Editorial: For once, we’d like to see a 65-year old TV anchorwoman

In 1983, Christine Craft sued KMBC for fraud and sex discrimination.
In 1983, Christine Craft sued KMBC for fraud and sex discrimination. File photo

Come June 20, Phil Witt, the long-time anchor at WDAF-TV, will deliver his final newscast after nearly four decades with the station.

That’s a notable achievement, and we congratulate Phil. But here’s a question: When’s the last time this town — or any city, for that matter — witnessed a 65-year-old anchorwoman sign off for the final time?

We’re pretty sure it has been awhile, because women generally don’t last as long in the TV business. That’s something worth discussing, particularly in the wake of news last week that Karen Fuller, a former news anchor at KCTV-5 in Kansas City, had filed an age and gender discrimination suit against the Meredith Corp., which owns the station.

Fuller alleged that the company had created an “age ceiling” for female anchors, but not for the men.

“Women age out in their mid- to late-40s,” the lawsuit alleges.

Fuller is hardly the first in this market to make that claim. In 2008, Kelly Eckerman, Peggy Breit and Maria Antonia sued KMBC alleging age and gender discrimination. The matter was dismissed in 2010 by mutual agreement, and the women stayed at the station.

The most celebrated age discrimination in TV-land involved Kansas City anchor Christine Craft, who in 1983 sued the owner of KMBC in an action that opened the door to other age-related television lawsuits. Craft was demoted at 37 after being told she was “too old, too unattractive and wouldn’t defer to men.” She was awarded two separate damage awards of $500,000 and $350,000, although both were later tossed out.

Two other middle-aged female anchors in Kansas City stepped away in recent years: Elizabeth Alex at KSHB and Susan Hiland at WDAF. Neither sued for discrimination. But neither is on the air now.

There’s a pattern here, and it’s a troubling one. Could it be that as they age, women anchors simply lose their grasp of the news and which stories are worth sharing with local audiences?

Of course not. But experience actually works against them. Let’s face it: Station management too often values fresh, young and perky. It’s sex appeal, folks. That’s the opposite of what’s valued when it comes to male anchors such as Witt, whose well-aged countenance speaks, apparently, of wisdom.

The double standard here is breathtaking. We wonder why more people don’t object. The practice propagates stereotypes that are damaging, diminishing and just plain wrong.

There may be a smidgen of good news here, though. A few years ago, Craft acknowledged that things had gotten a little better for women on TV. The main difference, she said, “is that the women have to have two face-lifts for every one face-lift for the males.”