Jana Shortal doing her job, wearing clothes. (Credit: KARE-11)
Jana Shortal has been reporting for KARE 11, the NBC affiliate in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, since 2003. As an out member of the LGBTQ community, she has used her role in the public eye to speak out on everything from this summer’s horrific mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, to embracing her own identity, appearance, and sexuality, despite the pressure she felt for being a public figure in a visual medium.
Indeed, as she wrote this summer in a poignant column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, before the debut of her KARE 11 program Breaking the News, a show which she co-anchors, she began to wonder, “Could I really, really be myself?” Finally, she realized, on the morning of her debut broadcast, “I had the answers in my closet. I just had to come out of it.”
Which is why it’s especially galling and downright ridiculous that Shortal is now being ridiculed for doing just that — and, worse still, for daring to believe that your work can stand on its own merits and not have to be evaluated based on what you happen to be wearing.
While reporting earlier this week on Breaking the News on the confirmed death in 1990 of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old boy who was kidnapped by Daniel Heinrich, Shortal wore a blazer, a blouse, a pocket square, skinny jeans, and loafers — an iteration of a regular on-air look for the television journalist, who has worn jeans while anchoring her program before.
And yet, Star Tribune columnist C.J. took offense at Shortal’s wardrobe choices, the very choices that Shortal wrote about so eloquently earlier this summer (in the same publication) in explaining her evolution of in terms of her security in her own identity and profession. The column, which has since been removed, said, “The skinny jeans did not work. I was among a number of media types who found then inappropriate and, given the gravity of the day’s subject matter, downright jarring. My thoughts are also with the Wetterling family. While I cannot imagine they’ll want to read or watch every media take about the horror they have been living, I would think that hipness wouldn’t be a priority while covering one of the biggest, saddest stories in Minnesota history.”
She also took the time to tweet a comment at Shortal:
By creating an artificial hierarchy of value — in which reporting, respect, and integrity are evaluated solely on the basis of whether the reporter is adhering to conventional sartorial standards — columnist C.J. is herself guilty of the very thing she so harshly accuses Shortal of: detracting from the news at hand by making the story about someone’s wardrobe.
Only, it wasn’t Shortal who was the disrespectful one, but C.J. herself. Not only did she shift the narrative away from the Wetterling news to her contention that skinny jeans were unacceptable, but she diminished the identity, authenticity, and merit of a journalist’s work, based solely on her appearance. Shortal, of course, did not declare that she had opted to make “hipness” the focal point of her broadcast. Rather, she was just doing her job, and wearing her own clothes — a situation that is too often problematic for women everywhere, as they face judgment for how their clothing choices influence things, from attracting catcalls to being sexually assaulted.
Indeed, Shortal has only continued to take the high road — and to call attention to the fact that clothes do not, in fact, make the woman.
In an open letter she posted on Twitter, Shortal writes, “I dressed. I prayed. I went to work. I kept my head down. I learned what happened to [Wetterling]. I prayed again. I went on the air. I did my best. I gave that newscast every single shred of hope and love I had for Jacob. And for his family. And for every single one of you who was hurting. I left everything I had on that newsroom floor. And today. You took that away. You made it about my pants. … I wore my clothes. The clothes it took me a very long time to feel comfortable in no thanks to the bullies like you who tried to shame me out of them. But have you no dignity, person with the name I won’t write? You wrote about clothes in the darkest moment of Minnesota news history.”
This morning, Shortal once again took to Twitter, this time to ask her supporters to “Stop with the hatred for CJ,” and explaining, “Want to be on #teamjana? Donate to the Jacob Wetterling foundation.”
The Star Tribune posted an apology, which Shortal accepted, while noting that C.J. has not apologized and has continued bullying her on social media. She asks the Star Tribune to end the column and give that space to something that builds joy.