At her recent press conference at the United Nations, the first question posed to Hillary Clinton, asked by a Turkish reporter, had to do with whether she felt she was being treated differently because she was a woman. Many in the media scoffed at the question. But if one examines Clinton's 2008 presidential run, it's hard to dismiss some coverage as anything other than sexist.
It started early, in July 2007, when Robin Givhan wrote an article in the Washington Post featuring, of all things, Clinton's cleavage. "She was wearing a rose-colored blazer over a black top," Givhan observed. "The neckline sat low on her chest and had a subtle V-neck. The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn't an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable." Unbelievable, some readers thought.
That was just the beginning. Writing in his blog, Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach offered this passage concerning another part of Clinton's person, her voice: "[She] needs a radio-controlled shock collar so that aides can zap her when she starts to get screechy. She came perilously close to going on a tirade." Later, continuing the media's obsession with Clinton's voice, the New York Times wrote about the Clinton "cackle."
As sexist as some print commentary was, the television coverage was even more blatant. On CNN, Ken Rudin of National Public Radio said: "[Clinton is] going to keep coming back, and they're not going to stop her" -- just like, he said, the character played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, a mentally unstable woman with homicidal tendencies. Rudin later had to apologize for his remark.
By far, the network with the most questionable commentary on Clinton was MSNBC. At one point, Tucker Carlson said: "When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs." Mike Barnicle suggested that Clinton looked "like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court." Appearing on the network, A.B. Stoddard of The Hill described Clinton as "skanky."
But of all the talking heads the most consistently insulting was Chris Matthews. At various times, Matthews called Clinton -- a Yale-educated lawyer who had by then served as the First Lady of Arkansas, the First Lady of the United States, and a senator from New York -- "She-Devil," "Nurse Ratched," and "Madam Defarge." He said her voice (again with the voice!) reminded some men of "fingernails on a blackboard." He accused her of "playing the woman card." When he said in one episode of post-debate coverage that Clinton was a candidate because her husband had "messed around," women's groups finally protested to the network, which forced Matthews, seemingly reluctantly, to apologize on air.
Then there was David Shuster who once referred to a loop MSNBC had made of Clinton laughing as "the refrain of Hillary cackling" and who, on another occasion, claimed Clinton was "pimping out" her daughter Chelsea, now an adult with academic credentials that surpassed those of Schuster himself, because she had begun to campaign for her. For this, MSNBC temporarily removed Shuster from the air.
The network's coverage became so obviously sexist that Keith Olbermann, then MSNBC's star personality (remember that?), felt compelled to defend the operation. He wrote to one journalist that the notion MSNBC "was somehow out to 'get' Senator Clinton is false and unfair... We became a whipping boy." In a classic blame-the-victim move, he seemed to believe all this was Clinton's fault, not the on-air personalities at MSNBC.
In all of the coverage of Clinton in various forms -- print, television, radio -- perhaps the most egregious comment came from Randi Rhodes, a self-described liberal and feminist. Speaking on Air America, the left-leaning radio network that's now defunct, Rhodes called Clinton and former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro "fucking whores," presumably because they had chosen to advance the issue of women's rights differently than she had. Finally, someone had crossed a line. Rhodes would lose her job.
So the other day when a Turkish reporter asked Clinton his question about sexism, he wasn't that far off base, despite how some in the media mocked him afterwards. If the past is prologue, look for the same sexist coverage of Clinton when she announces her candidacy for president for 2016. Once again, as it was during the 2008 presidential cycle, the real misogynistic assault will come not from the Right but from the Left.
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