FOX-2’s mess over Whitmer’s dress makes international news

    FOX-2 got its clicks for a story quoting random people appraising Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s appearance. The station’s management defended the move and appears to want to move on — but the national, and even international, media have other ideas.

    The Advance was the first to call out FOX-2’s piece featuring comments like, “I’d hit that,” following the governor’s first speech to the Legislature. Whitmer herself savaged the story on Twitter. Much of Michigan’s media have covered it and now outlets like CNN, the Daily Mail and the Washington Post have taken notice.

    Here’s a roundup:


    On CNN, host Michael Smerconish ran a segment called “Sexism in Politics.”

    He said it was “supposed to be the year of the woman,” but noted a local TV station was more focused on Whitmer’s appearance.

    “That was absolutely appalling, that, that was said about the Michigan governor,” he declared.

    CNN included a graphic of some of the graphic remarks made about the governor and Smerconish stopped reading when he was only a couple comments in.

    “I really can’t even read the rest of these,” Smerconish said. “But take a look.”

    Smerconish then transitioned into talking about what women running for president have to face, including Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.

    The Daily Mail

    In typical fashion, the U.K.-based  Daily Mail featured a paragraph-long headline: “Michigan Governor hits back at trolls who criticized her ‘curves’ during her State of the State address and says she’s been teased about her body since the 5th grade.”

    Gretchen Whitmer at her State of the State address, Feb. 12, 2019 | Casey Hull

    In the story, the Mail writes that “Fox’s segment displayed screen shots of sexist and unflattering comments social media users made about Whitmer. Then reporters went out and asked people on the streets their opinions on her dress.” The piece also featured Whitmer’s tweets.

    Washington Post

    As the Advance noted, the Washington Post was the earliest national outlet to pick up on the story, with media critic Erik Wemple calling FOX-2’s work a “putridly sexist story”:

    “The Erik Wemple Blog has spent decades marveling at the mediocrity of local TV news. The cheesy profile pieces, the non-investigative investigations, the run-of-the-mill crime stories, the stand-ups at the site of a robbery that went down hours and hours previously.

    “However: We’d never sampled anything so putrid as the Fox 2 Detroit story headlined ‘Social media focuses on Whitmer’s dress — not her address.‘”

    Washington Times 

    “‘Way out of line’: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer blasts TV station over story on her dress, body” was the headline in the right-leaning Washington Times. The story noted criticism from the right and left:

    Lee Chatfield | Wikimedia Commons

    “Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering blasted the story, tweeting that it was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘never should have given these losers a platform to make these inappropriate statements. Her speech was what mattered!’ State Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes, who tweeted that the station should pull the online article, accused it of using anonymous comments to take ‘a cheap, sexist & indefensible shot at a strong woman in leadership.’”

    Refinery 29

    Refinery 29, a news site focused on young women, ran the headline: “Governor Gretchen Whitmer Won’t Stand For Sexist Comments About What She Wears.” The story had a feminist take:

    “The story quickly faced backlash for being sexist and demeaning, with good reason. A person’s ability to effectively lead and govern has nothing to do with their physical appearance, and sartorial choices or body shaming are not valid critiques of an elected official.”

    Susan J. Demas is an 18-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.


    1. Poynter also chimes in Monday morning as senior media writer Tom W. Jones posts, in part:
      “What were they thinking? A governor gives her first State of the State address. Comments pour in on social media commenting on her dress, her body and her sex appeal. Is that a story? According to Detroit’s Fox 2 it is.
      “The station ran a package that highlighted something all of us already knew: Commenters on social media can be pigs. Still, Fox 2 not only pointed out that obvious fact, but then proceeded to retell and reprint many of the gross comments made about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. . . .
      “Yes, journalists should ignore sexist internet trolls and, yes, this was a topic that should have been turned away from, at least in this form.
      “Is there a story to be told about how females politicians are treated differently than men? Yes. Is this the way to do it, by repeating all the sexist things said about her? No.”


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