The media is once again beating its breast and howling its mea culpas after the fact. Only when we were mired in an unprovoked and unwinnable war did the press begin to question its starry-eyed acceptance of the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq. Now that Hillary has finally conceded, the argument about sexism in news coverage begins, and the good news is that this time it isn't too late to do something about it.
Let me get a few things out of the way immediately:
I am and have been from the beginning an Obama supporter.
I think Hillary, whose policies I admire, made egregious errors in her campaign, not the least of which was her inability to keep Bill from stabbing her in the back every chance he got. (Does anyone still believe that this man who is supposed to be the savviest politician of his time really wants another president in the family? If he did, he had a funny way of showing it.)
Criticism of Hillary Clinton is not de facto misogyny.
Though the Clinton campaign fell short, it was canny enough to exploit the media's anti-woman bias for its own ends.
That said, I think the answer to the question of whether sexism colored the coverage of Hillary Clinton's campaign is a resounding yes.
As many commentators have pointed out, sexism is the last acceptable prejudice. What has not been so generally recognized is that the method of expressing misogyny is what makes it acceptable. Ridicule is okay, or hey, guys, I was just kidding.
Take only a few of the examples of anti-Hillary comments being currently replayed:
* "Hillary looked like everyone's first wife standing outside probate court." MSNBC (The first wife joke.)
* "No matter what Hillary says, it still sounds like 'take out the garbage.'" Fox News. (The current wife joke.)
* "Hillary's face of experience is merely the visage of an old bag." Fox News (The only thing worse than an ugly woman is an old woman, or maybe it's the only thing worse than an old woman is an ugly woman.)
It's all elbow-in-the-ribs stuff, and it's not news to any woman. A century ago, Margaret Sanger started her heroic battle to make the dissemination of birth control information legal to women as well as men. (Men could get condoms "for the prevention of disease." Women did not have the same right to health.) When the U.S. Post Office barred her magazine, Woman Rebel, from the mails, The Sun ran the following headline and first paragraph. "WOMAN REBEL' BARRED FROM MAILS." Too bad. They should be barred from her and spelled differently.
Since Hillary conceded in a tardy but gracious speech, calls have gone out for Obama to give a talk on sexism similar to his sound, stirring and hopeful address on racism. Such a speech would do more than heal the wounds of Clinton supporters. It would send the message that prejudice will not be tolerated, no matter how good the punch line.