Why Gretchen Carlson Has To Play Dumb To Succeed

Today’s New York Times includes a profile of the wildly popular and infuriating Fox News show Fox & Friends. It’s impossible to read the story and not feel sorry for co-host Gretchen Carlson, a Stanford-educated woman who seems forced into playing dumb in order to fit in on a show that includes visits from Hooters waitresses and Victoria’s Secret models. Will the real Gretchen Carlson please step up?

More than a million people watch Fox & Friends every day, which the Times reports is significantly more than the combined audience of every other cable news show it competes with in its time slot. Mitt Romney, who rarely sits down for interviews with the press, has appeared on the show 21 times within the last year.

Here’s the Times story’s devastating kicker:

Consider the background of Ms. Carlson, who is known for making light of her supposed ignorance. She has said during the program, for example, that she has had to Google the definition of words like ignoramus and czar.

Ms. Carlson, who was crowned Miss America in 1989, is no ignoramus. She plays the classical violin and graduated from Stanford with honors.

So has Carlson been playing dumb because that’s the role producers and viewers want her to play? The show is not exactly a bastion of feminism. In a segment this spring, co-host and world-class doofus Brian Kilmeade, who makes a habit of calling women “babes” and “skirts,” said he’d like to see a label on pants reading “give it to the broad” to wash. Ha. Ha. Ha.

The cracks are showing in Carlson’s pageant-girl facade. Last week, she stormed off the set — supposedly in jest — when Kilmeade made an appallingly sexist “joke” about how awful it is that women are now “allowed” to play golf and tennis. Surely this educated, sophisticated, accomplished career woman must die a little inside every time she laughs at Kilmeade’s idiocy or is rewarded for exclaiming that she doesn’t know what a word means.

I’m not holding my breath, but in a perfect world, I’d love to see Carlson go all Howard Beale on the set of Fox & Friends, standing up and yelling “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” But I’d settle for seeing her start to be herself.

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