Beauty is truth,” John Keats believed, but the management of station KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Mo. apparently disagrees. According to Christine Craft, 37, who lost her news anchorwoman post at the ABC affiliate last year, KMBC thinks that beauty is a purely physical state. “My boss told me I was too old, too unattractive and not deferential enough to men,” says Craft, who expects to bring a sexual discrimination lawsuit in federal court against her old employer this month. The suit will be the first challenge to a frequent television practice: firing on-air women who don’t meet the station management’s beauty standards. “No one cares what John Chancellor and Roger Mudd look like,” says Christine. “If we can have uncles on television, why can’t we have aunts? I’m not a model; I’m a journalist.”
A California native, Craft says that KMBC hired her partly for her breezy on-the-air style and a natural “just-off-the-tennis-court” look. But as soon as she arrived in January 1981, she claims, station manager Kent Replogle and news director Ridge Shannon tried to transform her into a Jane-Pauleyesque elegance. They hired a cosmetic expert to make over what they called her “asymmetrical” face, and tactlessly provided a copy of the Woman’s Dress for Success Book. When she failed to follow the book’s edicts, they hired a fashion consultant from Macy’s Midwest to rehabilitate her wardrobe.
The consultant made up a “fashion calendar” that dictated Christine’s daily on-air attire and decreed which piece of jewelry she should wear. She also was given frequent sessions with a makeup artist. “When she finished with me,” says Christine, “I felt like a Kabuki doll. I couldn’t move my face.”
But the new image didn’t help. Eight months later, in August 1981, Christine’s anchor job was lifted, even though Metromedia-owned KMBC had just moved from second to first place in the Nielsen ratings. “The people of Kansas City don’t like you because you’re too old. We’re taking you off the air immediately,” Christine quotes Shannon as telling her after he had reviewed the results of a viewer poll on her performance. (Both Shannon and Replogle refuse to comment on Christine’s dismissal.) The makeover also didn’t improve her other “problem”—a lack of deference to men. “The women viewers dislike you the most. They resent the fact that you don’t hide your intelligence,” Shannon allegedly told her. “In fact, never in Metromedia’s history of audience research have they come back with such a negative response in any community to anyone.”
Craft is no stranger to the troubles women face in television. She graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1968, and broke into television as a Salinas weathergirl at age 30. She moved to CBS in 1978, appearing for nine months in the “Women in Sports” segment of the CBS Sports Spectacular. The network suggested that she dye her hair blond; she did, but the feature was later canceled anyway. “It’s true, Christine isn’t always aware of how important her looks are on camera,” says Robin Leventhal, Craft’s producer at CBS. “But she has many strengths; she did a terrific job on ‘Women in Sports.’ She always tried to relate the news to some broader issue or offer some tidbit of information that would liven it up a bit, and I always appreciated that.”
Women are not the only victims of TV’s exalted beauty standard. In his book, Live and Off-Color: News Biz, television reporter Bob Teague says an anchorman was removed from New York’s WNBC-TV evening news in 1965 because his ears were too large. Newsman Pat Emory claimed that among the reasons for his dismissal from WNXT, Los Angeles, in 1976 was his inability to make viewers sweat. Teague explains: “They wire a sample audience to a machine that is like a lie detector. They flash pictures of various news personalities, and people react by sweating or not sweating. The ones who make people sweat are the ones they keep at the station.”
These days Christine is working for KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara at the same anchoring job she held before the move to Kansas City. She is earning her old salary of $20,000, sharply down from the $35,000 she was making with KMBC. Christine enjoys entertaining friends in her beachfront cottage and revels in such West Coast pleasures as surfing. She’s also enjoying a newfound ocean of respect from her colleagues. Says King Harris, Craft’s current co-anchor: “What I like about Christine is that she’s not a clone. She isn’t one of those airheads you usually see on the tube. It seems to me Kansas City really blew it.”