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Not Just Another Pretty Face : TOO OLD, TOO UGLY, AND NOT DEFERENTIAL TO MEN by Christine Craft(Prima Publishing: $17.95; 211 pp.)

February 21, 1988|Meredith Babeaux Brucker | Brucker, a former television news woman, was producer of "Newsmakers" on KCBS and assignment editor at KTLA. and

The general public does not understand the role of the television news anchorperson. It is to read well and look good. No other skills are necessary. Most viewers are amazed to learn that the anchors rarely write what they read or personally cover any news stories.

Unfortunately for Christine Craft, when station KMBC in Kansas City, then an ABC affiliate owned by Metromedia, sought her out to be their new anchorwoman she was so naive that she believed she was being hired as a journalist. Her agent warned them up front that, "She's no beauty queen; she's a 36-year-old California surfer who has probably seen too much sun." And she explained her attitude toward her work: "Our jobs are to bring the news and raise the provocative issues of the day, not to please, titillate, or make the viewers comfy." Her new employers promised they wouldn't tamper with her natural look, and that she would be given plenty of time to cover stories as a field reporter.

Craft was happy at first, and felt she was attracting new viewers to the station. "I was interesting to them on levels other than lip color or collar crispness," she thought.

However, she soon found out that the TV news they practiced at KMBC was technically inferior, with frequently malfunctioning equipment, and was "pitifully superficial and grossly unfair in the types of pressures that were applied to the female broadcasters." They really wanted her to be an "anchorclone," a warm and reassuring presence behind the anchor desk. Her sin was that of being almost--but not quite--young and pretty enough to be a news anchorwoman.

The station then brought in their big guns: the outside consultants. She learned that these self-proclaimed market research experts from the Dallas-based Audience Research and Development Company have an influence upon how TV news is delivered in this country which is "staggering." She was made to spend long hours with them working out elaborate wardrobe charts, and they showed her how to wear heavy makeup to disguise her squarish jaw and uneven eyes. They were trying to create a whole new image for her of "professional elegance."

Eventually she was demoted, told she was "too old, too ugly, and not deferential to men," words that still haunt her so much that she made them the title of this book.

Rather than quietly accept the unacknowledged sexism and ageism rampant in TV newsrooms, where "style is rapidly becoming more important than substance," she opted to risk high legal fees and the personal humiliation of becoming known as "the world's ugliest anchorwoman" by bringing suit against the station for sex discrimination and fraud. Eventually two juries voted in her favor. But these were only moral victories. Her financial awards were taken away from her by a panel of three judges (male) on appeal.

Now a news director in Sacramento, she asks: "What is the effect, night after night, of hearing people read the news who don't know what the hell they are talking about? When the TelePrompTer breaks or the anchor has to interview a politician or a world leader, very often they have no base of knowledge from which to draw their questions or listen critically to the answers."

Craft claims that 97% of the TV anchorpersons in this country over the age of 40 are male. Women are not allowed the luxury of growing old behind an anchor desk. "In television news the mark of experience proves all too often a passport to oblivion. Just when you can really bring some hard-won experience to your work, you're disqualified because TV is afraid to be real."

The book is too short and it is not especially well-written, but for news groupies who want to strip the gaudy showbiz tinsel off of TV news and see the real tinsel beneath, it is essential reading.

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