I came across an article recently that confirmed what many of us have suspected: the media helps shape opinions on female political candidates. Anyone who has heard the stories about Nikki Haley's alleged affairs (proven false as her released emails demonstrate, though you rarely hear that), or the alleged one night stand with Christine O'Donnell, which turned out to be hogwash (sexist, misogynistic hogwash at that, so much so that even N.O.W. felt compelled to defend her), or Meg Whitman being called a whore by her competitor's aide, know of what I speak.
That is to say, the focus seems to be less on their actual political positions than airing unsubstantiated claims, usually of a sexual nature or involving a sexist characterization. That distinction was highlighted in a recent Christian Science Monitor piece, "Ending the 'Hot Or Not' Factor For Nikki Haley And Female Candidates." The authors of this piece, Swanee Hunt and Kerry Healey are mighty powerful women in their own right, the former being an Ambassador to Austria, the latter the former Lt. Gov. of Massachusetts. They know what it is like to be a woman in the political world.
Their commentary is based on the results of a recent survey by the Lake Survey Partners. The entire piece is well worth your time, and I encourage you to read it. Some of the highlights follow:
American women hold twelve percent of governor’s seats and make up seventeen percent of Congress. If these numbers sound low, that’s because they are. The United States ranks a stunning 85 in the world in women’s parliamentary representation. No matter which side of the aisle prevails in the upcoming mid-term elections, both sides can agree the US needs to draw on one hundred percent of its citizens’ talents to meet our huge challenges.
Many factors contribute to the gender gap in political leadership, but a recent study sponsored by the new “Name It. Change It.” campaign highlights the key role of sexism in the media’s treatment of female candidates. This sexism acts both to deter women from running for office and also decreases their chances of success when they do throw their hats in the ring.
In the past few months, the experiences of South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley (R), Representative Betty Sutton (D) of Ohio, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Elena Kagan have demonstrated how women of all parties and branches of government get slammed by the same denigrating treatment. Despite differences in backgrounds, careers, and ideologies, as they’ve traveled the road of women in public life, their journeys – a congressional seat, a gubernatorial nomination, and the highest bench in the land – have been regrettably similar.
As the piece goes on to say, these women, despite the odds stacked against them by numerous media outlets, persevered. Nikki Haley not only won the primary, but she just received the endorsement of the Post and Courier, Charleston's newspaper. Haley is no flash in the pan, after all - she has served in the SC House since 2004, and has a tremendous amount of experience preceding her time there. Though one would be hard-pressed to know much more about her than the allegations of infidelity.
Back to the Christian Science Monitor piece:
Now that we know the real and lasting damage to public discourse and political representation caused by offhand sexist remarks in the media, we all have a duty to push back.
Sexist commentary isn’t a harmless joke. Just last week, Boston radio station WRKO plumbed new depths when it stood by a producer’s mocking “endorsement” of Karyn Polito’s campaign for state treasurer that included an obscene comment about her body. That kind of endorsement hurts, not helps, and now we have the research to prove it. In the past two weeks, “Name It. Change It.” has called for public response to this and 12 similar sexist attacks on Republican, Democrat, and Green Rainbow candidates. As a result, WRKO was flooded with calls protesting the producer’s outburst.
Every election day, we two travel to the polls to cancel each other’s votes. But we, and millions like us, must stand together and “name it” until media outlets “change it.”
Amen to that. If you want to make a difference fighting sexism in the media, just click here: "Name It. Change It."
And don't forget to vote. One of the other important pieces highlighted by Hunt and Healey was this:
[snip] This makes voters less likely to cast a vote for female candidates who have been the subject of media assaults that target their gender or their sexuality. [snip]
Let's not allow the media to make our decisions for us. If you have questions about a candidate's position, don't rely on the media's interpretation of their policies. Go to the candidates' websites and look for yourselves.
We must hold the media accountable for how they present information to us. In the case of women, we cannot allow them to present the candidates solely in terms of their gender, or their sexuality.
But it isn't just in terms of gender that we must keep an eye on the very institution charged with bringing us the news we need to be informed citizens. As we know, the JournoList gang kept important information that was likely detrimental to Obama from being published, specifically related to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In addition, they targeted Sarah Palin once she gave her acceptance speech, realizing that she was a force with which to be reckoned.
Well, the media is at it again, and interestingly, still in Alaska. It turns out that a CBS affiliate tried to craft - check that- create negative stories against Joe Miller, particularly hoping to find anyone who supported him that may be a sex offender. Wanna know how the Miller camp found this out? The "journalists" left a message on a Miller campaign worker's cellphone. No, I am not making this up! They were talking about how to gin up a story on Miller, preferably one that involved a child molester. Naturally, the general manager for the affiliate, KTVA, Jerry Bever, came up with a whole bunch of hooey about how yeah, there's this recording and all, but, um, well, uh, everyone is just misunderstanding what they are saying. Yeah. Right. That's the problem. Because how could anyone think for one second that's what these "reporters" mean when they were saying this:
FEMALE REPORTER: That’s up to you because you’re the expert, but that’s what I would do…I’d wait until you see who showed up because that indicates we already know something…
FEMALE REPORTER: Child molesters…
MALE REPORTER: Oh yeah… can you repeat Joe Miller’s…uh… list of people, campaign workers, which one’s the molester?
FEMALE VOICE: We know that out of all the people that will show up tonight, at least one of them will be a registered sex offender.
MALE REPORTER: You have to find that one person…
FEMALE REPORTER: And the one thing we can do is ….we won’t know….we won’t know but if there is any sort of chaos whatsoever we can put out a twitter/facebook alert: saying what the… ‘Hey Joe Miller punched at rally.’
FEMALE REPORTER: Kinda like Rand Paul…I like that.
FEMALE REPORTER: That’s a good one.
Wow. This is a CBS affiliate. As in, they are using OUR airwaves for this kind of rumor mongering.
Sarah Palin is mighty fired up about this whole Miller thing, as one might expect. I believe she used the term, "corrupt bastards" to describe what they attempted to do to Miller. Given Palin's own experiences with the press making crap up about her and reporting it as fact, she makes the case for Hunt and Healey. Here she is on Greta Van Susteran discussing the state of journalism in general:
Unfortunately, we cannot have a "Do-Over" before the upcoming election, but we can, we must, demand a Fourth Estate that is reporting, not creating news. We must demand that journalists are not just reporting the pieces that helps their favorite politicians, or conversely, not reporting information that would harm their faves. We must demand that they stop framing women politicians on the basis of their sexuality, and/or gender. They must stop with their sexist and demeaning attempts to tear down women in politics. In short, they must return to being reporters, to journalists in the truest sense of the term. We have our eye on them...
UPDATE: This just out: "Producers Involved In Alaska 'Phonegate' Fired." The article stated that: [snip] KTVA's General Manager released this statement on the station's web site:
"KTVA today released findings of its internal assessment of allegations that the "news director for CBS Anchorage affiliate KTVA, along with assignment editor Nick McDermott, and other reporters, openly discussed creating, if not fabricating, two stories about Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Joe Miller," as alleged by the Miller campaign. KTVA states that its review included multiple staff interviews, a review of that day's actual news coverage and a forensic transcript of the recorded audio conversation. [snip] (Read the rest here.)
Wow, how about that?