Opinion

I Watched U-T TV So You Don’t Have to

I Watched U-T TV So You Don’t Have to

Courtesy image

An episode of "Front Page With Scott & Amber" on U-T TV.

 

I was content to let U-T TV fall like a tree in the woods that nobody was around to hear.

But then the biggest publication in town called U-T TV nothing less than a “new frontier for news,” which meant people had to be watching. That publication was … the U-T itself.

U-T San Diego’s big write-up of U-T TV, the paper’s effort to roll out continuous TV programming, is written by an outside freelancer, to give it the guise of an objective news story. The piece uses words like “ambitious” and “bold” and says the station is attracting “measurable amounts of viewers” (whether that’s six, or 6 million, it doesn’t specify).

It’s hard to ignore “measurable amounts of viewers,” so I knew what I had to do. I had to watch.

I embarked on a non-scientific dive into U-T TV, including full episodes I DVR’d and watched at home, and clips I pored over online.

I’ve been a reporter and editor at an array of outlets in California and D.C., and I could tell right away that U-T TV’s early hires, marketing and programming signaled an effort that was far outside the norm — even for an industry that still grapples regularly with sexism.

There had been red flags from the start that the new-school endeavor was embracing some of the old school media’s worst habits, like this early ad that was mocked as “sexist and silly.”

There was the fact that the venture signed on, in its effort to be fresh and innovative, an aging, white, former mayor.

And there was the fact that another star hire was Scott Kaplan, a man fired from his previous gig for calling a female colleague an “animal” and a “sasquatch of a woman.”

The videos I watched were no better: an endless line of horribles, like a female host who recommended that ladies eat fish on Valentine’s Day, so as not to feel “full or bloated” during sex. One interview asked the female district attorney whether she wears a thong.

Other highlights:

Degrade the Female Host

• On “The Sports Page With Acee & Annie,” co-host Annie Heilbrunn is often treated like a prop, a dynamic perfectly captured in a recent segment on the NFL Combine:

Acee: “Welcome to the final segment of ‘The Sports Page,’ and we’ve brought in a guest, Annie Heilbrunn.”

Annie: “Not really a guest. I also host the show. But it’s good to be here.”

• “Night & Day” Co-host Chris Cantore, in introducing the Mastiff Sausage Company (I know, how could this go wrong?) subtly tosses to co-host Michelle Guerin: “All right Michelle, you ready to get your sausage on? Michelle loves sausage.”

• In this segment on massage, co-host Amber Mesker lays on a massage table, presumably naked but for the sheet, while Kaplan stands, fully clothed, conducting interviews.

He asks the massage therapists, “What are we doing with Amber today?” as if Mesker, like Heilbrunn, is just an elaborate visual aid.

Banter Gone Awry

• A recent “What’s Trending in San Diego?” segment on “Night & Day,” highlights an embarrassing moment in which rapper 50 Cent tries to give sportscaster Erin Andrews a greeting kiss, which she dodges.

Cantore: “Fitty likes the blonde ladies … Yeah, he likes the white women, that 50.” …

Guerin: (As footage of Andrews rolls): This is Erin Andrews, she’s very beautiful.

Cantore: She definitely is.

• Mesker appears on an episode of “Overdrive” with host Mark Maynard, and remarks, “I’m such a cheap date he doesn’t even have to take me anywhere.”

After Mesker and Maynard finish a mechanic competition (cue lots of dumb-blonde-can’t-put-on-tires tropes), Maynard leers at Mesker, saying, “You little rascal,” and proceeds to hug her and paw at her on camera.

Not every segment was so tone-deaf. In one “Front Page With Scott & Amber” segment, both hosts question a special education teacher who overcame cervical cancer with relative care and concern.

But the ease with which off-the-cuff banter slides into offensive territory is unnerving.

And one episode of “The Roger Hedgecock Show” was just as telling, though it didn’t include any overt forays into sexism.

The episode was guest hosted by U-T editorial writer Chris Reed. On top of Reed, five experts (including four U-T staffers) were brought on to offer commentary on various news items. All were men. One female U-T reporter, Teri Figueroa, called in to the show, but she never appeared on camera. Another woman did appear on the set, but she appeared alongside her husband, who answered most questions, and she was cut off as she tried to speak at the end of the segment.

That reinforces some of the most damaging media tendencies outlined in a recent report on the status of women in the media by the Women’s Media Center, which found that in the past year, “Men were … far more likely to be quoted than women in newspapers, television and public radio.”

To be sure, there’s only so much fretting one can do about this stuff — a point encapsulated brilliantly last week by Lindy West, and Jessica Valenti. They call it sexism fatigue. Here’s West describing this exhaustion:

I am tired of trying to have an intellectual discussion about dog-whistle sexism in a culture where prominent politicians are still trying to grasp what rape is … And if my fatigue sounds defeatist, it isn’t. It’s the opposite. It’s an internal rallying cry that reminds me how bad things are.

Ultimately, if U-T TV wants to make a naked (sometimes literally) play for lowest-common-denominator programming, that’s U-T TV’s prerogative. But let’s call it what it is.

Forcing viewers who want to glean real insight from your content to wade through a sea of blonde stereotypes and penis innuendo is not “bold,” it’s banal. Treading the well-worn path of hosts who favor sexist jokes — one of the most tired fallbacks that exists in media — is not “ambitious,” it’s lazy. And showcasing an endless parade of “Anchorman” impersonators does not constitute a “new frontier” — it’s a shtick that proved embarrassing and outdated even by fictional 1970s standards.

Valenti, in her column on sexism fatigue, counsels: “Spend energy wisely.”

For me, that’ll include switching U-T TV back off.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified who was speaking in a segment of a “The Sports Page.”

Sara Libby is VOSD’s managing editor. She oversees VOSD’s newsroom and its content. You can reach her at sara.libby@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526.

Follow @SaraLibby.

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Sara Libby

Sara Libby

Sara Libby is VOSD’s managing editor. She oversees VOSD’s newsroom and its content. You can reach her at sara.libby@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0526.

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61 comments
Michael Russell
Michael Russell subscriber

Spoken like an old white suit. I think the point was that the "hip young new-hire" was Jerry Sanders. Instead of a someone young, female, with some salsa in the blood. Drawing the distinction requires some reference point.

philosopher3000
philosopher3000

Spoken like an old white suit. I think the point was that the "hip young new-hire" was Jerry Sanders. Instead of a someone young, female, with some salsa in the blood. Drawing the distinction requires some reference point.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Whatever you think about the UT's shift in political leaning, you can't say they have ever been a serious new organization, and VOSD seems destined to follow in their footsteps.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Whatever you think about the UT's shift in political leaning, you can't say they have ever been a serious new organization, and VOSD seems destined to follow in their footsteps.

Matt Finish
Matt Finish subscriber

This is precisely what SD is about: pretty. The climate, geography and people are among the most beautiful in the world, which is why it's a tourist destination. But peel back the "come visit here and look at pretty things", and there's almost nothing left. SD has no soul, style, character or depth. It's just "there". UT-TV is a perfect reflection of that: Dumb, pretty, and empty.

Matt Finish
Matt Finish

This is precisely what SD is about: pretty. The climate, geography and people are among the most beautiful in the world, which is why it's a tourist destination. But peel back the "come visit here and look at pretty things", and there's almost nothing left. SD has no soul, style, character or depth. It's just "there". UT-TV is a perfect reflection of that: Dumb, pretty, and empty.

Wendy Phillips
Wendy Phillips subscriber

Fox "news" dressed up to look "Mainstream". Thanks for watchdog duties.

wsphil
wsphil

Fox "news" dressed up to look "Mainstream". Thanks for watchdog duties.

Libby Weber
Libby Weber memberauthor

Good lord. Thank you for taking one (or several) for the team. I'd have done damage to my screen by throwing things at it.

libbyweber
libbyweber

Good lord. Thank you for taking one (or several) for the team. I'd have done damage to my screen by throwing things at it.

Carrie Schneider
Carrie Schneider subscribermember

This is the one thing in the article that rang strange to me, as it implies that there is something wrong with being aging and white. Otherwise, spot on!

Carries
Carries

This is the one thing in the article that rang strange to me, as it implies that there is something wrong with being aging and white. Otherwise, spot on!

Ken King
Ken King subscribermember

Why watch UT-TV when you have Fox? Same demographic. You know, the NASCAR guys. That's a "measurable" number.

Cycling Ken
Cycling Ken

Why watch UT-TV when you have Fox? Same demographic. You know, the NASCAR guys. That's a "measurable" number.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

However, if you really want to get Arnold's side of it, his email is public, and I'm sure he appreciates you as a follower and might even answer if you ask him.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

However, if you really want to get Arnold's side of it, his email is public, and I'm sure he appreciates you as a follower and might even answer if you ask him.

Erik Hanson
Erik Hanson subscriber

Well, they did have Adrian Florido, but they let him go.

hardcover
hardcover

Well, they did have Adrian Florido, but they let him go.

Michael Johnson
Michael Johnson subscribermember

How are your knees, Jim? Is that jerk still bothering you?

michaeljtoo
michaeljtoo

How are your knees, Jim? Is that jerk still bothering you?

Sam Ollinger
Sam Ollinger subscriber

Wasn't T.K. Arnold whining recently about the decaying moral values San Diego? How does he view UT-TV's coverage...I wonder.

SamOllinger
SamOllinger

Wasn't T.K. Arnold whining recently about the decaying moral values San Diego? How does he view UT-TV's coverage...I wonder.

Sososo
Sososo

Great article. I agree

Pete Zanko
Pete Zanko subscriber

I'm sure the response to that would be: "But we've got Dagny Salas!"

ThatGuy
ThatGuy

I'm sure the response to that would be: "But we've got Dagny Salas!"

Jeff Soriano
Jeff Soriano subscriber

If Sara Libby's findings are based on not really knowing the dynamics between Cantore's and Guerin's relationship then I think an article stating Libby is a judgemental journalist should follow. How's my interpretation of Libby based on this article any different from what she wrote about cantore based on a few quotes totally out of context?

Sososo
Sososo

If Sara Libby's findings are based on not really knowing the dynamics between Cantore's and Guerin's relationship then I think an article stating Libby is a judgemental journalist should follow. How's my interpretation of Libby based on this article any different from what she wrote about cantore based on a few quotes totally out of context?

Scott Hasson
Scott Hasson subscriber

VOSD should spend time on the issues that affect us like taxes, schools and such..this is a waste of your time and ours.

scotthasson
scotthasson

VOSD should spend time on the issues that affect us like taxes, schools and such..this is a waste of your time and ours.

John Kroll
John Kroll subscriber

Actually, an article describing and comparing local TV newscasts is a good idea. All of them seem much ado about little (e.g., the many weather forecasts that make a point of telling us whether Oceanside is one degree higher than Leucadia).

goodlead
goodlead

Actually, an article describing and comparing local TV newscasts is a good idea. All of them seem much ado about little (e.g., the many weather forecasts that make a point of telling us whether Oceanside is one degree higher than Leucadia).

Marty Copeland
Marty Copeland subscriber

I'm thoroughly disgusted with the UT ever since it was bought by "Papa" Doug. I think it is driving itself to extinction. Even though I am a conservative, I find this paper to be SO one sided it is disturbing......definitely not "fair and balanced". And not to mention the price increase to go along with it's decrease in quality. In December 2011 I was paying $19.36 per month ------increased to $20.57 in July 2012 -----$22.62 in August 2012 ---- and now yesterday it is at $30.95. If it wasn't for my husband wanting to follow local sports news, I'd cancel in a heartbeat. VOSD - you do a much better job. Start covering sports and I'm in big time.

geomarty
geomarty

I'm thoroughly disgusted with the UT ever since it was bought by "Papa" Doug. I think it is driving itself to extinction. Even though I am a conservative, I find this paper to be SO one sided it is disturbing......definitely not "fair and balanced". And not to mention the price increase to go along with it's decrease in quality. In December 2011 I was paying $19.36 per month ------increased to $20.57 in July 2012 -----$22.62 in August 2012 ---- and now yesterday it is at $30.95. If it wasn't for my husband wanting to follow local sports news, I'd cancel in a heartbeat. VOSD - you do a much better job. Start covering sports and I'm in big time.

Jim Dodd
Jim Dodd subscriber

Sara, you need to check out the local TV news staffs....jim

JimDodd
JimDodd

Sara, you need to check out the local TV news staffs....jim

Patches O'Riely
Patches O'Riely

Sara, why is Ron Burgundy and the channel 4 news team getting slammed? If you need a bias, sexist, degrading, sham news organization, look no further than KUSI.

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

UT-TV really is that bad. But VoSD comments on the poor quality of UT-TV with an article of similarly poor quality? Brilliant!

sdguy
sdguy

UT-TV really is that bad. But VoSD comments on the poor quality of UT-TV with an article of similarly poor quality? Brilliant!

Joe Jones
Joe Jones subscriber

Jim, I say skip the Pulitzer and go right to the Nobel Prize.

jad555
jad555

Jim, I say skip the Pulitzer and go right to the Nobel Prize.

Joe Jones
Joe Jones subscriber

You're an inspiration, dougbob. I award you 3 Superior Human points, vaulting you just ahead of Betty Friedan and Gandhi.

jad555
jad555

You're an inspiration, dougbob. I award you 3 Superior Human points, vaulting you just ahead of Betty Friedan and Gandhi.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

This is akin to a review of a bloody car wreck no one wants to see. It sounds as if the target audience is composed of people who probably can't figure out how to view the show in the first place. The rest of us, who can, have never seen it. Oh to have money to spend on boondogles and to still be able to live the high life.

B Chris Brewster
B Chris Brewster

This is akin to a review of a bloody car wreck no one wants to see. It sounds as if the target audience is composed of people who probably can't figure out how to view the show in the first place. The rest of us, who can, have never seen it. Oh to have money to spend on boondogles and to still be able to live the high life.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

You mean there really is a "U(seless)-T(ribune) TV"? What next--a real newspaper?

fryefan
fryefan

You mean there really is a "U(seless)-T(ribune) TV"? What next--a real newspaper?

maya kapila
maya kapila subscriber

Wow, how totally bizarre. "Aging" and "white" are factual descriptors of the mayor in question. When, out of everything discussed in this article, only that sets off your ageist/sexist radar... maybe it's time for some self-reflection of your own.

maya
maya

Wow, how totally bizarre. "Aging" and "white" are factual descriptors of the mayor in question. When, out of everything discussed in this article, only that sets off your ageist/sexist radar... maybe it's time for some self-reflection of your own.

Dale Peterson
Dale Peterson subscribermember

Men talk sports, business, politics, and call opponents "smack-talk" names. Women are ornaments. And, the marketing that is applied is exaggerated propaganda. Hey, it kind of works on radio.