There are two kinds of people in the world: People who think there's an ugly strain of misogyny running through Hillary Clinton's media coverage, and people who think she's just not very likable and deserves it for running such a mean campaign and is ruining the Democratic party and has an annoying laugh and should just shut up and get out of the race already. Regular readers of this column won't be surprised to learn that I fall into the former category, having cataloged a fair number of examples here, but I'd think that even if I agreed with the second part I'd still agree with the first, because her coverage is just that bad. I am not going to run through it now — if you're interested, there are 83 specific examples documented here — but I am going to offer up an unbelievable statement made by Keith Olbermann on Wednesday night's show as proof.
Olbermann was discussing the election with Newsweek's Howard Fineman, a frequent guest. They topic was, how can a winner finally be determined in this never-ending Democratic race for the nomination? Of course, the assumption was that it was Clinton that should be shown the door (despite clearly still earning her spot in the race thanks to, um, voters). Fineman said that, all the delegate math aside, ultimately it was going to take "some adults somewhere in the Democratic party to step in and stop this thing, like a referee in a fight that could go on for thirty rounds. Those are the super, super, super delegates who are going to have to decide this."
Said Olbermann: "Right. Somebody who can take her into a room and only he comes out."
What does that mean? Really, it can only mean one thing: Beating the crap out of Hillary Clinton, to the point where she is physically incapable of of getting up and walking out. At minimum. We know this. We know this because we have all seen movies where people are invited into private places to have "discussions" and the unruly party is, um, dealt with accordingly. It's an unmistakably violent image.
Do I really think Olbermann thinks Hillary Clinton should really be violently beaten to the point of physical incapacitation, or worse? No, though some have taken that statement to its logical conclusion. But it is an unmistakably violent image — and that point seems to be undisputed by those who have written about it so far (Google "Olbermann" and "take her into a room" and you'll see results like "Keith Olbermann Advocates Violence Against Hillary" "Olbermann: Misogyny 101" "Calls To End Race Turn Violent""Olbermann: How To Snuff Out Hillary Clinton"). Even Fineman seemed taken aback by the statement - there is a distinct pause after, and it's an eternity in TV time. He's not facing the camera but you can tell that the statement was jarring. (Even so he agreed, saying, "Yes, yes exactly.")
There really seems to be only one interpretation here, and the only point of debate is on whether it's okay or not. I'm going to cut that one short: It's not. To the fellow (male) journo I wrote to about this yesterday, who waved it off as just some colorful film-noir imagery, I say: can you IMAGINE if someone had said that about Obama? That he should be taken somewhere and dealt with, so that he wouldn't come back? Can you imagine if some right-winger had talked about getting Obama out of the race "the old-fashioned way?" If that last one makes you cringe, it should, because it evokes a history of violence against black people in this country that is raw and real. Well, frankly, the same goes for women — many of whom have been taken somewhere private, and never returned.
I can already hear the outcry of those who can't believe I'd equate the gender card with the race card. Well, too bad. They're both issues, they're both factors, and in the first presidential campaign where both a woman and an African-American have a real shot at the nomination, they're both all too germane. Each of the candidates is a complex person whose appeal or lack thereof can be endlessly parsed and attributed to all sorts of factors. But sexism is one of them, and part of the problem is that too many of such comments are waved away as being just jokes or not a big deal or geez, take a chill pill. Well sure, I'd be happy to — as soon as I can no longer find articles like this one, which cites the example of "a politically progressive man who made a series of legitimate complaints about Clinton's policies before adding that when he hears the senator's voice, he's overcome by an urge to punch her in the face."
To my mind, this is much worse than Pimp-Gate, which entailed an off-color implication resulting from David Shuster's misguided attempt to sound cool, and even worse than Chris Matthews saying that Clinton had gotten where she was because her husband had "messed around." If David Shuster can be suspended for likening Chelsea Clinton to a prostitute, then what happens when Keith Olbermann implies that the only way to stop Hillary Clinton is to inflict some sort of physical harm on her? Like I said above, I don't think that Olbermann meant it literally, but that's not the point. Words matter, and so do the images they evoke. This can't be ignored.
Update: And it wasn't — an MSNBC spokesperson sent over an apology from Olbermann, which I have reprinted in full:
It is a metaphor. I apologize: the generic "he" gender could imply something untoward. It should've been "only the other comes out - from a political point of view." You could've called for reaction first if your main motive had merely been criticism.
It is true, I did not contact MSNBC for comment - I was reacting specifically to the on-air commentary by their top-rated anchor, as seen by me and about 950,000 other people. To be fair, Olbermann regularly does the same in his "Worst Persons" segment, which often calls out on-air personalities for their remarks. I do, however, appreciate the alacrity of Olbermann's and MSNBC's response.
Update to the Update: Olbermann apologized on the air tonight, explaining that he ought to have made the statement pronoun-neutral and specific to politics; I am once again impressed with the alacrity of Olbermann and MSNBC.
The full clip is here:
Keith, what are we talking about here exactly? [The Confluence]
Hillary Sexism Watch: Part Eighty-Three [Shakespeare's Sister]