ELLSWORTH, Maine — An online beauty contest posted by an Ellsworth radio station has outraged the news director for two of the state’s broadcast TV stations.
DJ Fred Miller of radio station WDEA, an AM station owned by the national conglomerate Townsquare Media, posted a poll on the station’s website Monday morning asking readers to vote for “the hottest TV newswoman in Maine.” The poll lists six TV news reporters and anchors.
The women and their network affiliations are listed, along with photos and brief descriptions reminiscent of beauty contest biographies, including information such as what school the women attended and what sports teams they root for — but nothing about their on-air work.
About one reporter, Miller wrote: “She helps out with Brewer’s Youth Hockey Learn to Skate & Learn to Play program and plays on a men’s league team. Hip check anyone?” He also wrote that the sight of one multilingual reporter leaves him “so awestruck we can’t form a word in any language.”
Mike Redding is news director for NBC network sister stations WLBZ in Bangor and WCSH in Portland. Two of his reporters, Melissa Kim and Jackie Ward, were included on the list. He said the radio station contacted Kim and Ward to request photos for the contest.
The women declined to participate, Redding said, but the radio station included them anyway.
Redding called the poll “sexist and objectifying” and said it reduced the journalists to their appearance while glossing over the serious work they do to produce and report the news.
“They find it demeaning, and I find it demeaning. Our whole newsroom is offended by it,” he said. “No journalist worth her salt would participate in a contest like this.”
Townsquare Media, Miller and WDEA have so far not responded to requests for comment. The poll’s headline was changed Monday afternoon to ask readers their “favorite” instead of the “hottest” TV newswoman. Miller also included the following revision in the post:
“It seems we offended a few of you out there with our use of the word ‘Hottest’ to describe these lovely and talented journalists. It was not our intent to offend, so we’ve changed it to ‘Favorite.’ Sorry about that.”
The remainder of the post remains unchanged.
Redding said he had considered not responding publicly to the poll, but said he felt he owed it to his reporters to “defend them.” He said that while TV news personalities are expected to look professional on air, it’s not a beauty contest.
“In most cases, we have to have someone help us with our image,” he said. “We’re trying to do journalism. I have reporters, male and female, who forget about their appearance entirely. They’re busy doing journalism all day.”
But not every reporter seemed to be offended. Nicole Gerber, an anchor, reporter and producer for WVII, an ABC/Fox affiliate in Bangor, posted a link to the poll on Twitter and Facebook on Monday morning, asking her fans to “send some support.”
Gerber declined to comment on the poll, and deleted the social media posts after being contacted by the Bangor Daily News.
Lindsey Mills, another reporter for WVII who was included in the poll, said, “This contest does make me feel a little weird,” but declined further comment.
Townsquare also owns the radio station WWMJ 95.7 FM, which posts a daily “ babe of the day” story on its website, featuring photos and measurements of models and commentary about their looks.
Elisa Lees Munoz, director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, said the juxtaposition of sexualized women and news — such as the topless women featured on page 3 of the British tabloid, The Sun — is common around the world.
“It speaks poorly for the culture of that company, that they think this is an acceptable juxtaposition,” she said
Munoz said that even if Miller posted the poll without malice, it was still patronizing.
“I don’t know him and I don’t know if he’s sexist,” she said. “It sounds like he’s trying to be complimentary. It just reads that he’s clueless about how insulting what he’s saying about these women is. … It leads to their inability to be taken seriously.”
A former Maine TV news reporter and anchor, Kara Matuszewski Sassone, said she saw the poll not long after it was posted, and called it “upsetting.”
Matuszewski Sassone, who worked for several stations during her 10 years as a broadcast news personality in the state, said critiques of women’s appearance are unfortunately pedestrian in the world of TV news. She said she had received letters from viewers who insulted her makeup and her hair.
“I was willing to bet that when I sat next to [the male co-anchor], he didn’t get those letters,” she said.
“Any time you’re in the public eye, you’re subject to these comments, whether you’re an actress or a female reporter,” she said. “It’s a note on our society, not on the women in journalism.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.