Ohio TV station apologizes to Julie Chen for telling her to fix her ‘Asian eyes’ nearly 20 years ago – as her parents say ‘they could not be more proud’ of her after confession
An Ohio television station has issued an apology to CBS reality show host Julie Chen after she revealed that she had undergone surgery to look ‘less Asian’ in response to remarks from her then-news director.
Chen, 43, best known as the presenter of the Big Brother show, made the admission on The Talk Wednesday, describing how as a young reporter, she was told by her supervisor at WDTN-TV in Dayton that she would never be an anchor because she looked too Chinese.
The same sentiment was echoed some time later by a talent agent, who told Chen that her eyes were too small and inexpressive.
Chen’s revelations sparked an outcry online, prompting the management of WDTN to release a statement apologizing to the TV personality for the comments made by a news director at the station nearly two decades earlier.
‘We are sorry to hear about what happened to CBS’ Julie Chen in 1995 when she was a reporter at WDTN-TV,’ Joe Abouzeid, the station’s president and general manager, stated.
‘The station was under different management and ownership during that time. At WDTN and WBDT, we don’t tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.’
During Chen’s tenure at WDTN, the station was owned by the Hearst Corporation, according to Dayton Daily News, but has since been sold to LIN Media.
On Friday, The Talk co-host spoke to Us Magazine about her bombshell revelation, saying through her publicist that she was both relieved to get the secret off her chest, but also concerned about a possible backlash.
‘I felt vulnerable and nervous that the haters who hide behind their computers on the Internet would come out and say mean things,’ Miss Chen said in a statement. ‘And some did. That was expected.’
Chen went on to say, however, that she was pleasantly surprised when her Twitter and email accounts were flooded with messages of support from viewers, many of them not Asian, who said they empathized with her experience.
The veteran journalist also got positive feedback from her parents, who had no idea she was going to make the confession on national TV until the episode aired Wednesday.
‘I was overwhelmed with love and relief when she [Chen’s mother] sent me an email right after it aired, saying she and my father could not be more proud of me,’ Miss Chen’s statement said.
The news anchor, 43, made the emotional confession on The Talk Wednesday, describing how she was told she would never be an anchor because she is Chinese.
‘My secret dates back to – my heart is racing – it dates back to when I was 25 years old and I was working as a local news reporter in Dayton, Ohio,’ she said.
‘I asked my news director … over the holidays if anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in? And he said, “You will never be on this anchor desk, because you’re Chinese.”
‘He said “Let’s face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? On top of that because of your Asian eyes, I’ve noticed that when you’re on camera, you look disinterested and bored.”‘
Unsurprisingly, her boss’s words hit her hard.
‘I wanted to cry right then and there,’ she said. ‘It felt like a dagger in my heart, because all of my life I wanted to be a network anchor. . . I started recording my newscasts every day and all I could see was my eyes, and I’d ask myself, “Does he have a point? . . . Do I look bored?”‘
The Ohio news director was not the only one to say such a thing to Ms Chen, now one of CBS’s most familiar faces.
‘I started meeting with agents for career advice, and this one big-time agent basically told me the same thing,’ she continued. He had the biggest names in the business. . . He said, “I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look better.” He then whips out a list of plastic surgeons who have done this procedure.’
Ms Chen’s family in Queens, New York, was divided on the idea though. While her parents had witnessed the racist bullying that saw her called ‘Ching Chong’ on the school bus, they feared she was denying her Chinese heritage.
‘I consulted with my mother, and [she greeted me with] silence. She said, “This is a deeper conversation that we have to have with your father” . . . ‘This divided my family.
‘Eventually, my mom said, “You wouldn’t have brought this up to me unless this was something that you wanted to do.” And they told me that they’d support me, and they’d pay for it, and that they’d be there for me.’
So Ms Chen went ahead with the procedure, which removed the excess skin that creates the double eyelid appearance.
She admits that she did get more high-profile work after the cosmetic surgery, but she did have concerns about whether she should have agreed to do it so readily.
‘After I had it done, the ball did roll for me, and I wondered, did I give into the man?’ she told The Talk.
Not that she harbors any regrets: ‘I don’t like to live with regrets,’ she said.
‘I did it. I moved on. No one is more proud to be Chinese than I am.’