Why Trump’s tweet about Brzezin­ski’s ‘bleed­ing’ face was more than just an in­sult

The Washington Post Sunday - - CAPITAL BUSINESS - BY DANIELLE PAQUETTE danielle.paquette@wash­post.com

Af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump mocked a fe­male talk show host on Twit­ter for “bleed­ing badly from a facelift,” Wash­ing­ton lawyer De­bra Katz thought of her clients — the ones who feel side­lined be­cause of their age and gen­der.

“In one tweet, he hit on the vul­ner­a­bil­ity that many women feel as they age,” said Katz, who han­dles work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suits. “It has noth­ing to do with their abil­ity to do their work. It has ev­ery­thing to do with how they look.”

Each day, Katz said, she hears from women who en­counter ha­rass­ment on the job or sense that they’ve missed a raise or pro­mo­tion based on some­thing other than their per­for­mance. The pres­i­dent’s words on one of the world’s most vis­i­ble plat­forms flipped her stom­ach, she said.

“What is ter­ri­ble about this kind of mes­sag­ing from the pres­i­dent is that other peo­ple re­peat it — ‘If the pres­i­dent can say it, I can say it,’ ” Katz said. “I’m afraid it makes things worse.”

On Thurs­day morn­ing, Trump un­leashed a se­ries of tweets bash­ing the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morn­ing Joe,” Joe Scar­bor­ough, 54, and Mika Brzezin­ski, 50. The co-hosts have been crit­i­cal of Trump, and the pres­i­dent is known to slam me­dia out­lets that pro­duce cov­er­age he dis­likes. He called Scar­bor­ough “psy­cho” but was even more scathing of Brzezin­ski — at­tack­ing her in­tel­lect, men­tal state and looks.

“I heard poorly rated @Morn­ing_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch any­more). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psy­cho Joe, came..” Trump tweeted.

“...to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and in­sisted on join­ing me. She was bleed­ing badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

Juliet Wil­liams, chair of UCLA’s so­cial sci­ence pro­gram, was va­ca­tion­ing with her fam­ily in Paris when she saw the tweets. She told her 12-year-old daugh­ter they’d never put up with bul­ly­ing like that at her school.

“Girls are taught their so­cial worth de­pends on whether they’re con­sid­ered pretty,” Wil­liams said. “And that is a way of dis­em­pow­er­ing all of our daugh­ters.”

That at­ti­tude can seep into the pro­fes­sional world, she said, hurt­ing not just feel­ings but job chances and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity.

Elisa Lees Muñoz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Me­dia Foun­da­tion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports fe­male jour­nal­ists, saw Trump’s jab as an at­tempt to hurt Brzezin­ski’s ca­reer.

“Pres­i­dent Trump’s per­sonal at­tack against Mika Brzezin­ski was in­tended to un­der­mine her pro­fes­sion­ally and in­flu­ence her re­port­ing,” she said in a state­ment.

Women in the public eye — such as television an­chors — tend to face height­ened scru­tiny of their ap­pear­ance as they grow older, said Lynne Adrine, a broad­cast jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor at Syra­cuse Univer­sity.

“Men get it, too — it’s just not nearly as in­tense,” said Adrine, a for­mer pro­ducer at ABC News in Wash­ing­ton. “This is al­ways been a busi­ness that has been harsher for women, in terms of as­sess­ments of their phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance.”

Last month, Karen Fuller, a for­mer news an­chor for KCTV-5 in Kansas City, Mo., sued the sta­tion’s owner, al­leg­ing age and gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion af­ter she said her con­tract was ter­mi­nated with­out warn­ing. (Mered­ith Corp., which owns the sta­tion, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.)

“Women age out in their mid- to late 40s,” her law­suit states. “The com­pany does not en­force the same age-re­lated job re­quire­ment for male prime time an­chors.”

In May, mean­while, for­mer Fox News host Diana Fal­zone said she lost air­time af­ter pub­licly re­veal­ing an ill­ness that ren­dered her un­able to have chil­dren.

“Once Diana dis­closed her con­di­tion, Fox ex­ec­u­tives de­cided she no longer con­formed to their im­age of on-air women as ‘phys­i­cally per­fect,’ ” her at­tor­ney told re­porters in a state­ment. “Be­hind closed doors they passed judg­ment on her, dis­crim­i­nated against her for be­ing a woman with a chronic re­pro­duc­tive ill­ness and pun­ished her for hav­ing a pro­tected dis­abil­ity.” (Fox did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.)

And in 2015, Colleen Dominguez, a Fox Sports 1 per­son­al­ity, ac­cused the chan­nel of age dis­crim­i­na­tion, claim­ing her em­ployer was with­hold­ing as­sign­ments be­cause of how she looked.

“Dominguez has also been told that FOX man­age­ment in­structed a FOX pro­ducer to cut video of Dominguez’s face and body for a man­age­ment meet­ing,” ac­cord­ing to her law­suit, “and that this re­quest has never been made for any other em­ployee.”

The prob­lems of age and ap­pear­ance tran­scend television.

A re­cent study from re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Irvine found ré­sumés of older women con­sis­tently spark less em­ployer in­ter­est than those of older men and younger job seek­ers of both gen­ders.

The study, based on re­sponses to about 40,000 fic­tional ré­sumés, found that work­ers age 49 to 51 re­ceived 18 per­cent fewer call­backs than prospec­tive hires in their late 20s. The re­sponse gap grew for older women: Fe­male ap­pli­cants age 49 to 51 got 29 per­cent fewer call­backs than the 29-to-31-year-olds.

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