2012 Honoree

Nancy O’Dell

Host of Entertainment Tonight, Emmy Award-Winning Journalist, Author and Producer

“Several stereotypes are still prevalent in our culture about what women can and can’t do, so depending on how you look at it, media is either a driver of how society feels, or a contributor…when age, bodies, or looks are discussed in the media, men and women are treated differently.”

What do you think of the media’s portrayal of women?

While women have come a long way in their presence in the workplace and in the media, there is still much further to go. Several stereotypes are still prevalent in our culture about what women can and can’t do, so depending on how you look at it, media is either a driver of how society feels, or a contributor. For example, when it comes to simple things like age, bodies, or looks being discussed in the media, men and women are treated differently. Pick up a magazine and you might see a picture of Halle Berry with a headline that says “Still gorgeous at age 46.” Why does it shock us that she can still look good at age 46? She puts even 20-year-olds to shame. I doubt we would read “Brad Pitt, still amazing at age 48.” His age most likely wouldn’t be mentioned.

Have you seen any changes in the political landscape for women over the past few years? What are they?

I think Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin have done a lot for women in politics. Regardless of your beliefs or opinions, they each had a voice that was heard around the world and they are both proof that a woman can be on a Presidential ticket. Palin wasn’t the first, but it is no doubt rare. Clinton and Palin made women realize that they have the opportunity to lead a nation and probably help set us up for a female President to be elected in the not so distant future.

Do you feel the extreme left and right wings of U.S. politics are destroying the United in United States, or is it just healthy debate?

ABSOLUTELY. The issue with extreme positions is that they rarely concede and come to amicable solutions. It’s a winner-take-all attitude with little flexibility or middle-ground achieved. When views are as polarizing as we have today in politics, it’s virtually impossible to get anything done, which I feel is the root cause of where we are as a nation. The sides are too far apart to come together, and it’s hard to judge whether or not a politician’s belief on something is just because of political affiliation.

Do you feel the decline of religion in the rest of the Western World will have an effect on U.S. society? If so, will it be good or bad?

Bad. Regardless of your religious belief, to have one gives you a moral compass. Laws are enforced when someone is caught, but how many citizens make decisions every day according to their beliefs, or moral code. Religion gives us the basics of right and wrong. When you take that out, you lose that guidance and you lose civility. Whether you call it spirituality, or belonging to an organized religion, there’s a foundation of doing good and avoiding doing bad.

Can you tell us about one of the biggest challenges in your life that you think helped you become the person you are today?

No question the biggest challenge I have ever faced in my life was my mother’s diagnosis of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and her subsequent passing. She and I were so extremely close. She passed away in 2008 and I am still coping with her death today. It made me realize that no day can be taken for granted and we should enjoy and embrace the little moments in life. It has also made me even more determined to do all I can in working with the Muscular Dystrophy Association/MDA to find a cure so that no other family will have to go through the pain mine did.

Do today’s young people face a bigger challenge than you did?

Yes. Young people today have so many more pressures and distractions. Combined, it is much more challenging than when I grew up. The pace of life today, with the internet and connected devices, constantly pushes the envelope of what life is and how much you can do or achieve. In addition we live in a global society like never before. When I was younger, I competed with people in my city or state for a job or education, now young people compete with other young people from all over the world.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The best piece of advice I have ever received came from my husband and it was “to live in the moment” because, truly, life is made up of moments. If you are too worried or focused on other things, those moments pass while you are right in the middle of them without ever enjoying them.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

My mother because I want to know what heaven is like and I miss her so every day. There are so many things I would love to talk about with her today and receive her motherly wisdom on.

What is your favorite book (fiction or nonfiction)?

Streams in the Desert. It is a devotional book my grandfather gave me when I was in high school. I read again every year because somehow that page will apply to that particular day even as the years change. It gives me inspiration and we all need that.

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