'Getting Real': The truth about hitting the 'bimbo trifecta': Former Miss America, blonde, Fox News host

Editor's note: The following column is excerpted from Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson's new book, "Getting Real" (Viking, June 16, 2015).

I like to joke that when I joined Fox News I hit the “bimbo trifecta”: Former  Miss America.  Blonde.  Fox News host.  I say that  with tongue in cheek, but I may have achieved a Google record for being called dumb or a bimbo. I can joke about  it, because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the characterization has more to do with  silly attitudes and  stereotypes  than  with  who  I am or whether  or not  I’m smart.  I still scratch  my head  trying  to figure out how being blonde became synonymous in some people’s minds with being dumb,  or why attractive women  are assumed  not to be smart,  but  I don’t  waste  my abundant brain  cells trying  to figure these things out. I’ve learned that sometimes when people don’t like what  you have to say, and  don’t  want  to debate  you on ideas, it’s just easier to call you a dumb  blonde  from Fox News.

Long  before  I started working for Fox, I had  to put  up with  the dumb blonde  label, based  solely  on  having been  Miss  America. Never mind  that I'd graduated with honors at Stanford or studied  at Oxford. The stereotype is as old as the pageant. Mostly  I ignored it.

I tried  to avoid the trap of doing  things  to "prove" I was smart, but  when   I was  asked to  be  a contestant on  Jeopardy! for  the "Power Players" week  shortly before  I moved  to Fox,  I was happy to do it. It was a week  of shows  with  news media and Washington, D.C., folks,  with  the money going  to charity. Maybe a tiny  part of me was  thinking it  would be  a good  opportunity to  show  that I could  compete on the level of pure  knowledge, but mostly I thought it would be fun. As you know by now, I love to compete.

I called  the  producers and  asked  what I could  do  to  prepare.  Their only  advice  was,  "Watch the  show." But  since  I've  always been  big on preparation, I bought the  home  version, with  thirty­ four games  and an answer book. During my lunch  breaks at work, and  on vacation in Arizona, I quizzed myself on the arcane details of sports, literature, science, American history, state  capitals, land masses, authors, presidents, Shakespeare-the list  goes  on.  I lay awake  at night  mentally scrolling through planets and  state  capi­ tals. A friend kindly suggested that  maybe I was going too far when I started listing state  trees over dinner one night. (Minnesota? Red pine!)

Then I showed up at the  studio  and  saw that I was  up  against two  formidable-and  experienced-contenders: MSNBC's  Keith Olbermann and Al Franken, who  at that  time was  a comedian,  au­ thor, and radio show host. (A few years later Franken would  success­ fully  run  for  the  Senate in  Minnesota.) Both  had  competed on Jeopardy! before-Franken twice.  I was  the newbie. But I made  it through the practice round, and even won the practice Final Jeopardy.

The first thing I have to say about  Jeopardy! is that it’s as much about  finger work as it is about  brainwork. Thank  God for all that video game practice!  The buzzer  is the key to everything.  It’s a nickel-sized white contraption, and your finger fits on top of it, al- lowing you to buzz in at the right second. It’s tricky. If you buzz in before Alex Trebek is finished reading the question, you get frozen out. Otherwise, you have a millisecond to beat your competitors to the buzzer. It’s all about  the rhythm.

Al Franken  won the game, and $50,000 went to the Congres- sional Hunger  Center. I wasn’t embarrassed; it was all in good fun.

At one point someone suggested that I was deliberately  “dumb- ing down” my material  on Fox & Friends. Okay,  so now I wasn’t really dumb,  I was just pretending! Even Jon Stewart  got into the act, chiding me by way of listing my impressive credentials. I actu- ally got a kick out of that, because the subliminal  message was that I was smart.  But to this day,  if I make  the tiniest  error,  Twitter lights up with the dumb  blonde  narrative. I’m used to it.

It’s ironic that  these so-called bimbo  sightings happened so of- ten during my seven years on Fox & Friends, because it takes considerable skill and smarts to be on live TV for three hours every day. It’s not just two males and a female hanging out on the “curvy couch.” For one thing,  being on cable TV is a whole different  ex- perience  than  working  for network TV. It’s far less scripted.  You have to have a depth of knowledge  to talk back and forth for three hours.  The show’s definitely all about  chemistry, and it’s not some- thing  you just walk  into  and  know  how  to do the first day. You don’t.  You can be the smartest  person  in the world  and you could still be challenged  by the format  of the show.

But the “dumb” label was hard to shake. By the way, that’s true

of all of my female colleagues at Fox News. I felt we were somewhat vindicated in 2013  by a blog post  on the Web site PeppermintFarm titled  "The Dumb Girls  of Fox,"  which  hit  the  nail  on  the  head. The  introduction read  in part, "The next  time  you  hear  someone criticizing Fox News  for supposedly having a 'bunch of dumb gals' as eye candy ... check  out  their  qualifications ... let them  speak for themselves!" What followed was  a rundown of the women of Fox News  and  their  remarkable credentials, including multiple  de­ grees  and  impressive achievements. The  post  ended with  a chal­ lenge:  "So  liberals, progs, Alinskyites, when you  want to  throw rocks  take  a look  at yourself  in the  mirror. Try to  find that many highly  intelligent women on your  alphabet station. How  many  de­grees  do your  women reporters have?"

The  fact  of the matter is, live TV  means  always  being  on your toes.

Shortly after  I joined  Fox News, I was  filling in  on  an after­ noon  show  when there  was breaking international news. Now,  you have to understand that  on Fox we cover much  more  international news  than you'd  typically see on the networks, and  some  of it was relatively obscure to  the  average  person.

So  when  I heard in my earpiece, "A fugitive wanted for questioning in the assassination of former  Lebanese prime  minister Rafic Hariri was  arrested in Bra­ zil,"  I can't say  I was  knowledgeable about the  story.  When   the producer then said in my ear, "Just  go with  this for three  minutes," it felt like  being  back  on  Bloopers  and  Practical Jokes. It goes  to prove  that it's  always  good  to  stretch yourself, and  that  life is all about  learning, experiencing new challenges, and always improving.

One  day I had  a dramatic experience along  with  my old friend and colleague from  Cincinnati, Bill Hemmer. I was filling in at the anchor desk  when  we started covering one  of those  heartstopping car  chases. When Bill came on  the  air,  we  tag-teamed it,  ping-ponging  comments  across  the studio.  The video was on the car chase, with our voice-overs doing a blow-by-blow. We had to keep up a constant banter, and believe me, it wasn’t easy. It’s called “go- ing wall to wall.” Suddenly,  everything  else is blown  out.

Behind the scenes they were scurrying  to find guests we could  talk  to so we wouldn’t  just be sitting  there.  I remember  having  a second  to look up and over at Bill, who was sitting at another desk, raising my eyebrows  like, “What are you going to say?” I didn’t  have a moment  to breathe, but later I thought how surreal it was that Bill and I were back together  at Fox. A long way from Cincinnati.

Copyright Gretchen Carlson, 2015.