I’m normally not one to cry sexism or misogyny, but a story out of Australia this week deserves such labels.
That’s West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle. The woman interviewing him is Australian sports journalist Mel McLaughlin. Let’s take a closer look at this Monday night conversation in case you missed it:
McLaughlin: It looks like you’re absolutely smashing these innings.
Gayle: Definitely. I mean, I wanted to come over and interview to you as well. That’s the reason why I’m here, so just to see your eyes for the first time. (snickers heard off camera) It’s nice. So, hopefully we win this game and we can have a drink after. Don’t blush, baby.
McLaughlin: I’m not blushing. (Gayle hyena laughs)
At this point, McLaughlin proceeds to ask Gayle about any injuries he may have sustained during the game, which was likely her original line of questioning. Gayle confirms that he felt some straining in his hamstring, then…
Gayle: Hopefully, I finish the tournament. So, I’m looking forward to that will work out real well and look in your eyes. (Gayle hyena laughs again)
McLaughlin: We’re gonna leave it on that note. Well done. Thanks.
Thank goodness the commentators discussed the situation immediately following the interview, praising McLaughlin’s professionalism and condemning Gayle’s behavior. Since that interview, Gayle has ~sort of~ apologized, saying it was all blown out of proportion. Gayle’s cricket club has fined him the equivalent of $7,200 for “inappropriate conduct.” Here’s the full story on BBC.
Some of you who tuned in to my blog last week may be asking why this is a big deal to me since my future husband met me while I interviewed him for a story. HUGE difference. Cory let me do my job without embarrassing me with out-of-line comments in front of strangers. Yes, Cory noted that my eyes were the greenest he’d ever seen, and yes, I would have liked to have openly flirted with him right there, but I was working, and unlike Gayle, Cory didn’t make further comments. He and I saved any blatant interest or notion of getting to know each other on a more personal level until after the story was printed, an aspect I highlighted in last week’s post when he and I discussed, like adults, that I would be unable to do a story on him again. And his opening line to me was not about my appearance, but rather complimenting my reporting. Oh, and it wasn’t on live television for millions of people to see.
But I’m no stranger to rendezvous like Gayle and McLaughlin’s.
While I chatted with a group of local officials and who’s-who of Bowling Green at an event I was covering, a judge in the circle out of nowhere said, “I just love your hair. It’s gorgeous, the way it’s curled like that. Well, just everything. You look great. I mean…really. If I was 10 years younger, you wouldn’t be able to keep me off of you.” Monica’s response in her head: “Just 10 years? Who do you think you’re fooling?”
When I called a law enforcement official – whom my editor and other respectable law enforcement sources had warned me against wearing a skirt around – on his work cell phone after hours to get information about a car wreck, he went out of his way to mention that he was bored alone at home and his wife was out of town. Monica’s response in her head: “Sounds like it’s time to call one of those hookers it’s rumored that you keep on deck.”
A man was running for public office in a county I covered during election time and his son was the only family member I could find on social media to ask for the father’s contact information. The son immediately Facebook messaged me with his father’s phone number, followed by a message mere seconds later that said, “You’re cute. What’s your number?” Monica’s response in her head: “Are you a Democrat? Because you’re acting like a…donkey.”
On the day a new store opened, my corporate public relations contact, whose appearance I can best describe as “1970s cop show,” sped through our interview and then, as I waited to interview the CEO, said, “So, where are some good places to eat around here? All of us from corporate went out last night, but I’m looking to get out on my own tonight and explore since we’re leaving tomorrow.” He gave me his personal cell phone number and called me later from his hotel to “make sure I had everything I needed” and ask me if I’d be off work soon since he planned to go to that Thai restaurant I recommended. Monica’s response in her head: “Oh, you mean one night stand? I keep a lamp and my Bible on one of those.”
In a loud factory, a source put his arm around me and instructed me to speak loudly into his ear, pulling me so close to his body that I could barely lift my pencil to write in my notebook. Monica’s response in her head: swift jab to the Adam’s apple.
Notice all those responses were in my head. Why? Because I tried to salvage the dignity of the interview and maintain some semblance of professionalism in each situation, conducting myself as a journalist who takes her job seriously.
I’ll point out that other people I interviewed hit on me or asked me out, but, like Cory, they waited until my work with them was done and then respectfully and privately asked if I’d like to go out. No humiliation. No embarrassment.
I’ve lived in Kentucky my whole life. Folks down here like to compliment and sweet talk just to make your day a little better. As a journalist, I interviewed a lot of elderly people and good ol’ boys and girls, and sometimes they’re just so excited to be interviewed that they want to rain praises on the reporter. I know when men or women are just being conversational and saying things like, “Well, I bet you’ve got 12 boyfriends” or “You are just sweet as can be,” and when there’s something more behind their words.
My female former coworkers each had at least a couple stories about being inappropriately hugged or hit on in the middle of an interview, and I daresay that my male counterparts never mentioned finding themselves in such awkward situations. But whether it’s a male source to a female reporter or a female source to a male reporter or vice versa of either of those, this kind of behavior makes a mockery of journalism. It dances with bribery and sloughs off ethics.
I’m not saying that just because Gayle voiced his fascination with McLaughlin’s eyes that he planned to rape her later that evening, nor am I saying that I feared I would be assaulted in an alleyway after I ignored my sources’ advances.
What I am saying is that there’s no place for comments like those in a professional setting, particularly in the middle of an interview. Save it for later, even as soon as right after the event or interview ends. You want to mack on some girl at the club? Go ahead, but the difference between doing it to her and doing it to a woman who’s in the middle of doing her job is that the girl at the club can throw a drink in your face…or make out with you right then and there. The journalist will get reprimanded for responding in either way, because if the journalist doesn’t maintain her cool or professionalism, then she’s reduced herself to the same tactless, uncouth creature that you’ve proven yourself to be. And that’s something no journalist wants on her resume.