2 to “do better”:

FOX-2 management stayed silent for most of the day, although the reporter dismissed criticism on social media from others and me, even calling former longtime Detroit Free Press journalist Hugh McDiarmid Jr. “a troll.”

By the afternoon, national media took notice, like CBS digital White House reporter Kathryn Watson, who asked the station why they would print “sexist, anonymous speculation”:

Huffington Post Senior Reporter Emily Peck said the story was an example of “when calling out ‘sexism’ is actually just being sexist”:

The Washington Post printed a column about the story and Whitmer’s clapback, and several other national and state media ran stories, including the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.

On Thursday evening, News Director Kevin Roseborough finally responded.

While defending the story that featured anonymous comments about the governor “showing off her cans,” Roseborough said the station was “taken aback” by the “inappropriate” comments and cast the decision to do the story as a noble one.

“We chose not to ignore the comments, and to instead examine them through person-on-the-street interviews and an expert’s opinion on the double standard faced by female leaders. This is not a subject that should be turned away from.”

Roseborough ended by saying the station has “extended an invitation to the governor to talk to us about this further.”

I’m sure she’ll get right on that.

Susan J. Demas is a 17-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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