Whitmer: Story on internet dress hecklers ‘way out of line’

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the Legislature Tuesday night in her State of the State address. Fox 2 News published a story about the negative online comments about her dress, and Whitmer tweeted Wednesday that the story was "way out of line."

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday criticized a news report that compiled offensive online comments about her wardrobe and physical appearance during her first annual State of the State address.

The Fox 2 story was “way out of line,” Whitmer said on social media, telling other women and girls who deal with similar "garbage" that she has their backs.

“Boys have teased me about my curves since 5th grade,” the governor said. “My mom said 'hold your head high and don’t let it bother you.' … I’m tough, I can take it.”

Whitmer, like many governors before her, wore blue Tuesday during her State of the State address, in which she discussed the need to fix crumbling schools, improve struggling schools and proposed a new scholarship program for debt-free community college. 

The Fox 2 report claimed that online reaction was more focused on Whitmer's "boat-neck blue dress." The television station highlighted several lewd Internet comments about the governor's appearance and interviewed various residents, including some who said the focus should be on the contents of her speech.

The story prompted widespread backlash that culminated in the governor's response. Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes called it a “cheap, sexist and indefensible shot at a strong woman.” The television station “needs to take down their story immediately,” Barnes said.

Fox 2 reporter Erika Erickson defended the segment online earlier Thursday, saying “the point of the story is clearly being missed.”

The story was intended to defend Whitmer, Erickson said on Twitter, calling the governor “beautiful.” It was meant to “call out trolls who attacked her, all while discussing the double standards of women/men in leadership roles.”

The television station also interviewed Wayne State University psychology professor Annmarie Cano, who recommended calling out commentators who critique physical appearance as "a way of diminishing women’s accomplishments.”  

Fox 2 News Director Kevin Roseborough defended the story Tuesday in a statement.

"We were taken aback by the number and nature of many inappropriate Facebook comments on the governor's physical appearance," said Roseborough, who noted that Fox 2 live-streamed the governor's speech.

"We chose not to ignore the comments, and to instead examine them through person-on-the-street interviews and an expert’s opinion on the double standard faced by female leaders. This is not a subject that should be turned away from, and we have extended an invitation to the governor to talk to us about this further."

But House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, didn't buy the argument.

"The story is ridiculous & never should have given these losers a platform to make these inappropriate statements," Chatfield tweeted Tuesday evening. "Her speech was what mattered! I support her 100% on this! #MyGovernor #GetALife"

Whitmer set a bipartisan tone in her first State of the State address on Tuesday evening, calling for cooperation amid divided government but warning lawmakers against “passing phony fixes” for major problems.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer arrives to deliver her first State of the State speech.

The governor said Thursday she tried to use the speech to encourage people to “see humanity in one another in this cruel political environment.”

Noting a wave of women who ran for and won political office last year, the governor said she’s hoping people will focus on “our ideas and accomplishments instead of our appearance.”

“Until then, I’ve got a message for all of the women and girls like mine who have to deal with garbage like this every day: I’ve got your back,” Whitmer said.