THE BLOG
01/09/2008 03:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Was Barack Anointed So Instantly?

Did the media's savage attack on Hillary Clinton stir up some atavistic instinct of anger or protectiveness among women, helping her to win New Hampshire? Was there a massive CLICK moment, as old-guard feminists used to call it, when women collectively thought, "Hey, this isn't fair!"

My guess would be yes, given the fact that she did so much better in the granite state among women than she did in Iowa.

The media assault was nothing short of astonishing. Rarely before have news outlets savaged one candidate and practically canonized another after one vote count in one early primary in an atypical state. The Media Archangel swooped down from above, anointed Barack Obama with precious oils while kicking Hillary Clinton to the ninth circle of political hell.

Many women, including myself, detected a certain undeniable glee in the media pile-on. Almost with one voice, the media punditocracy pronounced Hillary yesterday's woman, too old, stuck in the '90s, an ambitious dynasty builder unable to connect with real people, chilly, passionless, unlikable, and what experience did she have anyway? I half expected people to say that Hillary regularly boxed Chelsea about the face and ears.

At the same time, Barack Obama, who only a short time before had been chided by the media for being lousy at debate, not tough enough and lacking in edge, suddenly became the golden child. Superlatives flowed like Sam Adams beer at a Patriots tailgate party. Suddenly Barack was the new JFK and Martin Luther King rolled into one, he was the voice of a new generation, his rhetoric was soaring, he gave people hope, he would re-connect America to the world, he was authentic, he all but spoke in tongues. He was the young (not so) white knight banishing the wicked witch of the west.

Meanwhile, Hardball's Chris Matthews all but buried Hillary's career and tossed in a few shovelfuls of dirt, with an unseemly joy. The New York Post ran an unflattering picture of Hillary on the front page with the boxcar headline PANIC. Pundits said maybe she should skip South Carolina and just go home, because it was all over, and Barack would glide through the next primaries like Cleopatra borne by golden sails along the Nile.

Now, I like Barack Obama. He's super-smart, he's exciting, he has a great gift for oratory and he's one of the most remarkable people to appear on the political scene lately. But, hey, Hillary is not chopped liver. Isn't this the woman the media once dubbed "inevitable" (albeit with little enthusiasm) and who just couldn't make a mistake?

Why did the punditocracy all but declare Hillary politically dead after she finished in a virtual tie for second with John Edwards in a state that was hardly tailored to her strengths? Mitt Romney got clobbered after spending a fortune, and while the media said this was a big problem for him, no one wrote him off. Many, in fact, said he was still the presumptive nominee.

And why was Barack anointed so instantly? To use a sports metaphor, it was like the talented rookie being handed the Cy Young award after his first pouting on the mound. As Gloria Steinem noted in her much-discussed New York Times op-ed, what if Barack Obama had been a woman, with the same resume? She'd have been laughed at if she said she wanted to run for president.

I believe a lot of women thought "This isn't fair. Give her a chance. She's earned that. Maybe she won't win in the end, but if she loses, let it be fair and square. Any why doesn't the media seem very excited about the first woman president. Why isn't that 'change?""

For women of a certain age, there was an air of familiarity about the whole process. Often, women work hard, learn their craft, pay their dues, don't try to step in front of other people, and then, when they are due for the big promotion, something happens. Some young guy is suddenly standing in front of them. He's the hot new commodity, and she is just expected to gracefully step aside.

I encountered this early on, when I was in college. My best friend, who was due to be appointed editor of a large college newspaper, was suddenly pulled aside by the faculty advisor and told that she was not going to get the top job. It was going to a male student, an Army veteran, who was fairly new to the paper.

"He's a man, and a veteran, and you're just a girl, " said the professor. "Don't you think it's right that he gets the job?"

In fact, she thought it was quite unfair, but somewhere inside a little voice was saying, Maybe he is right. Maybe the guy deserves it. Maybe I am just a girl.

I know another woman, who, many years later, was in line for a senior editorship, but her boss hired a younger, less-experienced man instead. He said to her, "He reminds me of myself when I was young."

Often, women who do superb work watch as men who perform much less well get fulsome praise, while their own accomplishments seem invisible. Women who sit in board meetings notice that they are ignored when they make a suggestion, but when a man makes the very same suggestion a few minutes later, the room lights up with praise.

A lot of young women, who haven't yet had these experiences, think they never will, and that all the world is open to them. They don't need to back a woman for president. I hope they are right, but I suspect they'll hit the glass ceiling at a dead run and will be astonished at the thud.

So women made Hillary the Comeback Kid. That doesn't mean she gets a free pass. She'll have to earn the nomination, cementing the connection with people that really began in New Hampshire, she will have to get out of the bubble and talk to the press and to the voters in an unguarded way, as she's started to do.

Women are usually harder on other women than they are on men, but sometimes, not often these days, but once in a while, there cones a point when they hear the "CLICK."

It happened in New Hampshire.

Boston University Journalism professor Caryl Rivers is the author of "Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women."