- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Heavens: Along with all that journalistic credibility and telegenic gravitas, news anchors have sex appeal, too. It must be true, it was on television at least, it was on CNN.
"Where can you find a morning news anchor who's provocative, super-smart and oh just a little sexy?" asked a 15-second promotional spot that aired about a dozen times last weekend for morning news anchor Paula Zahn.
The coy sound of a zipper was the soundtrack for the words "provocative," "smart" and "sexy" superimposed over a picture of Miss Zahn. The spot, produced by a woman, did not have the blessing of senior executives.
Needless to say, the announcement had a short shelf life, indeed, yanked from the air yesterday and deemed a "major blunder" by CNN chairman Walter Issacson.
"I was offended," Miss Zahn said yesterday.
"It's out with the news, in with the sex at CNN," observed Matt Drudge, of the online news site Drudge Report.
It has not always been this way, perhaps.
"During her time here, we never referred to Paula Zahn as 'sexy' in any of the promotional materials about her," said a spokeswoman for the Fox News Channel, which hired Miss Zahn in 1999, then fired her last year during an acrimonious contract dispute.
Fox chief Roger Ailes claimed a "dead raccoon" would have received higher ratings than Miss Zahn, who arrived at CNN just in time to cover the September 11 attacks and declare her Fox experience "ancient history."
There is some irony afoot, however.
Sexy or not, the blond, svelte Miss Zahn turns 46 next month, is the mother of three and has spent 23 years before the camera as a correspondent for CBS and ABC, among others. If anything, the news that a woman in such circumstances is officially "sexy" should reassure middle-aged females everywhere, save die-hard feminists.
Meanwhile, the concept of "sexy anchors" and "news babes" has dogged the news media marketplace for years, driving the ratings race and further emphasizing the dubious idea that news can be packaged and perceived as entertainment, peopled with celebrity journalists.
For what it's worth, this is definitely an equal-opportunity field. Men and women alike receive racy accolades.
"News anchors are hot," noted one USA Today columnist. People and Playboy magazines and the Atlanta Journal Constitution are among publications that have polled the public about appealing newscasters.
The Journal Constitution's recent "Who's sexiest at CNN?" survey, incidentally, found correspondents Nic Robertson and Daryn Kagan leading the pack, with Bill Hemmer and Miss Zahn in second place, respectively. But things can backfire.
Two years ago, North Carolina TV anchor Alicia Booth was voted the "sexiest woman in Charlotte." She was quickly demoted to a reporter because "her looks got in the way," said PBS, which featured the case in a documentary on TV news in October.
While CNN speculates about the wisdom of using the term "sexy" in its promotional materials, the "sexy" issue has also erupted with respect to the hiring practices of the British media, where the BBC's chief news correspondent, Kate Adie, has taken on her network in no uncertain terms.
Accusing the BBC of hiring only "cute women with cute bottoms and nothing in between," she prompted the Times of London to observe that "the great bottom war" had been declared.
Miss Adie, 56, described herself as "a terribly old-fashioned trout," determined to fight "the softening up in the news."
BBC management insisted they had not compromised news coverage with pretty faces. "It isn't dumbing down," said news director Roger Mosey.

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