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Fox's War On Fat (Women)

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We know Fox likes pretty ladies. Fine, who doesn't. But its tolerance for remarks deriding women for being overweight, or "overweight," is reaching glaring and unseemly proportions. This was apparent on two occassions last week, troublingly unrelated. The first was on "Your World" With Neil Cavuto, in a segment with a chyron reading — seriously — "Should Physical Size Factor Into Who Wins American Idol?" (Ah, the Cavuto mark: The all-purpose punctuation which transforms even the most outrageous statement into an innocuous, we're-just-asking question). Somehow, the peg of this segment was "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks, who for the purposes of the discussion was somehow determined to be obese, particularly according to "expert" Meme Roth, spokestwig for National Action Against Obesity. Against the backdrop of shots of Sparks singing in various outfits, looking normal and proportioned and not-obese, Roth said that looking at Sparks made her see "diabetes, heart disease...the vision of unhealth" as Cavuto commented that she was "a little heavy" — well, he is used to consorting with Hooters girls — and Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh, bewildered, pointed out that she was 17 and looked "pretty normal to me." Footage of another female Idol candidate was briefly shown, too; Ruben Studdard, however, was conspicuously absent.

Meanwhile, on Hannity & Colmes, the discussion on Friday night turned to — what else? — Rosie O'Donnell's departure from "The View" (a perennial H&C favorite, in Sean Hannity's words "a major development in a story we have been covering for quite some time," and he wasn't talking about Anna Nicole Smith). Guest Curtis Sliwa, who often wears a beret, declined to confine his commentary to Rosie's talking point, instead taking it further in discussion with Hannity, Alan Colmes, Ellis Henican and Julia Allison (ETP friend and contributor). The following is an (inexact) partial transcript, since there is plenty of crosstalk:

Curtis: The blob has her own blog!! If you're a sycophantian lackey of Rosie O'Donnell, you can see her at home stuffing the cookies in her face, the blob working her blog! (Mimes the stuffing of cookies into face)

Julia: But once again, you're making ad-hominen attacks! Why go and insult her attractiveness? That's absolutely unacceptable. If you want to insult her viewpoints, do that, but why go for her attractiveness?

Colmes: Good for you! Good for you, Julia!

Curtis: Excuse me, the fact that I'm watching her attack my President and my country, and she looks like Linda Blair in the Exorcist with her head ready to explode!

Julia: But this has nothing to do with what she looks like! You said earlier that it ultimately came down to the fact that Elizabeth is cute and Rosie isn't. But if you had two men in an argument, at what time would you ever hear them say "Oh, you know, this fight is really about their relative
attractiveness." You would never, ever, ever hear anyone say that!

Curtis: Elisabeth Hasselback is the only person on that hencluck show called The View who has any decent basic values about America.

This is a really interesting exchange for a few reasons. One, it's amazing the extent to which Sliwa thinks it is appropriate to mock Rosie's appearance. Two, Julia's point is spot-on — no one described the Geraldo-Bill O'Reilly smackdown last month in terms of who was hotter (though ETP may have mentioned the manliness of Geraldo's mustache). Three, note that on a politics-neutral matter — Rosie's appearance is neither left nor right — only Colmes supported Julia's point (and note also that Julia was not invited on as a partisan guest). Four, note the way Sliwa effortlessly dismissed The View based on its female-only cast (aka the "hencluck") — even though it's fair to say that panel shows like, say, Meet The Press are very often — oh, let's just use the phrase — sausage fests. But at no time does that fact even come remotely into a qualitative assessment of the content. Five, Sliwa's outfit. He chose to wear that on television. Shouldn't that go to his credibility somewhat?

There's a lot in the preceding paragraph to chew over, particularly the feminist points about The View (which was handily addressed today by Nora Ephron). But what is important to note is how easily, how casually, a woman's weight became an issue of derision and mockery on one of Fox's most popular shows, and the responses of that show's hosts to that mockery — on a network where the standard of what counts as "obese" is clearly skewed, where the female on-air personalities are all gorgeous and lithe* and then men are not necessarily all beanpoles like John Gibson (and where the guy at the top certainly is not). It's a double-standard that is alive and well in pop-culture in general, but at Fox, it played out at its nastiest the other night on Hannity & Colmes, and at its most insidious the other day on Neil Cavuto.

Related:
Yes, We Know, Rosie is Not Size 2. Move On. [Julia Allison]

*Please note that this is not to be taken as an implication that they are not qualified — as a guest on "The Live Desk" with Martha McCallum last week, I was extremely impressed with McCallum's quickness and professionalism in addressing a breaking story.