Here's an email message that I sent to CBS This Morning's Norah O'Donnell today...
To: Norah O'Donnell, CBS This Morning
Re: Your occasional insensitivity and sneer
I don't mean for that "Re:" field to seem so negative. I'm actually a fan, so I hope you'll take what I'm herein writing as constructive criticism.
At the very end of this piece, this morning...
...you called John Miller a crime scene investigator (CSI), apparently because he both had, and had so-well-conveyed, the investigative straight skinny on the shooting. That may have seemed innocuous, but it was actually demeaning to him.
I've long liked you and your work; and I was happy to see you join CBS This Morning. You're smart as a whip, you suffer no fools, and I don't care how sexist it may be to say/write it, you're about as pretty as a woman should be allowed to be in life. I'm old, and love a woman more than breathing (whom I'm told feels the same way about me), so I get to say/write that without anyone thinking that I'm hot for you or anything similarly ridiculous; and I, for one, will hold on to that men get to sometimes say (or, in this case, write) such things to women, feminism be damned! [grin]
There are, however, a couple of irritating things about you on the air about which I've long wanted to write to you; and you exhibited one of them this morning in your having referred to Miller as a mere CSI. The irritating thing there is something I've noticed before with you, and that's your occasional insensitivity to men, generally. Given how men have historically treated women in America, and how I'll bet at least some have tried to keep you down in your career, I suppose the argument could be made that we get what we deserve. However, if equality is to truly mean anything, then it has to begin somewhere; and especially for men, like me, who write a lot about women's rights and who decry sexism, it feels really bad when women exhibit the same kind of insensitivity of which at least I have, for so many years, so earnestly tried to disabuse myself and others.
I frame it as a men v. women issue because, in my experience, women -- especially strong, powerful and accomplished women, like you -- sometimes don't appreciate how men, unlike women, are what they do in life. Women, somehow magically, don't see themselves that way. I envy that. A woman can be Secretary of State, and also a mom, and when asked who she is, she'll say that she's the latter. Most men, on the other hand, will always say what they do for a living as that which they are. So when a woman casually and cavalierly effectively demotes a man like John Miller -- who has climbed to the top ranks of both journalism and law enforcement -- to the comparatively lowly law enforcement rank of CSI, it's emasculating.
You, as a woman, can (and likely will) dismiss it all you want; and I'm not saying it's right for men to be like that, but it is what it is. And since it's probably as much about hormones, and genetics, and enculturation, and anthropological baggage like that our male ancestors were the hunters while our female ancestors were the gatherers, and all that kinda' crap, it's probably not something that's gonna' change anytime soon. Men are what they do, and when women refer to what they do in a demaning way -- even if only inadvertently -- men feel it in a kind of visceral way that even they usually have trouble articulating... or even understanding, sometimes, come to think of it.
I've studied microexpressions under people trained directly by Paul Ekman, and that experience helped me to see a flash of offense on Miller's face, this morning, after you called him a CSI at the end of that piece. Had it not been for that, I might not have even noticed it; but once I saw it, I instantly understood it. And since I've seen you do that sort of thing before, I was awash in a sense of "oh, boy... there she goes again."
Of course, Miller is too gracious to say anything to you; and I dare say that if you mention it to him, he'll deny that it was an issue. But, trust me, it was. Do mention it. He'll notice, and will appreciate that you did, too.
The second irritating thing you do is something about which I've been meaning to write to you since the political conventions. Your coverage was, as always, magnificent. You are, seriously, gifted at what you do. I really appreciate and love your work. But when you don't agree with someone, or think s/he's jerking you around, or if s/he bothers you in any of a number of other ways for any of a number of other reasons, it shows in a little sneer on your mouth that you cannot, apparently, hide. And one doesn't need microexpression training to see it. Once I point it out to people, they see it every single time you do it... and you did it a lot during the conventions (and since, of course, but a lot back then). In my case, it pushes hot buttons because it's the very same disapproving sneer that my mother used to do; and so a psychologist could likely have a field day with that yours so bothers me. But even others with whom I've discussed it agree that if you're going to do the kind of work you do, then you -- and your mouth -- need to be more palpably neutral. You can and should -- and, gratefully, do -- challenge those who try to pull the wool over your eyes; but you should do it without expressing disdain for them with your sneer.
I remember that not long after Michael Moore made Fahrenheit 9/11, Hanna Storm interviewed him on your program's predecessor, CBS's The Early Show. If you can dig-up the old video of it you'll see that her complete and utter disgust and disdain for Moore was just all over the place in that abominable interview. It was among the most unprofessional things I've ever seen. At the time, I complained to CBS about her lack of journalistic neutrality and outrageous behavior. To my surprise, I got a reply from a producer who clearly agreed, and confirmed that it had been discussed with her. More than that it showed that Storm was an amateur who was out of her depth on that program, it revealed that she's a Republican... something that a neutral reporter should not be revealing, at least during interviews. If s/he's commenting/opining (and it's so labeled), then that's different; but interviewing requires neutrality.
Your sneer during interviews has suggested to me that you, too, are a Republican; yet I remember Republicans being pretty upset with you over your work regarding Palin and Gingrich; plus, you came out in favor or ObamaCare when your husband protested it, and I'll never forget how you pasted Cheney over his remarks about who's to blame for the bad economy. I, then, don't actually know where you stand; and so that's a good thing! But, based on at whom and what you sneered during the conventions, I began to think that maybe you're a Republican, for whatever that's worth. And, don't get me wrong, that's fine; but in a job like yours, you need to keep that to yourself, not only with your words, but also with your body language. I'm a Democrat, obviously, and, trust me, I'd be giving that same advice to a reporter whom I knew shared my political viewpoint.
He or she wouldn't care, of course, just as I'm certain that you couldn't give one whit about anything I've herein written; but I at least now have the satisfaction of knowing that I've finally conveyed it... even if all that ultimately happened to it was that some producer printed it out and wrapped fish in it. That, who knows, may be exactly what it deserves. My ex-wife would certainly so suggest (actually, she's a peach; I just love to make ex-wife jokes, and she's the only one I have).
You are a remarkable woman who has rightly risen to the top of her field, and I could not possibly have better wishes for you. Keep-up the good work...
...but please be more sensitive to testosterone-
confusedinfused, genetic hunters (at least among those whom you like, like Miller); and watch that sneer.
Gregg L. DesElms
Napa, California USA
gregg at greggdeselms dot com