Early this morning, I wrote about a point I haven't seen filter into public debate in any meaningful way: that media coverage played as much or more of a role in whittling down the Democratic field than did the will of the electorate. (Why did Dem voters today have the historic choice of either a white woman or a black man as their party's nominee? Hint: one of the also-rans had the nasty habit of yammering on about corporate power -- including the negative influence of corporate media consolidation over free, independent journalism. Oops...)
Now, as promised: Super Tuesday Media Musings, Part II: In which feminists confuse journalists by (gasp) not having a hive mind.
During the past year and especially in recent weeks, Americans have been subjected to a litany of misguided media musings about "race and gender" in the 2008 election cycle, coverage which has overwhelmingly focused not on race and gender issues -- ie, not on the actual policy positions of various candidates and how those could be reasonably expected to impact women and people of color -- but rather on how various politicians can most successfully tailor their PR spin to snatch up the votes of those coveted constituencies.
Newsweek editor Jon Meacham's Jan. 21 cover story -- complete with cover blurb promising to illuminate what Hillary Clinton's campaign tells us about "race, gender and power" -- was typical: in the sprawling, 5,077 word reported piece and in the accompanying 1,807 word Q&A about Clinton's appeals to female voters based on their shared gender, Meacham couldn't be bothered to spare even a column inch or two to a detailed accounting of Clinton's legislative platform, no less a substantive look at why a Hillary Clinton administration would (or would not) be politically beneficial to women. Likewise, references to Senator Obama focused on Barack's likeability factor in the black community, rather than on what policies he might enact that would help (or hurt) African Americans.
Get that: Newsweek could find no room in a whopping 6,884-word spread on "race, gender and power" to squeeze in a couple of grafs on substantive coverage of the candidates' stances on issues important to women and people of color, such as poverty, child care, violence against women, police brutality, housing, sex education, soaring HIV and STD rates among women of color or the rising costs of corporate welfare compared with the growing instability of the middle and working classes, to name just a few the mag could have chosen from.
What did we get instead? Platitudes about identity politics that pit race against gender ("Some women are nursing guilt over supporting Obama; some African-Americans worry they are doing the wrong thing by voting for Clinton.") and pages and pages of politician-on-the-stump pablum: numerous extended paragraph-long quotes from the Q&A with Clinton were repeated verbatim in the main cover story, a redundancy that ate up space which could easily have been used to offer the investigative and analytical insights on race and gender issues promised in the piece's packaging.
Amid media's inability to dig deeper on the actual political needs of women and people of color came a New York Times story positioning our pal, Jessica Valenti, founder of the powerhouse blog Feministing.com (and WIMN's Voices blogger, to boot) against Marcia Pappas, president of the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women. Headlined, "Feminists Find Unity Is Elusive," the Times reported on the fracas among feminists over NOW-NYS's declaration that Ted Kennedy's Obama endorsement constituted the "ultimate betrayal of women" (for the back story, see Veronica Arreola's post here last week). The piece gave with one hand (breaking with usual Times tradition by treating both activists as serious and reasonable advocates for women's rights) and took away with another (juxtaposing a dynamic photo of 29-year-old Jess smiling pretty over wine -- to be fair, no one bar hops like our gal... -- against a static headshot of scowling 57-year-old Pappas standing in a non-descript outdoor locale), using visual imagery to conjure the same old stereotypes the print copy broke.
While I found the piece fair and useful on balance, what struck me as noteworthy was its tone, which seemed to indicate confusion at the concept of women's rights activists -- could it be?! -- disagreeing on policy issues and political direction, yet still working side by side for women's human rights. For example, after noting that Feministing.com rejected Pappas's anti-Kennedy "ultimate betrayal" press release by saying that "NOW-NY does not speak for me. And it does not speak for all feminists," the Times' Susan Dominus reports with seeming surprise that she couldn't generate any inter-movement sniping between her interviewees: "When confronted with Feministing.com's response," Dominus writes, Pappas
"carefully avoided any invitation to complain about the lack of fire in young women or their difficulty in understanding what's at stake given all their privilege -- the concerns so often heard from an older generation of feminists."
Knowing the Times' history -- this is, after all, a paper that has consistently spent decades trying to convince us that feminism is dead, post-, passe, uncool, unnecessary and unladylike -- it's not surprising that their reporter would have tried to spur the equivalent of an on-record cat-fight between prominent Second and Third Wavers. Pappas's high-road-taking tact is to be respected, but the tidbit I found most illustrative was the reporter's insistence on mentioning that she had offered the NOW leader an "invitation to complain about" young women's supposed apathy and ignorance: even though Pappas declined to play that game, the Times was able to sneak in that criticism by proxy, just by mentioning the question Pappas refused to dignify.
Still, considering the aforementioned history of anti-feminist content in the New York Times, it was great to see them cover both subtle and substantive differences of opinion, strategy and action among women active in a multi-faceted feminist movement.
In contrast, the concept that feminists don't all think alike seems to have stumped corporate media in recent days and weeks. But feminists in independent media and in the blogosphere have been extremely articulate in discussing why -- as feminists, as activists, as progressives, as Americans -- they were planning to vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama (or, before he bowed out, John Edwards). [Note: (I haven't seen any feminist declarations for the GOP hopefuls, but if you have, please post links below.] Here's just a glimpse into the vibrant, sometimes contentious, often illuminating electoral debate among American feminist journalists and bloggers, in no particular order:
Katha Pollitt, The Nation.com: "Why I'm Supporting Barack Obama"
Robin Morgan, Women's Media Center: "Goodbye To All That (#2)"
Ruth Rosen, TPMCafe/Talking Points Memo: "Why would a feminist vote for Obama?"
Gloria Steinem, New York Times: "Women Are Never Front-Runners"
New York Observer, "Toni Morrison's Letter to Barack Obama"
New York Observer: "Maya Angelou on Hillary Clinton"
Laura Flanders, The Nation.com: "Which Womanhood?"
Susan Douglas, In These Times: "Why Women Hate Hillary"
Martha Burk, Gloria Feldt, Cecelia Fire Thunder, Lulu Flores, Kim Gandy, Ellen Malcolm, Irene Natividad, Ellie Smeal, Gloria Steinem, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, HuffingtonPost.com: "Why Hillary Is the Right Choice For Women"
Liza Sabater, CultureKitchen: "A Prairie Home Companion Endorsement for Barack Obama"
Amanda Marcotte, Pandagon: "Primary Endorsement Post" (for Edwards); followed by "And Then There Were Two" (for Obama)
Boston.com (Boston Globe online): Rep. "Maxine Waters for Clinton"
Judith Stadtman Tucker, MothersMovement.org: "The Mothers Movement Online Endorses Barack Obama for President"
HillaryClinton.com: "Human Rights Leader Dolores Huerta Endorses Clinton"
The Potato Vine: "Feminists for Obama?"
Rebecca Traister, Salon.com: "Undecided '08: Should I vote for Clinton or Obama? On Super Tuesday, for the first time in my life, I will walk into the voting booth without knowing who to vote for. I blame John Edwards."
... and, finally, since I said this was just a snippet, if you're still hankering for even more diverging feminist perspectives on Election '08, hop on over to Feministing, where editor (and occasional WIMN's Voices guest blogger) Ann Friedman has compiled the most comprehensive feminist endorsement round-up I've seen to date.
This post originally appeared at WIMN's Voices: A Group Blog on Women and the Media , a project of Women In Media & News, the national women's media analysis, education and advocacy group. To send WIMN blog tips or to organize a lecture, email info [at] wimnonline [dot] org. To subscribe to WIMN's free media alert list, see the Action Center at http://www.wimnonline.org/action/.