Michele McPhee, WTKK, and What Happened Yesterday
In today’s “Names” column, the Globe calls out Herald columnist Michele McPhee for something she said on her WTKK radio show. Yesterday, McPhee — who, when she isn’t writing about crime, can be heard weekdays from 10 a.m.-Noon on 96.9 FM — was talking about the fashion industry and its well-known (and frightening) fondness for employing skeletal models like Kate Moss. Here’s how the Globe had it:
After saying that the industry is largely dominated by gay men, McPhee said: “And who do homosexual men like? Little boys.”
Naturally, the story quickly made its way onto Romenesko, the industry standard for media criticism. I talked to McPhee and the TKK higher-ups today. McPhee says it was a conversation about fashion, that the comment was taken out of context, and that “if anyone’s feelings were hurt, I regret that.”
I know McPhee a little bit. Not much, but a little bit. We’re not great friends (especially not now; she’s a bit pissed at me for this, which is OK). That said, I believe her. I don’t think she’s a homophobe, and I don’t think she meant it the way it reads in today’s Globe.
When I first called McPhee today, she urged me to listen to the show and judge for myself. She was absolutely sure that, upon hearing the full segment, I wouldn’t brand her a homophobe. And I would have been happy to listen to the show in its entirety, but WTKK declined to release the audio. Instead, the station issued this statement:
Michelle’s comments were made in the context of a fashion industry that designs women’s clothes for atypical body types. She regrets if her remarks were taken to mean anything else, as no other meaning was intended.
OK. I’m not going to hang her for it. As someone who has done some radio work, I understand full well how easy it is to trip yourself up while you’re on the air, to say something that you either didn’t mean to say or that was said in a way that’s easily misconstrued. The speed of the game can hamstring even the best hosts. And, to the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a long history of McPhee spewing homophobic invective over the airwaves. So if she wants to walk it back, that’s fine by me.
But that last point about her record matters, and it speaks to a larger issue that shouldn’t get lost here. McPhee does a show on TKK, home to some of the more offensive and aggressive radio personalities in town.
A few weeks ago, Michael Graham went on the air and suggested that race was the primary reason why Gov. Deval Patrick endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president, leading the Gov. to call his opinion racist. And, of course, afternoon drive-time host Jay Severin is fond of all things misogynistic. Both Graham and Severin are much higher on the shock rating than McPhee. But rarely do either of them get the kind of mention that McPhee rated in today’s Globe.
Which makes me wonder why. Part of it could be that she works for the Globe’s rival. And part of it could be that, aside from Margery Eagan (who co-hosts a show with Jim Braude), McPhee is TKK’s only on-air female, and so perhaps people scrutinize her differently. I’ve spoken with more than one female radio and television personality over the years who feared saying anything ballsy because they were worried about being branded a bitch. It’s sexist, but it’s also true: Female journalists are often evaluated differently by their peers.
Still, my hunch here is that Graham and Severin say this kind of stuff all the time, so the listeners and media are desensitized to their yammering. McPhee tends to be more careful, so when she slips up, it’s easy to seize upon her comments and magnify them. Whereas, had Severin said it, it’s doubtful anyone would have made a big deal of it. And that, frankly, is a failure on the part of the media — myself included.
All that said, I wish TKK had released the audio, and I wish the station would have allowed McPhee to say more about it, to explain what she really believes and what she truly meant to say. I think everyone would feel better that way.