I was at dinner last night in Washington, D.C., with a group of friends. One of my friends named John leaned over and asked me if I could help him get on TV. I get that a lot. TV is about the only thing my friend, John, isn’t doing, so he seemed to think this was an important next step for him in his career.
I am not sure why highly successful people who are doing amazing things in pioneering journalism seem to think that they need to be on TV, but they do. I guess the Koch brothers just aren’t cutting it for some. (That is a joke, and if you don’t get it, you clearly need to read my work a lot more.)
The thing you should know about my friend is that he is top shelf. The guy has built a mini empire in the conservative movement by creating very innovative avenues to attract devotees to his wildly successful website. My friend is one of the most intelligent, expressive, creative people I know. He is also generous, and he would help me if the situation were reversed. But it won’t be.
I have helped many of my friends, and many have become very successful on various national and local television venues. But I couldn’t help John.
I had to tell my friend the truth: I think his chances of moving from writing phenom to television are slim. My friend is nice looking. He has a great voice. He is a phenomenal writer and speaker. He has a pleasantly disarming demeanor that makes you want to know him. He would be great on TV, on any of the networks, and on his local news shows, too. But I had to be honest with my friend and tell him I thought the chances of that happening are slim.
He cocked his head in question to me, “But why, Gina? What can I do to look more like someone who gets on TV? Is it how I dress? Should I shed a few pounds? Is it that you don’t think my message will resonate on TV?”
I took a sympathetic glance across my wine glass and took a sip while I tried to muster the courage to tell him the politically incorrect truth, and risk sounding like a bigot, or like I didn’t genuinely want to help him.
“I think you have one clear disadvantage,” I told him. “I am going to tell you what I have told other friends of mine who are in your situation, and why I told my husband he needed to get out of politics.”
I took one more look across the table at his willowy white skin, with the blond hair and light blue eyes waiting hopefully for me to fulfill my promise to tell him the truth in this moment. Just looking at him again confirmed to me that I owed my friend that truth.
“If you were a different color, a different sexual orientation, or a different gender, I would help you, John,” I confided. “But I hate to see you spin your wheels and waste your talent when you have all those strikes against you.”
He looked at me in shock.
“So you mean that you don’t think it’s worth my effort to even try to get on my local station?” he asked.
“No,” I had to admit. I didn’t.
The reality is, in my opinion, my friend’s work speaks for itself, and he doesn’t need to be on TV to sell his books or broaden his brand. He is wildly popular and so creative that his own work seems a more promising effort than getting on TV. But there was still that part of him that thinks that being on TV completes the package. He gently contended that it was easy for me to say that to him, since I manage to get on local and national shows for commentary, and seem to get another, better job in TV every time I leave the last one.
I wanted to encourage him, and I would have if he had some angle. But the reality is that the politically correct police have paved a path that is a likely dead end for John. It isn’t because networks don’t want white guys, but it is because they have been force fed figurative quotas that make the chances of white guys breaking in much more difficult.
The same is true of politics.
But some will ask, “Then why is there a gender pay gap? Why is it that most people on TV are white guys, and most political candidates are white guys, too?”
That is simply a matter of statistics. The so-called gender pay gap is a farce, but the other two situations are legit – there are more straight, white men in prominent political and television roles than gays, blacks, women, Hispanics or other ethnicities. But that is precisely why there has been so much pressure on employers and recruiters in those arenas to find an “anything else but white guy” for their openings.
Ask any black person at CPAC. They are courted. They should be. The GOP does need to reach out to minorities and women, and they are making great strides in that. But is there an unintended consequence in all of this? When we recruit based on skin color, gender or sexual orientation, aren’t we acting upon the same bigotry that we feared? How is that colorblind? How is it tolerant? How is it just for someone like my friend, John?
Our contrived, politically correct dead end path will likely exclude great minds like John, because there is more pressure to hire someone like me (a woman). If I also fit in a minority box, my chances would be even better. And then if I were gay, the world would be at my fingertips.
I truly don’t mean this as a shot at my good friends with tons of talent, who happen to fit these descriptors. I am simply being honest, and speaking of a truth that we have all observed. You can’t tell me that there has never been a moment where you looked at your TV and thought, “quota.” And I have seen the sparkle in the eye of a hungry political recruiter when they find anything but another “John” for a candidate. Many of my friends who do fit the non-John status have confided that they know it has helped usher them over hurdles.
It is unjust. And maybe that’s what brought the smile back to the face of my friend, John last evening. “Now that’s a Dr. Gina column I can’t wait to read!”
He was joking, of course, because we both knew you just can’t write that kind of stuff and get away with it. People will call you a hater, a bigot, a racist, a misogynist, a homophobe. Someone somewhere will be offended because they will think this column is about them. But it isn’t. It is about my friend, John. The truth is endangered on the politically correct planet where we reside.
I will wait for the hate mail. But if you have a TV show, and are willing to take a look at my friend, John, I would love to let him know that. I won’t hold my breath.