Station Apologizes to CBS’ Julie Chen

Comments from a former news director caused her to develop a complex about her Asian heritage, she said.

Julie Chen and her husband Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp. (Diumitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
Julie Chen and her husband Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp. (Diumitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Anchor Job Denied Until Reporter Looked Less Asian

“Officials at WDTN have apologized to talk and reality show host Julie Chen a day after she revealed [that] comments from one of the station’s former news directors led to her developing a complex about her Asian heritage that ended in plastic surgery,” Amelia Robinson wrote Thursday for the Dayton Daily News in Ohio.

” ‘We are sorry to hear about what happened to CBS’ Julie Chen in 1995 when she was a reporter at WDTN-TV,’ Joe Abouzeid, WDTN and WBDT president and general manager said in a statement. ‘The station was under different management and ownership during that time. At WDTN and WBDT, we don’t tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.’

“WDTN is now owned by LIN Media. It was owned by the Hearst Corporation when Chen worked there. . . .”

What might be most notable about Abouzeid’s statement is that he labeled the news director’s comments racist.

CBS had announced that its show “The Talk” would feature each co-host revealing a secret about herself this week. On Wednesday, “Chen said a former WDTN-TV news director told her she would never be accepted in Dayton as an anchor,” Robinson’s story continued.

” ‘It is cold out in the field. I wanted to try to get a seat on the anchor desk so I asked my news director “you know holidays, anchors want to take vacation could I fill in. You know, I don’t care, I will work Christmas.” He said “you will never be on this anchor desk because you are Chinese.” And he said “let’s face it, Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we really have here in Dayton? Our audience can’t relate to you because you are not like them,’ Chen, 43, recalled on the talk show.

“A high-powered agent echoed many [of the news] manager’s views and Chen ultimately elected to get a ‘double eyelid surgery.’ The cosmetic procedure reshapes the skin around the eye so that the eye looks more Western. . . .”

Jeremy Blacklow, writing for Yahoo News, reported that Chen said she consulted with her mother, who greeted her with silence. “She said, ‘This is a deeper conversation that we have to have with your father.‘ We talked about if this was denying my heritage, and whether or not I should have this done.’

” ‘And this agent — he represented the most famous Asian broadcaster out there at the time — you know who I’m talking about and I’m not going to say names.

” ‘So, this divided my family. Eventually, my mom said, “You wouldn’t have brought this up to me unless this was something that you wanted to do.” And they told me that they’d support me, and they’d pay for it, and that they’d be there for me.’ “

Ironically, the revelation took place on the same show where Sheryl Underwood, a black comedian, “sat beneath a shiny wig and before a largely White audience . . . mocked nappy Black hair,” as Jamilah Lemieux recalled recently for On Wednesday, Underwood told Chen, “You have represented your race and your colleagues,” and the studio audience erupted in applause.

Not everyone agreed, although some said that passing judgment was not so simple.

I think the way this discussion — a really big one — went down on The Talk was oversimplified,” blogger Grace Hwang Lynch wrote Thursday on BlogHer.

“They talk about Chen’s procedure as if hooded eyes equal Asian, and eyelid surgery equals becoming white, or American. In reality, this operation, called ‘double eyelid surgery’ by many — or blepharoplasty, if you want to get technical — is really common amongst Asian Americans. And it’s practically a requirement to become a model or actress in certain parts of Asia, like last spring’s South Korean beauty contest controversy showed.” Photos of the contestants prompted claims that cosmetic procedures left all of them looking the same. “I think the preference for larger, rounder eyes is something that’s been internalized in Asia after a long history of European colonialization.

“And many Asians, like me, are born with folded lids. I was reminded often as a child how lucky I was to have my mother’s eyes. But just like you can never be too rich or too thin, I still envied the girls with rounder, deeper-set eyes. And believe me, I was still reminded constantly that I was Asian, and thus, not American enough. . . .”

Chen’s revelation quickly became the talk of social media. “She had the works done, nose, eyes, etc. and boobs too probably. But she sold out big time — very sad, but like she said, it got her to where she is and married to the big boss…whoop-de-do good for her (sad),” said one commenter on Facebook, referring to Chen’s marriage to CBS President and CEO Les Moonves.

“She made herself racially ambiguous,” said another.

“she’s from a culture that rewards looks and money, and doesn’t look beyond skin deep, sadly. i know — a grew up in this culture and it sucks. brainy, loud, taller than most of the guys — not good; looks and money and no principles = trophy wife. spare me,” said a third.

The Asian American Journalists Association applauded Chen’s disclosure for putting Asian American issues in the public dialogue.

“AAJA applauds Ms. Chen for sharing this personal moment with her audience,” began a statement from Paul Cheung, AAJA national president, and Niala Boodhoo, AAJA vice president, broadcast. “Her story chronicles some of the daily struggles Asian Americans face in the workplace across all industries, not just in broadcast journalism.

“Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the country. But Asian Americans issues are still rarely covered. Similarly, few newsrooms reflect this diversity among their staff.

“AAJA was founded more than three decades ago because of this problem. Ms. Chen’s story is an all-too real reminder of how crucial our mission remains today.”

Phil Yu, creator of the blog “Angry Asian Man,” wrote, “Chen says she wondered, ‘Did I give into The Man?’ Yes, Julie. You kind of did. But I appreciate the opportunity for a frank conversation about the things we give up and how we deny our identities, to feel more accepted. It sucks that you did that, but it sucks even more that we live in a world that practically cheered it on. . . .”

Other ethnic groups live in that same world and have also faced the problem of not looking “American enough.”

As Underwood’s comments illustrate, black women confront it in deciding whether to chemically straighten their hair. Last year meterologist Rhonda Lee was fired from her ABC affiliate in Shreveport, La., after she responded to a racial remark posted by a viewer on the station’s Facebook page in reference to her short Afro hairstyle. The station insisted that the issue was Lee’s defiance of station rules about responding to viewers, but many saw it as grounded in Lee’s hairstyle choice.

At a panel at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention last month in Anaheim, Calif., an audience member said she was told, “Don’t roll your Rs too much,” even if that was the way the word is pronounced in Spanish.

At a similar session for broadcasters two years ago called “Latina Journalists Wanted!,” some NAHJ attendees complained that they were expected “to look like a white girl from Boston” and lose their Latina distinctiveness. Former CNN host Rick Sanchez, one of the panelists, advised then, “Always adapt a little to your surroundings but not so that you sell your soul.”

As for Native Americans, “historically Natives have faced immense pressure by mainstream society to change their personal appearance and abandon their cultural identities, starting with the boarding school era when so many children were forced to cut their hair or change their names,” Mary Hudetz, president of the Native American Journalists Association, messaged Journal-isms.

“To some degree, these challenges still continue today. It’s not uncommon for some professionals to be asked to cut their long hair or cover traditional tattoos in the workplace, or at least sense that there might be an unspoken expectation to do so,” Hudetz continued. “This by no means has been my experience, but has been a reality for some.

“And I think it’s clear that none of the efforts of the past carried a lasting impact. You’ve seen that within our NAJA membership, we all are very proud of our cultures.”

Emil Guillermo blog: CBS’ Julie Chen’s the “Talk” about her eyes at the EYE; But candor on race has come pretty late for the TV star (Sept. 14)

Fired Meteorologist Still “Keeping Options Open”

Rhonda Lee, a meteorologist at KTBS in Shreveport, La., who was fired last year after responding to criticism of her short Afro on the station’s Facebook site, says “it has been tough finding another job” since her case became a cause celebre.

Lee’s name has been invoked in the reaction to Julie Chen’s disclosure that she had plastic surgery on her eyes 18 years ago. Lee told Journal-isms Friday that she is a new mother, having given birth in Shreveport, La., on Thursday to Louis Charles Johnson.

“Over the last several months I have pretty much taking it easy trying to make sure I had a healthy baby despite all the stress that came along with being pregnant and fired from my job,” Lee messaged Journal-isms. “It has been tough finding another job. Some people do recognize me from the publicity. I don’t know if that has helped or not, it’s hard to say. But I still keep my options open.

“I would love to have a job early next year, so I’m definitely still looking. My website is I still do lots of speaking engagements promoting people being accepted for who they are and less on what they look like. Between Julie Chen and Sheryl Underwood having issues concerning appearance and ethnicity it has been a busy week for women of color in a visual medium. I know my name has come up several times. If we can parlay the bad into a better future then I’m all for it.”

Amelia Robinson, Dayton (Ohio) Daily News: Did Julie Chen get a nose job during the surgery to make her eyes look less Chinese?

Arienne Thompson, USA Today: Reaction to Chen’s surgery secret: Empathy and outrage

Blacks, Latinos More Upbeat Than Whites on Economy

Blacks and Latinos are more optimistic than whites are about the economy, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center taken “five years after the U.S. economy faced its most serious crisis since the Great Depression.”

Overall, “a majority of Americans (63%) say the nation’s economic system is no more secure today than it was before the 2008 market crash. Just a third (33%) think the system is more secure now than it was then,” the center reported on Friday.

But in a racial breakdown provided to Journal-isms, black and Latino respondents were more optimistic than were whites.

Only 43 percent of the total approved of the way President Obama was handling the economy, for example. However, 83 percent of non-Hispanic blacks did, compared with 60 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Asked whether they expect the economy to be better a year from now, 28 percent of the total said better. But the figures for blacks and Hispanics were each 46 percent, compared with 22 percent for whites.

For all groups, “the job situation” was first among national economic issues that worried them most, compared with the condition of the financial and housing markets, the federal budget deficit and rising prices. However, 58 percent of non-Hispanic blacks chose “the job situation,” compared with 42 percent of Hispanics and 38 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times: Can the Government Actually Do Anything About Inequality?

Olivia Marshall, Media Matters for America: O’Reilly And Rivera Continue Fox Tradition Of Demonizing The Poor

Marian Wang, ProPublica: Public Universities Ramp Up Aid for the Wealthy, Leaving the Poor Behind

2 Seek Funding for More Inclusive “Riptide” Study

“On September 9, three fellows at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center and Nieman Journalism Lab published Riptide, an ‘oral history of the epic collision between journalism and digital technology, from 1980 to the present,’ ” Kira Goldenberg wrote Friday for Columbia Journalism Review.

“In crafting that history, the three authors interviewed 61 media movers and shakers from the past three decades. Of those 61, five were (white) women, two were men of color, and zero were women of color.

“To the many people who spent the next few days skewering the report’s omissions and offering up innovative women and people of color that were excluded, Riptide doesn’t come close to telling the whole story of how journalism and tech innovated and intertwined. So a couple of those critics decided to conduct their own complementary study.

Jeanne Brooks, the digital director of the Online News Association, and Sabrina Hersi Issa, a media entrepreneur and Roosevelt Institute Pipeline fellow, are searching for funding to create a report that includes a full, diverse spectrum of change-makers in digital journalism. They hope to compile and launch it next year.

” ‘Everyone was asking me who should be on the list,’ Brooks said. ‘But it takes a lot of work and it takes time out of your day just to do that research. And I’ve been pushing back to say, these men got their research supported… I don’t want to do this work for free.’

“Brooks added that getting the journalism world at large engaged in addressing diversity is a struggle. In her three years with ONA, she said, association panels and speeches addressing the issue have been sparsely attended. By way of example, Brooks mentioned ONA’s 2011 conference, where one of the keynotes was about … the history of women and people of color in digital journalism. The speech was well-attended, she said. But for the following work session, on meaningfully integrating diversity into newsrooms, ‘there was no more than 10 people in this giant ballroom.’ . . .”

Jennifer Vanasco, Columbia Journalism Review: Riptide’s white, male history of journalism

Washington Post Calls “Redskins” Too Offensive to Tolerate

Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has said he’ll never change the name of the team. And so, as the Washington Post points out in a new editorial, the controversy will never end,” Mike Florio reported Friday for NBC Sports.

“That’s the reality zealous defenders of the name ignore. As time passes, people won’t become numb to the offensive nature of the name. Instead, more people will wake up to the reality that a word that would never be used as anything other than the name of a football team shouldn’t be used as the name of a football team, either.

“And so the Post once again has called for Snyder to abandon a term that is ‘so offensive that it should no longer be tolerated.’

“In recently explaining that the league must listen to dissenters even if only one person is offended, Commissioner Roger Goodell pointed out that, in the end, the decision lies with Daniel Snyder. Goodell is right, but there’s nothing stopping the NFL from giving Snyder a firm nudge.

“Actually, Goodell’s recent comments could be interpreted as just such a nudge. . . .”

Bill Fletcher Jr., National Newspaper Publishers Association: New football season, same offensive names

Lakshmi Gandhi, NPR: Are You Ready For Some Controversy? The History Of ‘Redskin’

Barbara Munson, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Indian mascots, nicknames harmful to children

Alexis Shaw, ABC News, San Diego: ‘Change the mascot’ campaign wants sports teams to denounce bigotry

Paul Srubas, Green Bay (Wis.) Press-Gazette: Redskins’ logo, nickname will be subject of protest at Lambeau on Sunday