As anyone with a personal or family history with alcoholism can tell you, drinking in the morning is a great big red flag that you may have a problem. That is why it bothers me to no end that Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb drink alcohol at 10 am on the TODAY show. It’s all in good fun: They don’t binge drink or get visibly drunk, and they often take just a sip or two. They’re wildly funny. But in light of recent studies regarding adult women and alcoholism—and the direct link between media portrayals of drinking and actual drinking—do these larger-than-life media personalities have a responsibility not to glorify a warning sign of alcoholism?
For those of you who aren’t daily viewers of the fourth hour of TODAY, let me tell you that huge goblets of wine, daily drinks, and the ensuing antics are a running joke of the show. It’s even been nicknamed “TODAY’s Happy Hour.” Whether the hostesses are hula-hooping with a glass of wine in hand or sipping the fruit of the vine while biking, the idea is clear: Kathie Lee and Hoda are fun, and drinking is fun.
If this were a show targeted at teens, and Kathie Lee and Hoda were 21 instead of 50 and 61, the only thing flowing would be outrage. We’ve agreed, as a society, that our youth shouldn’t be taught that drinking is cool. But there doesn’t seem to be any consensus regarding the extent to which our society finds it acceptable to glorify alcohol to a population legally allowed to drink it. After all, Kathie Lee and Hoda are grown women. So what if they want to use alcohol to fuel their fun at 10 am?
But here’s the “so what”: An increasing number of older adults are struggling with substance abuse—particularly alcoholism, and particularly women. A 2010 Gallup poll revealed that nearly two-thirds of American women drank regularly. And as writer Ann Dowsett Johnston explains in her book, Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, women are 40% more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than men, and are increasingly turning to alcohol to cope. Anecdotal information seems to bear this out: More than 700,000 women follow “Moms Who Need Wine” on Facebook, and almost 140,000 are fans of the group called “OMG, I So Need a Glass of Wine or I’m Gonna Sell My Kids.”Johnston also points out that the problem is more common among wealthier, well-educated women—women like Kathie Lee and Hoda, and a big chunk of their viewers.
I’m not at all suggesting that these two ladies have a drinking problem in real life. The reason they drink on air is not because they truly can’t wait until 5 o’clock, but because their doing so translates into ratings. They’re not even the only ones who have discovered—and made the most of—the fact that women are increasingly taking refuge in a wine bottle. This Wall Street Journal article explores the role of drinking in such female favorites as Scandal, Modern Family, and The Good Wife, where the main character’s drinking became a focal point this week. (CBS even sells a Good Wife wine bottle opener.) When you’re talking about a disease that thrives on denial, all these portrayals can add up to what seems like normalcy.
I know what many of you are thinking: Stop being a killjoy. What’s wrong with a little moderate drinking? But, particularly in the case of TODAY, we’re not talking about a glass of wine with dinner or a toast of champagne at a wedding. The drinking is pervasive, and the show goes to great lengths to emphasize it. “It’s a joke. The producers just keep coming up with ways of getting us to drink, it’s become our thing. It’s like a nonstop party from ten to eleven,” Hoda told New Yorkmagazine. They even joke about the idea of giving up the habit: “Did you quit drinking? Is that the problem?” Kathie Lee asks a laughing, tongue-tied Hoda, to more laughter. They refer to Booze-day Tuesday and Wednesday as Winesday. Kathie Lee has her own wine line. I could go on and on.
Of course, television networks have the right to portray adult drinking any way they want to. But audiences might not be as enamored of Kathie Lee and Hoda’s drinking antics as much as TODAY’s producers might think. A Facebook page called “Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb: Please Stop Drinking on the Today Show” has garnered 736 likes—not a tremendous amount, but not peanuts, either. Comments following a Daily Mail piece on the gals’ predilection for alcohol were less than positive. People were less than impressed after the duo’sappearance on Monday Night Raw, when they were supposed to be raising awareness about breast cancer (for which alcohol is a risk factor), but instead talked mostly about their wine lists. (One comment read, “Did I really watch Kathie Lee Gifford, during an appearance to promote a cancer charity, plug her wine line? Terrible.”) And the comments following this piece on TODAY’s website include one longtime viewer’s decision to stop watching the program until they nix the drinks.
Wouldn’t it be great if Kathie Lee and Hoda saw these comments, looked at the statistics on women and drinking, and decided to say on the show, “You know what? We’re going to cut down the drinking. We’re gonna show that we don’t need to drink to be fun”? Or just quietly phased it out. Coming up with a new joke never hurts anyway, and they might find that their audience appreciates the tacit permission to let loose and be silly without the excuse that alcohol conveniently provides.
They might find that sometimes, doing well and doing good end up being the same thing.
Karen L. Sodomick
Vice President and Director, Marketing and Communications
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