Just when you thought that journalists were getting smarter about bed bugs, check out the mocking comment made about a bed bug victim by the male anchor on Philadelphia’s Fox 29 News, on the Good Day Philadelphia show. It happened during Dr. Mike’s segment today on Preventing Bed Bugs.
In this segment, “Dr. Mike” (Cirigliano, of the University of Pennsylvania) gives an introduction to bed bugs, shows a bed bug feces-stained mattress, issues a warning to college-bound students, and then (at about 2:07 in the video) shows viewers a widely-reproduced photo of a woman with a back and arms covered in bed bug bites. The woman is also overweight, which (I think) will become relevant in a moment.
If you’ve been around the bed bug internets for a while, you will surely recognize the photo in this screenshot from the Fox 29 segment:
The photo is unattributed by Fox 29, but a bit of sleuthing shows it to be a photo of Leslie Fox, who in 2006 filed a lawsuit after being bitten by bed bugs (and suffering a total of 500 bed bug bites) in a large Ellenville, NY hotel.*
Of the photo, Dr. Mike says, “This is a person that had a significant infestation and those are the rash, the little insect bites, and in some people it can cause a significant allergic reaction. Now, the good news, Michael-”
And Good Day co-host Michael (Jerrick) quips, “Is she seeing anybody?” And he laughs.
And there’s a brief, awkward pause. (Mike Jerrick’s co-host Sheinelle Jones and Dr. Mike are both smiling, but the silent pause tells me they’re a bit shocked.)
As these things tend to, the exchange happens very fast – so fast, most viewers probably miss it. I actually hope I have misheard the remark, until Dr. Mike responds,
“You’re always such a parasite aren’t you?” (And then the trio laughs.)
There are other issues with this report, including the doctor’s comment that bed bugs are “basically just an annoyance” (because there isn’t a “significant transmission of infection” as with ticks and mosquitoes).
That statement shows a serious ignorance about the serious effects of bed bugs on one’s physical, mental, and financial health, and about the consequences of infestations which may go untreated indefinitely when people cannot pay to eliminate them.
Here, I simply want to focus on the sheer idiocy of mocking someone whose photo is being used to “educate” viewers about bed bugs.
Now, I realize that morning television (on Fox, no less) is not generally a forum for serious journalism, and also that the channel wants to keep things light and fun during this timeslot – hence all of the joking.
However, I am astounded at the bone-headed, male chauvinist ignorance of this “journalist” who mocks a female bed bug victim. Because she’s 54, female, overweight, and covered in bed bug bites — on so many levels, Michael Jerrick seems to be suggesting — she’s not dateable.
This is insulting and completely inappropriate commentary. As I said in an email to the Fox 29 Programming Department, this remark insults women, overweight people, and bed bug sufferers: in total, the majority of people in the United States.
It’s not funny, and it makes the network, the producers, and the presenters look really bad.
Shame on Mike Jerrick, and shame on Fox 29 for airing such a comment.
Watch the segment for yourself below:
*We do not know the outcome of this lawsuit, though when news of it broke in March 2006, it was reported that Leslie Fox and her husband returned to stay in the same section of the hotel later the same month; the Associated Press reported the hotel’s lawyer Joseph O’Connor commented in regard to that fact, “The claim for a $20 million injury is not substantiated by her willingness to stay in the same section of the hotel two weeks later.” Any leads to an update would be welcomed.