Billy Bush’s Hot Mic Sex Joke and Teacher’s Free Speech Is Bad Lesson
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When Journalism Met Sexism
Billy Bush Caught Making Crude Sex Joke About Kendall Jenner on Hot Mic (The Daily Beast)
SUMMARY: “More than six years after his career was derailed by his involvement in Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tapes, Extra anchor Billy Bush has been caught in another hot mic moment making crass and sexually demeaning remarks.
“In a video clip provided exclusively to The Daily Beast, Bush joked on-set during a taping of Extra about model Kendall Jenner’s Toy Story-inspired Halloween costume and her attractiveness in the outfit.
“‘Kendall goes as Jessie and, believe me, there were a lot of woodies,’ Bush said during the Oct. 31 taping, eliciting laughter from several production staffers in the room. (The Daily Beast is publishing only the audio of the incident in order to protect the anonymity of its source.)
“Bush made the objectifying comment while standing in front of a large wall screen plastered with images of female celebrities dressed in provocative Halloween garb. Featured at the center was Jenner, the second-youngest of the famed Kardashian/Jenner sisters, dressed up as Jessie, the free-spirited cowgirl from the immensely popular Pixar franchise.”
MY TAKE: There are two very important issues here. First: Is Bush’s comment worthy of condemnation? Second: Is the reporting by The Daily Beast journalistically fair? Both are important because they reflect the effect of advocacy journalism on artistic expression. In other words, when the media (of which I am a member) attacks someone for their behavior, it has a chilling effect on others’ behavior. That’s the point. When I call someone out for what I deem bad behavior, it’s because I want that behavior to stop—in them and others. Which is why we have to be careful to only point out behavior that is detrimental to society, not just personally offensive.
I’ll start with the second issue. I am a regular reader of The Daily Beast because I like the variety of issues they report on and the liveliness of their writing. But I’m going to disagree with their approach in this instance. The opening paragraph describes Bush’s words as “making crass and sexually demeaning remarks.” Later, the article states, “Bush made the objectifying comment…” and “off-color remarks.” Whether or not his comments were any of those things should be up to the reader to decide, not the writer. If the article had been labeled as “Opinion,” I would have accepted the characterization. But it wasn’t. So, I don’t.
I understand where the disapproval comes from and agree with the principles. The nasty problem they are addressing is that men have been using the “it's just a joke” excuse for years to justify sexist comments (the flirty innuendo) and sexual advances (the hand on the back). And when rebuffed, they accuse women of not having a sense of humor. It’s a frustrating and evil gaslighting ploy. It needs to be called out every time it occurs.
But this is not such a case. Jenner dressed to be sexually provocative, which is her brand. It’s how she makes money. Bush's comment was directed at the success of her attempt and not a slur to objectify or diminish her. Dressing provocatively is objectifying oneself because it defines the person mostly through their sexuality. Again, her prerogative.
Some have condemned Jenner for “ruining a children’s movie,” which also makes no sense. The Toy Story movies still exist and Jesse’s sweet and fierce character is not affected in the least by how a celebrity dresses for Halloween. If Chris Hemsworth wore nothing but a bedazzled Lakers jockstrap for Halloween, he would not have ruined basketball.
I agree we need to be vigilant in calling out misogynist comments and behavior, but we have to be equally vigilant in not being over-zealous in our definitions.
[NOTE: I have made similar comments about journalistic impartiality regarding all my favorite news sources—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, etc.—because I know accuracy matters to them. They care about getting it right, which is why I continue to read and subscribe to (hint, hint) them—and why I continue to read The Daily Beast. When I comment on Fox News’ massive bias, it’s as a warning because I know they don’t care about impartial journalism. Reminder: my newsletter is opinion-based, though I try to make a case for why I hold my opinions.]