It's been quite amusing reading and watching the media absolve itself of sexism over the past few days but I think it's getting a little bit out of hand when Republican "analysts" blithely assert during election coverage on national television that Senator Clinton can accurately be described as a "white bitch" --- and everyone calmly sits around discussing whether it's true or not. In fact, it's mind boggling:
(Thanks to Jeffrey Toobin having the guts to speak the obvious.)
David Shuster, the correspondent, explains it all away: “Attacking the media is not new. Presidents and politicians have been doing it for a long time, usually to deflect their own problems, often to tap into a perceived voter hostility towards journalists. The problem for Hillary Clinton is that her charges may reinforce concerns about her credibility.”
The notion that it is "perceived" voter hostility toward journalists is just funny. There is real, ongoing hostility toward journalists among a large number of the public for many reasons. Press "credibility" is nearly at the same level as used car salesmen on a good day.
SO many Americans apparently now see journalists as self-interested, careerist and unprofessional that perhaps it would make sense for media executives to call up another group of bosses who once faced fundamental questions about their product: the makers of Tylenol in the 1980's.
American confidence in the news media is at an all-time low. Most other major institutions in public life - while dealing with their own credibility issues - are more trusted.
In the post-Watergate 1970's, some 25 to 30 percent of Americans reported to the Harris Poll that they had a great deal of confidence in the press, more than they had in Congress, unions or corporate America. In the 2005 poll, the press ranked only ahead of law firms, with 12 percent reporting high confidence in the media.
Another poll, in 2003 by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, found that 66 percent of Americans see news reports as slanted, compared with 53 percent in 1985. Even more stunning to some analysts, 32 percent judged news organizations to be immoral, up from 13 percent in 1985.
"Today we have a case where the public is suspicious of the values of the news media as well," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. "I don't know if it's a crisis, but it's a hell of a growing problem."
The juvenile, demeaning behavior Shuster and his cohorts have displayed during this campaign has taken their credibility further into the sewer. Last night we saw the creepy GOP operative who put together the famous Jesse Helms "white hands" ad unctuously pontificating on the Democratic primary on CNN, saying that calling Clinton a "white bitch" is simply an accurate statement.(In a previous primary night broadcast the same man had said that it was time to "take the old family dog to the vet and have her put to sleep.") Earlier this year, MSNBC featured "expert" commentary by Roger Stone, the GOP dirty trickster, who bragged in the Weekly Standard about creating a group called C.U.N.T, to oppose Clinton's candidacy. We all know about Chris Matthews' ongoing insanity, the endless stuff about the psycho female "Fatal Attraction" archetype and all the rest. This isn't just a few offhand comments. It has been a campaign narrative.
I don't think that it's fair or reasonable for the Obama campaign to be held responsible for this. I've not detected sexism coming from them toward Senator Clinton, certainly in any systematic way. I suspect they have been quite conscious of not going there, which is to their credit. Many Clinton supporters feel that Obama has benefited from the sexism in the media and should have stood up to it, but I just reject that. Both he and Clinton are fighting hard campaigns for the most important job in the world and they are not obligated to defend their rivals while the battle rages. (It might have behooved the progressive movement to have done so, however.)
Unfortunately, at this point I think the media is actually hurting the Obama campaign with their continued sexist coverage. He is trying to reach out to her supporters and the press is making it much harder for him by keeping this hostile, demeaning discussion --- particularly this endless call for her to drop out --- roiling in the ether. The party will work this out, but the media, as usual, is making things worse.
I know that many of you believe that Clinton should drop out and that will solve everything. But that's not exactly true. This ugly treatment of Clinton has left a bad taste in many people's mouths and at this point, it's probably necessary for her to see it through and leave the race on her own terms. Obama's campaign certainly seems to recognize that this needs to be handled respectfully and sensitively.
I would have thought that all decent people would be appalled that the media in this country thinks it's ok for their commentators to identify a female candidate for president as a bitch on national TV or sell sickening "jokes" like Hillary Nutcrackers in the CNBC stores in airports all over the country. One would think it was a given that they shouldn't reward people who start groups called C.U.N.T with TV appearances or imply that someone who nearly half the Democratic party has chosen as their presidential candidate is a psychotic stalker who refuses to die. Is it really too much to ask that the media show more respect than that?
Update: I just heard Chris Cilizza suggest on MSNBC that this charge of sexism is impossible to quantify, but Obama is winning partially because he turned his historic candidacy into a movement, while Clinton failed to turn hers into one. That may be true. But I can't see how she ever could have done it with coverage like this:
A moment of silence, please, for Invincible Hillary. She left us at 11 am ET yesterday, in Wellesley, Mass., a victim of her own hand. She was 10 months old. She is survived by Victim Hillary.
"In so many ways this all women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said yesterday at her alma mater, Wellesley College.
This from the frontrunner, the wire-to-wire leader, the choice of the Democratic establishment, the candidate of strength, determination, experience. In the context of her poor debate performance, with all her (male) rivals sensing an opportunity to chip away at her 30-point lead, this is called playing the gender card.
She was trying to speak to women about the challenges they face in the world (and, I'm sorry, they do exist or the 50% of the population that is female would currently hold more than 12% of senate seats and we would have had a woman president by now.) Her even mentioning it was derisively called "playing the gender card." She had no chance to create a "movement" (if indeed she ever wanted to) based around her historic candidacy.
I think she made some serious strategic errors that were far more salient in her winding up in (a very close) second place. But let's not pretend that she was given even the slightest room to run explicitly as the first female candidate, because from the beginning the press used demeaning, sexist stereotypes with zero restraint. And the sad thing is that it is so commonplace in our culture that many people, including women, didn't even notice.
Update II: For those who need an explanation as to why calling a woman a bitch on a national news network is wrong, this comment threat from TPM does it about as well as anything I've seen.