Stephanie Ruhle

Stephanie Ruhle & the Right to Bare Arms

I’m a big fan of MSNBC for many reasons. What has really struck me recently, though, is the humanization of “talking heads”, both on the anchor desk and in remote interview locations.

Stephanie Ruhle’s bare arms would never have passed muster in the time I was anchoring in television news. Hell, in those days there were many employers who insisted that female employees who chose to wear a skirt or dress were obligated to pair with hose. For those of you anthropologically challenged, hose refers to stockings, nylons, panti-hose, tights! Similarly, Rachel Maddow’s seemingly identical black blazers would have elicited comments about the lack of variety. And those not-shaving-this-week stubbles on several of the male anchors are also a recent on-air innovation.

I point these things out, not to disparage them by any means, but to observe the impact these seemingly innocuous tweaks are having on our understanding of, and engagement with, public discourse. Broadcast technology itself, evolved during COVID, has had a profound impact on the guests who come on the various programs, either as witnesses, experts or commentators.

Just recently I noticed that I was watching a “double ender” interview with a person holding high office in a US state, and behind her was her (very tidy) kitchen. The homey backgrounds, the bookshelves, the artwork and children’s photos — none of this was ever part of guest interviews in the past. People were interviewed standing outside a significant building, or against the backdrop of their desk or workplace. Home was where you interviewed bereft families, those with consumer complaints against an airline or retailer, but not office holders, politicians and content experts.

Now we see artfully arranged flowers, the latest book you’ve published, or read, memorabilia, and sometimes downright confusing backdrops. What is all that on the wall behind Eric Herschmann? Good thing he’s such an entertaining witness or I wouldn’t hear a word, trying to sort out what kind of bathroom he’s recording in.

The beautiful thing about all these evolutions is that they give us a much more rounded and nuanced view of the people we spend hours watching and listening to. Why wouldn’t we pay more attention to those we see as human, like us, with actual kitchens? And as to baring arms, you go girl!

Joanna Piros