Keeping Women In The Picture - How Paris Hilton Saved Mika Brzezinski's Job


This is a story of two fetching women, one known for glitz and vacuous socializing, one known for serious news commentary and for reinventing the television morning news show format. Yes, as my title reveals, they are Paris Hilton and Mika Brzezinski whose paths crossed unwittingly, emblematic of American female beauty and brains.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Brzezinski last night, as she was the Commencement speaker for our Graduate College. She shared with our graduates, predominantly women, the challenges of equality in the workplace - equal pay for equal work - detailed in her recently published book "Knowing Your Value."

Progress has been made since 1963, the year the Equal Pay Act was passed, when women's paychecks averaged 59 cents for every dollar earned by a male counterpart to about 78 cents from a 2007 estimate. Ms. Brzezinski shared a striking example of inequity from her own career when she was first hired as co-host of "Morning Joe" on MSNBC - her salary was "fourteen times less" or about 7% that of Mr. Scarborough's. She assured the audience that this gap has been corrected and emphasized that salaries represent far more than money; they symbolize the value of an individual in an organization. I agree.

Now the "Paris Hilton Incident." In the early days of "Morning Joe," Ms. Brzezinski was given a news story about Paris Hilton as the "lead story" of the day. She refused to present the story, going against the network's management, ended up apologizing - only to find that her management had done a "sudden 180" five minutes later by offering Ms. Brzezinski her own show for one hour each day!

This "incident" was, of course, uploaded onto YouTube, generating close to four million views (see video below.) Ms. Brzezinski thanked the audience for "saving her job" - a result from the broad scale public support of her news broadcast protest, a statement against fluff stories that entertain more than inform.


finally someone with prominence and presence in the news media machinery took a stand, and a public one at that. Mika Brzezinski of MNSBC refused to follow up on the news script handed over to her calling for the Hilton jail release to be treated as the lead story. Obvious to many except for her producer apparently, the Hilton story was not a worthy item to devote to a lead story position... it never has, never will,

Her statement was not spontaneous; it was choreographed:

From "Knowing Your Value" p. 31-32

I couldn't believe this junk was being passed off as news, so Joe and I called it out by mocking ourselves and the news business as a whole. At first I held up the news script and simply announced I wouldn't read it; then Joe goaded me into ripping, burning, and shredding it at the top of each hour of our three-hour show.

Despite the achievements of narrowing the gender gap in pay, such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and success stories such as Ms. Brzezinski's, there is a bumpy road ahead. Two recent examples remind us that women in media are still more likely to be seen rather than heard, that is, if they are included in the picture at all.

A recent study from the University of Southern California concluded that:

An analysis of the 100 top-grossing movies of 2008 shows that men had 67% of the speaking roles; women had about half that, 33%.

Men also were far more likely to work behind the camera. For every five male directors, writers or producers, there was one female.

The sexualization of teen girls in the movies was the most troubling finding to the researchers at Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.

No, this is not news, but documents what we see everyday. It gets worse. What about women in powerful positions in government or in corporations? Below is one very disturbing example:

Consider Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, featured prominently in the WhiteHouse photograph of the situation room during the military raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. An Hasidic group took exception to her inclusion in the photograph - to the inclusion of any women, actually - and published the WhiteHouse photograph in their newspaper Der Tzitung with the womens' images deleted. The choice of this example, I assure you, is in no way intended to be anti-Semitic. In fact, Rabbi Jason Miller wrote:

This publication has the freedom of the press to determine what to include and exclude from its pages. However, altering photographs in this manner is in violation of Jewish law -- it is a misrepresentation of the truth. No matter what rationale these Haredi publications use to explain their policy of hiding photos of women from their readers, they must own up to this travesty.



What did the Hasidic newspaper have to say about this? See below: {my emphasis shown in bold}

We are, in various ways, still in the Dark Ages hoping for brighter rays of enlightenment.

Full statement by Der Tzitung.

The White House released a picture showing the President following "live" the events in the apprehension of Osama Bin Laden, last week Sunday. Also present in the Situation Room were various high-ranking government and military officials. Our photo editor realized the significance of this historic moment, and published the picture, but in his haste he did not read the "fine print" that accompanied the picture, forbidding any changes. We should not have published the altered picture, and we have conveyed our regrets and apologies to the White House and to the State Department.

The allegations that religious Jews denigrate women or do not respect women in public office, is a malicious slander and libel. The current Secretary of State, the Honorable Hillary R. Clinton, was a Senator representing New York State with great distinction 8 years. She won overwhelming majorities in the Orthodox Jewish communities in her initial campaign in '00, and when she was re-elected in '06, because the religious community appreciated her unique capabilities and compassion to all communities. The Jewish religion does not allow for discrimination based on gender, race, etc.

We respect all government officials. We even have special prayers for the welfare of our Government and the government leaders, and there is no mention of gender in such prayers.

All Government employees are sworn into office, promising adherence to the Constitution, and our Constitution attests to our greatness as a nation that is a light beacon to the entire world. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. (See below.) That has precedence even to our cherished freedom of the press! In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.

More like this

We apologize if this was seen as offensive.

Standard non-apology. Just come out and say it, "I'm OK and you're not and I'm sorry that you feel miffed about that".

By natural cynic (not verified) on 11 May 2011 #permalink

When it comes to equality in the world of work, I think it's helpful to remember:

No legislation yet has closed the gender wage gap â not the 1963 Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, not Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, not the 1991 amendments to Title VII, not affirmative action (which has benefited mostly white women, the group most vocal about the wage gap), not diversity, not the countless state and local laws and regulations, not the horde of overseers at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, not the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.... Nor will a "paycheck fairness" law work.

That's because pay-equity advocates, at no small financial cost to taxpayers and the economy, continue to overlook the effects of this female AND male behavior:

Despite the 40-year-old demand for women's equal pay, millions of wives still choose to have no pay at all. In fact, according to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Women," stay-at-home wives, including the childless who represent an estimated 10 percent, constitute a growing niche. "In the past few years,â he says in a CNN report at, âmany women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home.â (âCensus Bureau data show that 5.6 million mothers stayed home with their children in 2005, about 1.2 million more than did so a decade earlier....â at If indeed more women are staying at home, perhaps it's because feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs â so why bother working if they're going to be penalized and humiliated for being a woman.)

As full-time mothers or homemakers, stay-at-home wives earn zero. How can they afford to do this while in many cases living in luxury? Because they're supported by their husband, an âemployerâ who pays them to stay at home.

Both feminists and the media ignore what this obviously implies: If millions of wives are able to accept no wages and live as well as their husbands, millions of other wives are able to accept low wages, refuse overtime and promotions, work part-time instead of full-time (âAccording to a 2009 UK study by Cristina Odone for the Centre for Policy Studies, only 12 per cent of the 4,690 women surveyed wanted to work full time.â, take more unpaid days off, avoid uncomfortable wage-bargaining ( â all of which lower women's average pay. They are able to make these choices because they are supported, or anticipate being supported, by a husband who must earn more than if he'd chosen never to marry. (Still, even many men who shun marriage, unlike women, feel their self worth is tied to their net worth.) This is how MEN help create the wage gap. If the roles were reversed so that men raised the children and women raised the income, men would average lower pay than women.

See âA Response to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Actâ at

By the way, the next Equal Occupational Fatality Day is in 2020. The year 2020 is how far into the future women will have to work to experience the same number of work-related deaths that men experienced in 2009 alone. See

Re: the sexualizing of girls in movies. Why do you ignore the "violentization" of males in movies: violence against men is called entertainment: violence against women is called oppressive. And in sitcoms and commercials, which sex is ridiculed nonstop?

By MaleMatters (not verified) on 11 May 2011 #permalink

"The Jewish religion does not allow for discrimination based on gender, race, etc."....and yet they failed to airbrush out any of the blokes in the picture. Liars. Mediaeval liars.

Small nitpick, though: Paris Hilton doesn't represent "beauty", not by a long stretch. She represents wealth and privilege.

By Vince whirlwind (not verified) on 11 May 2011 #permalink

MM above: You missed the point, which is, that -when- women work, they should be paid the same as men. If women do not work, or men do not work, to look after their families, it is their decision.
MM:"feminists and the media have told women for years that female workers are paid less than men in the same jobs..." Well, if it is true, does it matter who says so?
It is obvious that wealthy people can afford more easily to take off from working (no matter which gender), and traditionally women do so more. And probably more women would work if affordable and reasonably-quality child care were available. Still, 'equal work for equal pay' is and should be the law of the land.--

If Mika Brzezinski has rejected -correctly - some fluff story on this particular TV show, good for her. Still TV news is a wasteland filled with mindless entertainment, often misleading the viewers. (See, e.g. Bob Somerby for media criticism at ).
And any story I had some background knowledge on was totally misrepresented on TV (in the presumably better shows, such as 60 Minutes). So Ms. Brzezinski still has her work cut out.