Antoinette Lattouf on when Kerri-Anne Kennerley slut-shamed her on Studio 10

Journalist Antoinette Lattouf has open up about the moment she was s**t-shamed by Kerri-Anne Kennerley on national TV.

Journalist Antoinette Lattouf vividly recalls the moment Kerri-Anne Kennerley slut-shamed her on national television.

“You can probably see that I take a deep breath and I bite my bottom lip, so you can physically see the amount of restraint and control I had to have,” Lattouf told news.com.au in a new interview about the infamous on -air incident.

Lattouf was sitting on the studio 10 couch in December 2019, between Kennerley and Angela Bishop, talking about “millennial speak” when Kennerley interrupted herself mid-sentence, turned to Lattouf, looked at her white playsuit and asked, “Did you forget your pants today?”.

Within the minute, Kennerley followed up by saying Lattouf is “gonna be thirsty”, having just learned the word meant “horny” earlier in the segment. Kennerley probably thought she had cleverly tied her zinger into an earlier part of the conversation.

Lattouf definitely didn’t think it was clever. She felt humiliated. But she also knew that in that moment, she couldn’t defend herself because no matter what she said, if she expressed her anger, the consequences would be dire.

“The network was my employer at the time, but also because I had seen what happens to other women of color who do even the right thing,” the experienced Lebanese-Australian journalist explained.

“They don’t necessarily have to do the wrong thing and the backlash can be disproportionate and it can have serious consequences on their careers as well as their mental health and their safety.”

Even though the conversation was casual and innocuous, even though Lattouf was in a comfortable and familiar environment having regularly appeared on the studio 10 panel, she felt disempowered.

“Yet this still happened, and I had to make a quick decision going, ‘I have less power, I have less privilege, I will come out of this worse off, far worse off, what should I do?’ Do nothing.

“The fact that it was a woman doing this to another woman, it’s just so indicative of what is wrong with the power structures in Australian media.

“I’m so glad that not only is (Kennerley) no longer part of the network, because she doesn’t represent the audience and what it stands for and where society is, but I’m also happy that the likes of Narelda Jacobs and Daniel Doody and the team and editorial leadership seems to be so much more in tune with where Australia is now.”

Lattouf is particularly thankful to the women who spoke for her at the time when she felt she couldn’t use her own voice, including colleague Angela Bishop who quickly announced: “And she looks unbelievable!” in response to Kennerley’s remark.

“I’m so grateful that Angela Bishop, at that moment, decided to step in and try to defend me. She’s always been a woman’s woman, and she’s an absolute gem in television. And other high-profile women outside of the network were the ones to say all the things I wanted to say but I couldn’t, including Clementine Ford and Jan Fran.”

Kennerley lost her studio 10 gig less than a year later after a string of controversies including offensive comments she made about indigenous communities and suggestions that climate protesters should be run over.

Lattouf is now speaking about the incident, two-and-a-half years on, as part of her first book, How to Lose Friends & Influence White Peoplein which she examines Australian society through the lens of cultural diversity.

It’s a witty, conversational book that doesn’t seek to be purely didactic but to evoke empathy and ask questions around power structures in Australia, especially in an unrepresentative media.

Lattouf, who is a founding member of the advocacy group Media Diversity Australia, places the experience of her Kennerley incident within a wider context about the glaring double standards that excuse one group and punish another.

“This book is not about Kerri-Anne, this book is not about individuals. This book is about the systems that ensure that when there is a situation involving a Kerri-Anne or another privileged white person, it’s not a level playing field.

“Not only did I feel humiliated, I felt powerless. Because I had to bite my tongue and wear it, be a good team player with the network, be a good brown woman, don’t be an angry brown woman, always be better and bigger.

“Which is unfortunately what minorities often feel they have to be despite how many lives and mistakes others get in the media – not only mistakes but awful things said and done by other powerful media voices and their sins are often just washed away.

“Throughout my career, I’ve had to make really quick judgments on ‘What am I prepared to lose?’ in terms of when I choose to chime into something in the public discourse.”

She has regrets for when she hasn’t used her voice, such as when writer Yassmin Abdel-Magied was continuously vilified and hounded out of the country by a stable of vociferous conservative commentators.

“I was too scared of what would happen to me because I didn’t feel I had enough power, I didn’t feel that I would be able to survive it, career-wise,” she lamented. “All selfish reasons, these are not excuses.

“When you’re a person of colour, especially a woman of color or other intersections, you’re constantly on your best behaviour. It’s an unfair burden.

“You’re representing all minorities because should you do something wrong, it will be used against other people from your community or be used to go, ‘Well, we tried that diversity and inclusion stuff and look how it failed’.

“That accountability isn’t placed on white Australians, it’s not a burden they have to fear.”

But things are changing, albeit slowly – and she’s hopeful her book is being published at a time of greater public consciousness around issues of race, inclusion and diversity in Australia.

“As a nation, we’ve progressed and many Australians are ready to open their hearts and their minds, and they’re just not sure what to do. This is a simple way to go, ‘We all have a role to play, big and small, here are some evidence-based tips and tools on how to do it.’

That national progress is why Lattouf finally felt OK to talk about what happened.

“The culture has changed and my voice has changed. I feel more empowered. I made a mental note that writing this book, I needed to be OK with the career repercussions. I’m at a point in my life where if a media player didn’t want to be on the right side of history, I was very happy not to be on their payroll. I needed time to arrive at that point.”

How to Lose Friends & Influence White People is out now

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