Kelly Ripa is your sponge bath nursey in her little nursey costume! Did we mention she was a nursey? With a sponge? Ooh! She missed a spot over here!
March 15, 2007 - This week on "LIVE with Regis and Kelly," Kelly Ripa repeatedly promised to act as "sponge bath nurse" to co-host Regis Philbin, who underwent bypass surgery yesterday. On March 12, Philbin told the syndicated show's 4-6 million viewers about his condition. Ripa said she would provide sponge bath services in her "little nursey costume." Today, Ripa told viewers that Philbin's surgery had gone well. She then sent a message to him that "nursey-poo is coming with her sponge." Ripa may be "joking," but viewers of her ABC sitcom "Hope and Faith" know that she does have naughty nurse experience. Predictably, Ripa's comments this week were enthusiastically amplified in press stories about Philbin's condition, from the Associated Press to The New York Post. Ripa's remarks suggest that nurses are brainless bimbos, rather than the college-educated science professionals who are currently keeping Philbin alive. We ask the show to let viewers know what nurses really do for patients.
On March 12, Philbin told viewers that he had been having chest pains and other symptoms leading his physicians to recommend that he have heart bypass surgery later in the week. At one point Philbin displayed a bottle of nitroglycerin pills. He explained that he was to take these when he was feeling stress, and joked that he'd be having one right then. Ripa said:
Let me tell you what my primary job will be. [Co-hosting the show] will become my secondary job. My primary job will be, like it or not, get your pills ready: your sponge-bath nurse.
The audience hooted and cheered, a reaction Ripa did not exactly discourage by noting that she would wear her "little nursey costume." Playing along, Philbin said: "Why don't you give me a quick dip before I go?" Returning to the theme today, after Philbin's apparently successful surgery, Ripa sent her ailing co-host the message that "nursey-poo is coming with her sponge" (right).
Ripa's repeated naughty nurse comments ensured that Philbin would not have to suffer the glare of the ensuing media spotlight all by himself. On the contrary, Adam Buckman's March 13 piece about Philbin's announcement in the New York Post was headlined:
KELLY TO CARE FORREGIS AFTER HEART OP
CARDIAC KID: If you think Regis Philbin was smiling yesterday, wait until naughty nurse Kelly Ripa gives him a sponge bath after his heart bypass operation this week.
The piece also said Philbin was heading for heart surgery, but "the talk-show legend's pulse will be racing when his cutie-pie co-host Kelly Ripa delivers on promises of a sexy sponge bath."
The Associated Press was more restrained. But an AP item run in the March 13 London Free Press (Ontario), "Regis about to undergo heart bypass," did repeat Ripa's "sponge bath nurse" comment, and it noted dryly that Ripa "planned to give Philbin some special attention."
Today, Ripa announced on the show that Philbin had come through the operation "with flying colors colors." A piece posted on Comcast.net, "Regis in Recovery Mode," noted that Ripa said her co-host had already been "up, joking around with the nurses." (No word on whether the jokes involved sponges or little costumes.) The piece also referred to Ripa's remark earlier in the week that her first job would be as "Philbin's personal sponge bath nurse." Then it continued:
On Thursday's show, she reiterated her dedication to the task, issuing a message to her co-host that "nursy-poo is coming with her sponge." And he thought he had heart problems before.
Nice. Of course, the naughty nurse is not a new role for Ripa. On at least one episode of "Hope and Faith" (2003-2006), her character wore what amounted to a naughty nurse outfit in playing some role in a dental office (right).
Yes, as we're sure to hear, Ripa's recent remarks were "jokes." But humor actually sends powerful messages about real stuff, as the reaction to Stephen Colbert's appearance at the 2006 White House Correspondents Association Dinner clearly showed. In the case of the naughty nurse, constantly linking sexual images so closely to the profession of nursing--to even the fantasy idea that working nurses are sexually available to patients--reinforces long-standing stereotypes. Those stereotypes continue to discourage practicing and potential nurses, encourage sexual violence in the workplace, and contribute to an atmosphere of disrespect. The devaluation of nursing translates into an underpowered profession that can't do its vital work effectively, especially during the current nursing shortage, which is a global public health crisis.
The Comcast piece also says the Post is reporting that Philbin's surgery was performed at
New York's Weill Cornell Medical Center by Dr. O. Wayne Isom, the same doctor who performed quintuple-bypass surgery on David Letterman in January 2000 and whom the late-night talk show host trotted out on-air to thank post-procedure.
As it happens, Philbin noted in the course of his announcement earlier in the week that he had spoken with his friend Letterman about the operation ("I had a nice chat with Dave. He highly recommends it. He would like to do it again, I think!").
This gives us an idea for how "LIVE with Regis and Kelly" could start to make amends for the damage Ripa's remarks have done. Maybe "LIVE" could, taking a cue from Letterman, tell viewers how important the nurses and other health workers at the hospital have been in Philbin's care. In particular, the show could explain what the highly skilled surgical, critical care, and floor nurses at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell have done to keep Philbin alive and on the road to recovery during and after his operation. The show might tell viewers that nurses undertake years of college-level science training mostly so they can save lives and improve patient outcomes, and not so much so talk show hosts can refer to them as "nursey" and suggest to millions that they have the time and inclination to provide sexual services at work .
Unlikely? We have hope and faith.
April 26, 2007 -- Today Regis Philbin returned to "LIVE with Regis and Kelly" following his bypass surgery. Since Kelly Ripa made her "nursey-poo" / "spongebath" comments in mid-March, we have sent your 700 letters (thank you!) to the show by fax and priority mail. We have also been urging the show to make amends for Ripa's comments by telling viewers that nurses are not brainless sex toys, perhaps by explaining what they did to keep Regis alive during and after his surgery. Today, the show made a vague nod in that direction, but its efforts were so problematic that they arguably leave nurses even worse off. We will post a full analysis soon, but in the meantime we note that the show did bring on four of Regis's nurses. However, they were able to say nothing--not one word--and the show told viewers nothing about what they actually did. Instead, the show spoke extensively with several of Regis's physicians about their work, suggesting that they provided all the significant skilled care, and confirming the idea of nurses as mute servants that so many television shows promote. Ripa noted that "we owe you a great deal of gratitude...and ... that doctors can't do it without all of you," but this does nothing to convey what nurses really do or why her prior comments were a problem. There was no apology. Please increase the pressure on the show by sending more letters, or by calling Barbara Warren, the PR director of the show, at 212-456-0417. Urge the show to let Regis's nurses actually talk about what they did to save his life, and to let nurses explain why Ripa's comments were so damaging.
UPDATE 2-- April 26, 2007 -- Please see the update to this story by clicking here. Thank you.