When a male co-host interrupted a female weather anchor on Saturday morning to cover her up with a sweater, it looked like a sexist stunt forced upon a woman who was just trying to do her job — on live TV, nonetheless. But for me, it exemplifies the unfortunate way that women in TV meteorology are often treated.
If you missed it, here’s what happened. Weekend weather anchor Liberté Chan of KTLA was delivering the forecast on Saturday morning in a glittery, shoulder-baring dress when her co-host Chris Burrous handed her a sweater, telling her that “we’re getting a lot of emails” about the dress.
Chan was a good sport — she played along, put on the sweater and continued her report. She later said that the reason she was wearing that dress was because the one she originally chose was clashing with the weather wall technology. (If you’re not familiar with the wardrobe restrictions of a TV meteorologist, this will be helpful.)
The incident looked pretty bad. Twitter erupted with accusations of sexism. Some people demanded that KTLA apologize to Chan. A hashtag was created (of course): #sweatergate.
But over in the “weather world,” it didn’t really come as a surprise. KTLA has a history of apparent “bloopers,” and we just so happen to be in the middle of May sweeps, a time when the Neilson Company measures station size and stations vie for as many viewers as possible.
There was the green screen mishap last year, in which Chan “accidentally” walked out in front of her green chroma key wall in a dress that was mostly green. The result was that she disappeared into the wall, and Burrous had to “rescue” her with his suit jacket. She did a little dance, too.
The green screen moment certainly seemed staged to me — not wearing green is weather anchor 101. So was Saturday’s moment staged, too?
KTLA wouldn’t comment for this story, and Chan told me in an email “the moment was spontaneous, definitely not staged.”
But even if it wasn’t staged, this news station has, in my view, an unfortunate track record of objectifying women. In 2013, Chan wore nothing but a bathing suit to report on a resort in the Bahamas. No one was handing her a cardigan in that segment.
The thing is, if you know anything about the way TV news is produced, you know that Burrous couldn’t have been alone in deciding to run out there with a sweater. It probably wasn’t his sweater, so he had to get it from someone. I’m assuming he had a producer talking to him in his ear. There may have been a co-host nearby.
And he chose to go out and cover her up during her weather segment. If it was actually an issue for the station, they should have chosen to handle it off-camera — but they didn’t.
Admittedly, I have never been a TV meteorologist, so I felt like I needed a gut check. I talked to my friend Jacqui Jeras, a meteorologist who’s been in the business for decades and currently works at WJLA in Washington, D.C.
“It seems like, at least in morning TV, the importance of personality is equal to — if not outweighs — meteorology at this point. A lot of weather anchors are also hosts,” Jeras told me. “If the weather is quiet in L.A., when no wildfires are burning and there’s no El Niño weather, it gets pretty boring, so you reach for new ways to draw people in.”
“A woman can be attractive and sexy and smart and credible,” she added. “You’re just walking a fine line when you decide to do things like this.”
In a personal statement on her website, Chan said that KTLA did not “order” her to cover up, and there’s no controversy at the station. “I was simply playing along with my co-anchor’s joke,” she wrote, “and if you’ve ever watched the morning show, you know we poke fun at each other all the time.”
Poking fun is fine, but at the end of the day, these kinds of stunts simply make it that much harder for female meteorologists to do their jobs. And it’s already really hard.
Women on TV endure an unending wave of verbal attacks for their appearance. They are sexually harassed and otherwise degraded via email and on social media. If you think your job is difficult, try doing it while reading emails that say things like “your front-end looks like the Hindenburg and your rear-end looks like a brick [obscenity] house.”
As I have said before, these words sound shockingly insensitive, but for women in TV weather it’s as common as getting out of bed in the morning.
When the objectification or criticism comes from within the organization itself, it only acts to justify viewers’ harassment. It paints a bad image of women in the field — women who, on occasion, are required to communicate life-saving information to their viewers.
We have to stop doing this.