Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer placed before viewers’ eyes a surprise which they would have never expected to see, while creating for them a defining moment. On ABC’s two hour special on Friday, fans tuned in expecting to see an interview, which would highlight the sensationalism around Jenner’s transition from man to woman, similar to the 2014 interview of Piers Morgan with author Janet Mock. Morgan, in that interview had received much criticism for his statements, when he assumed that his guest’s transformation occurred from the time she underwent her surgery, rather than focus on Mock’s life defining moments of self discovery and struggle through her journey. Making matters even worse was the banner at the bottom of the screen which read, “Exclusive. Janet Mock was a boy until age 18.” Mock fired back by going onto her Twitter account and tweeting that she was “born a baby,” discovering her gender as part of her life-experience.
Also pleasantly absent from the Sawyer’s interview with Jenner was the approach taken by Katie Couric, when she interviewed transgender icons Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox. Couric seemed to focus more on people’s anatomy making her seem more like a subject rather than a human being, and came across as invasive, ignorant and for the most part, irrelevant. After Carrera and Cox connected with the viewers over social media, sharing their life journeys and inviting them the to see them as individuals, rather than objects, Couric found herself in the position of defending herself by claiming that she was simply looking to create a teachable moment for both herself and her viewers, and in the end commended her guests for their candor.
In the two-hour exclusive with Jenner, Sawyer exhibited an impressive objectivity, separating gender identity from sexual orientation and allowing the viewer an inside look at not only her guest’s life experiences, but also her personal and political views, creating more of a defining moment of truth for Sawyer, as well as for the show’s viewers. Jenner caused Sawyer’s eyebrows to raise and her jaw to drop when, while acknowledging that President Obama was the first to have used the word “transgender,” in his State of the Union speech, she herself stated that she was not supporter of Obama’s presidency in general, and more on the conservative side. When Sawyer hesitantly asked Jenner if she was a Republican, Jenner after, answering in the affirmative, asked “Is that a bad thing?”
Jenner also surprised viewers by stating she was a Christian, and not attracted to the male gender. Within a few minutes, the revelation made on TV generated tweets across the internet, ranging from supporters praising the celebrity for standing by her beliefs and principles, to die-hard transgender activists who their liberal views challenged as their pet cause all of the sudden seemed to turn on its master.
Diane Sawyer and ABC truly gave their viewers a treat of which, other hosts would have denied them. She provided an opportunity for a transgender person to speak for herself and present her own values and views no matter how different they were others of both ends of the political and socio-religious spectrum, all the while respecting the individual and showing empathy of her life journey. In the process, Sawyer together with Jenner created a defining moment for their viewers, while putting to the test those fighting for the cause of tolerance.
By Bill Ades
Huffington Post – Bruce Jenner’s Special With Diane Sawyer
Huffington Post – Katie Couric Responds To Controversy
Mediaite – The Bruce Jenner Republican Moment
Photo by Nakeva Corothers – Creativecommons Flickr Creative Commons License