Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Media's Sexist Campaign Coverage

Produced by the National Organization of Women

With female as well as male commentators getting into the action, here are a few of the burning questions of the 2008 race, according to our friends in the media:

Is Hillary Clinton's voice grating? Chris Matthews has gone out of his way to portray Clinton as a nagging housewife, with a voice that makes manly men cringe. On NBC's The Chris Matthews Show on April 28, he was at it again, asking this burning question about Clinton's performance at the Democratic debate: "Did she have the right modulation? Was she calm and grown up? Or was there a little bit of stridency in the voice still? . . . [W]as she shrill? Was she strident? Or was she solid?" Panelist Katty Kay from the BBC Washington Bureau responded with the absurd accusation that Clinton was "shouting" in the debate and criticized her "tone of voice."

Is John Edwards too feminine? The recent controversy over Edwards' expensive haircuts allowed the press to pull out the old "Breck girl" nickname they hyped during the 2004 campaign. On April 23 Adam Nagourney of The New York Times took credit for introducing the public to this slur, which originated in the Bush camp, and then blamed Edwards for keeping it going. In an April 21 New York Times column, Maureen Dowd wrote: "Whether or not the country is ready to elect a woman president or a black president, it's definitely not ready for a metrosexual in chief." She added: "In presidential politics, it's all but impossible to put the man in manicure. Be sensitive, but not soft. Effete is never effective."

Is Barack Obama's wife emasculating? When Michelle Obama portrayed her husband as an everyday kind of guy, members of the media twisted it into a threat to his masculinity. Matthews asked his panel of pundits: "Do you think Obama wishes he could dial Michelle back a notch?" For months now, Dowd has been fretting that Obama comes off as weak, calling him "Obambi" and "a Dreamboy" and comparing him to "Scarlett O'Hara" and "a puppy." Dowd even fires off two gender-based insults for the price of one, with: "If Hillary is in touch with her masculine side, Barry is in touch with his feminine side." (Yes, Dowd takes the liberty of shortening Barack to Barry.)

Is Al Gore too fat to run for president? Despite Gore's achievements, and the belated credit he's receiving for his work on global warming, the media can't help but snicker at his weight. In an April 15 Washington Post article titled "Gore '08: Does He Round Up or Down?" writer Sridhar Pappu declares: "Yes, we've certainly seen a lot of Al Gore lately. And there's a lot of Al Gore to see. Calling Planet Girth!" He tells us that we'll know Gore is serious about running for president when he loses some weight. Pappu gets in a dig at Obama, too: "There are moments where one fears that if Obama were to lose any weight he'd be on the cover of Us Weekly with Lindsay Lohan."

Even the Republicans aren't immune to this foolishness. Dowd claims that: "The Daddy Party, sick with desire for a daddy, is like a lost child."
These petty criticisms take the place of substantive campaign coverage, and they play on our society's lingering discomfort with women and men who step the least bit outside traditional gender roles or violate our national obsession with body image. Does this sound productive to you? If we are to elect a president who can help turn this country around, someone who will advance rather than dismantle women's and civil rights, then voters need real information about the candidates and their platforms.

Learn more and speak out at

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