On Thursday, Oct. 22, the 10 p.m. newscast on WFAA-TV (Channel 8) was moving along at its usual brisk pace. Weather guy Pete Delkus warned of an upcoming cooling trend, saying, “That’s the strongest arctic front of the early season.” Little did he know that what he really foreshadowed were the remarks sports anchor Dale Hansen was about to make that left even his staunchest fans stunned and bewildered.
A week later, Hansen is still reeling from his own arctic blast.
“Sometimes, what I think is funny to say — though it’s not necessarily what I believe — goes too far,” the sports anchor said with a sigh.
Hansen’s out-of-bounds moment unfolded in real time, in the “happy talk” transition from weather to sports. Delkus unwittingly teed it up by alluding to that night’s presidential debate, moderated by Kristen Welker of NBC News.
“Someone really smart finally put a woman in charge,” Delkus said, “and look what she did tonight.”
Decked out in his Hawaiian shirt and speaking from the pool at his sprawling estate in Waxahachie, Hansen replied:
“If you have a woman like a co-anchor or a news director or a station manager, I think it’s a fantastic thing, because they work cheaper — and that leaves more money for you and me.”
As often happens with Hansen, his remarks went crazy-viral, but this time, not in the way he would have liked. A Twitter user identified as @worldofhope shot back at 10:40, moments after the newscast ended:
“Hey @wfaa I am beyond disappointed at @dalehansen and his comments that he prefers they hire females because we work cheaper, which leaves more for him. It’s chauvinistic, disrespectful and just wrong.”
Emily Jones, an anchor and reporter for Fox Sports Networks, weighed in: “Hey @dalehansen, you’ve taken on so many causes recently … super admirable. How about advocating for equal pay for women instead of making a joke about it?”
Hey @dalehansen, you’ve taken on so many causes recently…super admirable. How about advocating for equal pay for women instead of making a joke about it?
— Emily Jones (@EmilyJonesMcCoy) October 25, 2020
Media critic Ed Bark, who covered television for The Dallas Morning News for 26 years before founding his own website, tweeted:
“Dale worries about staying too long at the party. He just did.”
Dale worries about staying too long at the party. He just did. What a dumbass thing to say. Except who’s going to call him on it at WFAA? Nobody. https://t.co/rNODSDVIZO
— Ed Bark (@unclebarkycom) October 24, 2020
By Sunday night, a subdued Hansen had issued an apology:
“I made a joke on the air Thursday night, a horrible joke that has offended and hurt a lot of people, and for that, I do apologize. It was a mistake. It was stupid. It was my mistake, my stupidity, and I am not trying to defend what I said in any way. But my joke was not against women.”
Rather, he claimed, it was a kind of satire — or at least, a failed attempt at it.
“It was a joke about how ridiculous it is that so many women still have to fight for equal pay and a fair check.”
Now 72, Hansen has been a fixture at WFAA since 1983, when Clint Murchison Jr. owned the Cowboys, who were then coached by Tom Landry. He admits he’s a dinosaur when it comes to social media, but in the last few years, those very platforms have given Hansen what few local sportscasters ever come close to: A national profile. How many local sports anchors end up as a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show?
Hansen credits it all to “Unplugged,” his opinion pieces that in 2019 propelled him to a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Winning the honor placed him in the same elite company as, among others, Tom Brokaw, Robin Roberts, Bob Simon and Andy Rooney.
He jokes about people feeling surprised, even astonished, to see “a fat, bald guy from Texas” offering up such pointed political viewpoints — from the left. His most prominent pieces include a blistering defense of Michael Sam, an All-American whose stock tumbled in the National Football League, because, Hansen contends, Sam is openly gay. Hansen told us this week that he received more than 6,000 emails about that one, saying about 1,000 were “brutally negative.”
During his “Unplugged” on Sam, Hansen said: “You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You’re the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft. You kill people while driving drunk? That guy’s welcome. Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes. We know they’re welcome. Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away. You lie to police, trying to cover up a murder. We’re comfortable with that. You love another man? Well, now you’ve gone too far.”
But the worst reaction he ever provoked came, he says, when he spoke out passionately on behalf of gun control. Death threats soon followed.
He has decried violence against women and has fiercely defended the victims of sexual assault, noting that he, too, is such a victim.
“I was raped by a boy when I was 10 years old,” says Hansen, who describes himself as “a small-town guy from Logan, Iowa,” who never went to college.
Hansen incurred the wrath of more than a few viewers when he spoke out against the reaction of the NFL to Black players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem — a reaction that has tilted sharply in the players’ favor since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the nationwide protests that followed. Hansen’s stance against the NFL led in years past to glowing profiles in The New York Times and The Washington Post, which labeled him in its headline “an unlikely hero.”
So, to many, the remarks he made on Oct. 22 appeared not only offensive but way out of character for him, despite the fact that Hansen, however rudely, did throw light on a national problem — gender pay inequality.
Amy Davis, a Dallas labor and employment lawyer, says the issue of wage discrepancies between men and women has never been more pronounced.
“Pay inequality is a pervasive and long-standing problem that very much deserves our urgent attention — not just as a moral or civil rights issue — but as a serious crisis undermining our state and national economies,” Davis says. “In the United States as of 2018, the average woman working full time earned just 82 cents on the dollar compared to male counterparts. Over a woman’s lifetime, that amounts to an average loss of nearly $400,000.”
Davis called the disparity “crippling,” even more so when “mothers are the sole, primary or co-breadwinners in nearly 60% of all Texas families. At the current rate, Texas women will not earn the same pay for the same work until 2049.”
It’s no secret that Hansen is a magnet for viewers — and in that sense, a key asset to Channel 8. Media critic Bark contends that, despite the feathers he ruffles, Hansen remains one of the main reasons that the station continues to be No. 1 in the ratings in the 10 p.m. “Total Viewers” category, even though its lead is not as dominant as it once was.
Those details help fill in the backdrop against which management responded to his comments this month, expressing, in Hansen’s words, “how disappointed they were, how surprised they were that I would say such a thing. At the same time qualifying it with, ‘We know your heart. We know you didn’t mean it to be as hurtful as it came across.’ It was said to me that I belittled women by making that remark. None of that was intended by me, and I think for the most part they all knew that.”
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, however. “Well, yes, there were a couple of people who bothered me with their comments, quite frankly,” Hansen conceded. “One female colleague in particular bothered me with her approach,” he said, though he declined to name anyone.
According to Hansen, his superiors said, “How do we fix it? We’re getting a lot of blowback.”
Hansen says he did not feel in danger of being fired. Though that wouldn’t have been a first. Hansen has had 11 jobs in a nearly 50-year career and been fired from eight, including KDFW-TV, Channel 4, which preceded his move to Channel 8. Asked if WFAA has taken an official action against Hansen, news director Leslie McCardel said: “I believe it’s important we hold our employees to account. And we did that with Dale.”
As for his mea culpa, McCardel said, “Dale wanted to apologize, and he took responsibility, and I appreciated that.”
Bark notes that Hansen and Gloria Campos, the longtime Channel 8 anchor who worked with him for years but has since retired, were among those who took at least a 30% pay cut several years ago, to help out the rest of the newsroom.
“The money just isn’t what it used to be,” says Bark. But lower salary or not, “Dale is the one who can’t tear himself away.” He recently signed a new contract that will keep him at the station at least two more years — or so he hopes.
Internal matters aside, the question that lingers for viewers is this: Having championed so many similar issues before, how could Hansen address this one so differently?
“I don’t know that this will make anybody any happier in any fashion,” he says, “but there’s a part of me that looks at it and knows that it’s offensive. At the same time, I did not realize that it was so hurtful to so many people. And to me that’s a huge distinction.”
The distinction — between words that jar people and ones that cause real pain — is a fine one. And it’s something he’s struggled with before.
Hansen says a friend once described him as “a frustrated stand-up comic in a fat sportscaster’s body,” and he has long identified with comics. Tellingly, his favorites are Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock and Bill Maher — all of whom are men who often offend people in leading them, the three might argue, to confront uncomfortable truths.
Campos put it this way: “I love Dale like a brother, but sometimes his attempt at humor misfires.”
“Unfortunately,” Hansen says, “what you can say and do in a comedy club can maybe survive the criticism.”
But the parallel stops there.
Such material does not extend to “a local newscast, and on more than one occasion,” Hansen says, “I have crossed the line.”
What happens when he does so? For some, it throws into question his previous commentaries, including the ones that have earned him applause.
After his recent remarks, Hansen says the recent email that “hurt the most” offered this stinging rebuke: “I’ve always been a big fan of Dale Hansen, but based on the joke he made about the wage disparities for women, I think that’s who he really is.’ ” As for the person who wrote such brave commentaries about Michael Sam and others, well, the email concluded, those had to have been an act.
“If that was an act,” Hansen says, “I should have 27 Oscars on my shelf.”
“The very best thing about me,” he says, “is that I have the ability to laugh at everything. And the worst thing about me is that I have the ability to laugh at everything. The thing that sets me apart and has enabled me to live the life that I’ve lived for the last 40 years in the Dallas area is the exact same thing that gets me in trouble on a somewhat regular basis.”
His “single biggest fear,” he says, “is that I stay at the party too long. This party has been going for almost 50 years. At the same time, I don’t want to be the guy that should have quit a year ago. I am scared to death that I am going to become that guy.”
But he admits it’s hard to even think about retiring. “It’s like a drug to me when the red light goes on.” And when it does, “I’m going 1,000 miles per hour.”
Friends, this isn’t the time to be complacent. If you are ready to fight for the soul of this nation, you can start by donating to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris by clicking the button below.
Thank you so much for supporting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.