Borders Bookstore is busy as usual. I head to the new release table to look for Myrna Blyth's book Spin Sisters, How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America. With a New York Times review and a little buzz, I figure it'll be staring at me somewhere between Ann Coulter and Al Franken.
Wrong. I wander the aisles for 15 minutes wondering if I dreamed this book up. Finally I ask for help. An employee leads me downstairs to a back room and—voila—there it is, tucked away on a bottom shelf behind some CDs.
Is Katie Couric in charge of Borders' bookshelf displays these days?
If you've read Spin Sisters, you get my Katie joke. If you haven't, here's the gist of Blyth's book: The female media elite, who edit the women's magazines we buy and host the news magazine programs we watch, are subtly feeding us negative, destructive messages that don't reflect our lives.
There's nothing really new reported in Spin Sisters, but Blyth is quite right—there's an obvious lack of balance and fairness in what the divas of journalism dish up. Vanity Fair, Glamour, Redbook, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters, Katie, and even Oprah are often telling us—in one way or another-that women are the stressed out, overweight, undersexed victims of a scary world.
Blyth should know. She spent 20 years as editor in chief of Ladies Home Journal and she was founding editor and publishing director of More Magazine. Before that, she was executive editor of Family Circle. Over the course of her career, she's shared Cobb salads and traded secrets with the likes of Tina Brown, Cathie Black, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Barbara Walters. As a former sister of spin herself, Blyth comes clean, admitting her dirty deeds and warning us of the hidden agenda behind the women's magazine industry.
As a former sister of spin herself, Blyth comes clean, admitting her dirty deeds...
Granted, many women struggle trying to balance life's demands, most would like to look thinner and younger, some would love to spruce up their love life, and yes, the post 9-11, MTV world can be troubling. But Blyth points to polls that show that the average woman doesn't feel the way the mainstream media portrays her. She further says that women in the media sell victimhood because they believe it's true. Their answers to women's problems stem from their out-dated feminist ideology, liberal views, and pampered, wealthy lives.
Not hard to see, nor to believe. What can be tough, though, is separating agenda from truth as the two are so often woven together in the stories we're told. Two ideas are worth pondering when it comes to what we get served from the media: the power of an emotional story and the politicization of news.
The media can't help but be biased—we're all biased, and that's okay. Still, the media's job is to give us the facts, to be as objective and fair as possible, and to let us see more than one side of an issue so we can make up our own minds. But journalists, producers, TV hosts, and editors know that what really speaks to us are stories. Stories can be powerful—they make things real, they tug on our heartstrings and appeal to our fears and feelings. "News is most effective when it tells a story that confirms our deep-seated beliefs and stokes our deep-seated fears," writes Blyth.
Blyth points to polls that show that the average woman doesn’t feel the way the mainstream media portrays her.
Women are especially prone to an emotional story. Maybe because we're generally the nurturers or because we're mothers concerned about the safety and well being of our families. Women also tend to be more empathic—we "feel your pain," and we often personalize issues more than men do.
We also tend to frame political issues differently. Blyth claims women are more practical than men when it comes to political views. We want solutions to problems and we're focused on outcomes as opposed to process. Women see political issues as values. "(T)he safety and security of our families is a value," explains Blyth. "Gun control or arming pilots is an issue."
Many women's magazines do seem out of touch with today's woman. I suppose this is why I don't know a single woman who actually subscribes to them anymore. Sure, we buy a copy to read on the plane, or pick them up at hair salons and doctors' offices, but that's because we're still searching for the perfect hairstyle, a dieting tip that works, and a lip color that stays. Okay, and we're also suckers for the celebrity interviews too—something our sisters in the media know very well.
A perfect example of the clever interplay of a powerful story and the political agenda behind the news is Diane Sawyer's interview with Rosie O'Donnell. Blyth recounts the details: Rosie, finished with her talk show and about to launch her book Find Me, wanted to come out of the closet publicly since she was hoping to make her new magazine, Rosie, a success.
Her publicist planned it carefully, arranging a two-hour interview on ABC with Diane Sawyer. Instead of focusing on Rosie's lesbianism, they chose to use an issue that was important to Rosie and timely in current debate—Florida's law preventing homosexuals from adopting children. Surely women around the nation would be interested in what Rosie had to say about this.
For those of you who didn't see it, it was called: "Rosie's Story: For the Sake of the Children" and it was heavily promoted before airtime. A homosexual couple trying to adopt troubled foster kids was portrayed very sympathetically while a sociologist adamantly denied that there's anything wrong with gays adopting children. A young senator was on to offer the "other side." He said he was against it because of his biblical beliefs, at which point Diane looked pained and Rosie responded with a line from Les Miserables.
The show was designed to make you feel bad for this nice homosexual couple who just wants to help some needy children. If the story doesn't make you sympathetic to Rosie's cause—changing Florida's law—then you must be cold-hearted and cruel. It's a clever way to sway public opinion and plays right into the confusion many women feel about this issue. (Oh, and while were being distracted with the story about the gay couple in Florida, we barely noticed that Rosie came out of the closet.)
It gets tiring to be constantly vigilant, always discerning and sorting through so many agendas, so much information.
There's your emotional story and there's your spin.
The subtle (and not so subtle) media bias creates a real incongruence, even for those of us who know we can't believe everything we read or watch. It gets tiring to be constantly vigilant, always discerning and sorting through so many agendas, so much information. It has simply become part of life, a different kind of stressor from which we need a break. Which brings us back to the "stressed out" messages we get from our sisters of spin. Too bad they don't realize that a big source of stress is simply the way they talk to us.
It's enough to make you forget about Marie Claire and pick up a copy of Spa Finder.