Thursday, June 26, 2008

Michelle Obama & Sexism in the Media.

Back in May, the Women's Media Center together with Media Matters launched a new video and online petition campaign illustrating the pervasive nature of sexism in the media's coverage entitled "Sexism Sells, But We're Not Buying It."

The purpose of the WMC campaign states that, "while Hillary Clinton's campaign has cast a spotlight on the issue of sexism, this isn't a partisan issue: it's about making sure that women's voices are present and powerful in our national dialogue."

Since the GE campaign has begun, we have seen troubling new signs of sexism rear its ugly head. And the Women's Media Center has remained vigilant. Below is an excerpt of an email I received from them today.

Dear Canadian Gal,

We hardly had time to recover from the spiteful, often sexist, barrage of sentiment against Hillary Clinton, when the assault began in earnest on Michelle Obama. Last week she made the front page of The New York Times which touted a personality "makeover," then she "surprised" observers by playing nicely with others on ABC's The View. This, as the gears of a sinister smear machine racheted up a notch, insinuating un-American, anti-white motives on her part. If reading this or any of the electoral coverage on women makes you angry - help us fight bias.

We must be vigilant here. Both sexism and racism are in play. Use of seemingly innocuous words such as "strong woman" in referring to Michelle have to be analyzed: what, exactly, do you mean by that? Speculating endlessly about implanted codes in "fist bumps" and what riotous signal they may be giving to other African Americans is an outrage. And for those who have thrilled to the prospect of spitfires going at each other for the amusement of the media and public, you may be in for a disappointment. This is what Cindy McCain said about Michelle this week: "I think she's a good woman, a fine mother we both are in an interesting line of work right now." And Michelle on Hillary Clinton: " I think that Hillary Clinton, as she said, has made 18 million cracks on the ceiling and we need to keep pushing it and pushing it. She's taken [the hits] so that when my girls come along they won't have to fight it as badly." We must reign in the destructive, woman-belittling dramas in our media. We must speak up for all women subjected to them.

We need your support so we can keep on advocating for women to be represented fairly. The WMC has been at the lead of the fight against sexism in the media. Our "Sexism Sells, But We're Not Buying It" campaign already has more than 200,000 views and nearly 6,000 signatures, demanding that networks be held accountable for language that goes over the line of acceptability.

Please sign now to be included.

For more information, please visit

------ End of Forwarded Message

If you have not yet had the opportunity to sign the petition, please do so.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Soft, Cuddly Wives and Mothers.

Most progressives would agree that Hillary Clinton was on the receiving end of a great deal of sexism in the Democratic primary. This was mostly manifested in the media coverage of her as illustrated in the focus on Clinton's appearance, mannerisms etc. But almost as quick as anyone could say c-o-n-c-e-d-e, other troubling signs of sexism have surfaced in the campaign.

What has been disgusting is that we have reverted into the oldest stereotypes - namely that women should ONLY depicted as wives or mothers.

The responsibility doesn't just rest on the media, which I'll get to in a minute. The campaigns themselves deserve some of the blame as well. Do the Obama's and the McCain's want to play into the stereotypes of first ladies that are only sweet and cuddly? Is Michelle going to quit giving her husband the fist-bump because it comes across as too strong? Does Cindy have to submit any more of 'her' cookie recipes so people can relate to her?

Media stories breathlessly ask:

'Where do they buy their clothes?'

'What types of food do they cook?'

'Which one can be compared to Jackie O?' – they are wives and mothers. But guess what? Both are highly accomplished and intelligent women and are OTHER THINGS TOO.

In a New York Times article covering Michelle’s stint on The View, they further this meme:

Early on, Mrs. Obama was likened to Jackie Kennedy for her youth and fashion style, but lately, the strong and assertive African-American career woman is experiencing the kind of antifeminist hazing that Mrs. Clinton endured in the 1992 campaign when she made her “baking cookies” faux pas.

Mrs. Obama distanced herself from that model on “The View,” describing herself as a mother and not mentioning her law career or her views on policy.

The question is, how does mentioning her career or policy positions make her more palatable? Is the writer suggesting that America cannot handle a strong woman? Or that Michelle’s policy positions are unimportant?

This new focus on Michelle and Cindy’s hair and dresses comes right at the end of the gender-biased way the media covered Clinton's campaign. And instead of letting this go - AGAIN - we should be holding the media accountable for perpetuating stereotypes. If a white woman is strong, she's considered cold - as the coverage of Cindy has shown. If a black woman is strong, she's obviously angry - so go the accusations about Michelle.

While I am by no means trying to minimize both the beauty or personal accomplishments of these women, there is far more to them than those things. And seeing as how the 2008 election cycle thus far has turned conventional thinking on its head, this is an opportunity to change the way women - and first ladies - are represented. If we let the narrative about the potential first ladies converge on the role and status of the conventional "little lady" then we have lost the chance to reframe gender and marriage dynamics.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

MediaFail: Bolton Edition.

On Thursday, Fox News’s John Gibson had former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton on his radio show. They discussed Obama’s foreign policy. Bolton charged that “the best outcome” of an Obama presidency would be “a replay of the Clinton administration,” meaning “more embassy bombings” and “more World Trade Center attacks”:

GIBSON: The Obama team is going back to some of the old complaints about the war and the war on terror…that the left has been articulating for a long time now, and not really coming up with anything new.

BOLTON: Yeah I think honestly that’s an optimistic view of it, that it will simply be a replay of the Clinton administration. It will simply have more embassy bombings, more bombings of our warships like the Cole, more World Trade Center attacks. That would be the best outcome from that perspective.

Here's a listen:

Gibson failed to ask and Bolton declined to mention that the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon occurred during the Bush administration, while Bolton was serving in the Department of State.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obama softens on NAFTA.

In the upcoming Fortune magazine, Barack Obama seemingly has backed off of vow to use the "hammer'' of opting out of NAFTA to force the renegotiation of the trade pact and now says he will seek change through dialogue if he is elected president.

This is a marked change from the stance taken at the debate in Cleveland in the final days of the Ohio primary campaign in March, when Obama agreed with Hillary Clinton when she said the six-month opt-out clause should be invoked on NAFTA to force changes. He said:

I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labour and environmental standards that are enforced

In contrast, Obama dialed back his anti-NAFTA stance in the interview Fortune interview:

Now, however, Obama says he doesn't believe in unilaterally reopening NAFTA. On the afternoon that I sat down with him to discuss the economy, Obama said he had just spoken with [Canadian Prime Minister Stephen] Harper, who had called to congratulate him on winning the nomination.

"I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally," Obama said. "I'm a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people.

To some progressives - this is not sitting well. And while I am not a fan of NAFTA, I'm certainly not surprised. Are you?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Media Hall of Shame.

Hillary Clinton may have furthered the discussion of sexism in her concession speech when she stated that women deserve equal respect, along with equal pay, and that “there are no acceptable prejudices in the 21st century in our country.”

She was referring in part to what emerged as conventional wisdom by many during the democratic primary campaign that sexism is still tolerated in America. Chiming in (albeit ill timed) on this topic was DNC chairman Howard Dean, who is among those calling for a “national discussion” of sexism.

Echoing those sentiments, NOW and Emily’s List are generating e-mail campaigns to the cable channels when they see sexism. "We’re certainly not going to take this lying down," said Ellen Malcolm, the president of Emily’s List. She said her hope was for a national discussion to focus on "what is fair in the new political world of Internet, cable and traditional news coverage.'

Also created was an online project which it points to examples of sexist language titled Media Hall of Shame, NOW’s president, Kim Gandy, said her members need to remain alert, “We’re going to keep watching because we think Michelle Obama will be the recipient of the same kind of attacks that Hillary was.”

Ya think?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Corrupt Media.

As some will note I have written several diaries now on the failure of the fourth estate during this primary season.  The reactions to these pieces were mixed from agreement, indifference and denial of any bias in the coverage.  But with the recent feeding frenzy of the press in response to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's new book - nothing could be clearer: A CORRUPT MEDIA HAS FAILED.

Amongst other things, McClellan's asserts that the media's failings are primarily responsible for the rush to war in Iraq and complicit in enabling the Bush administration.

And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it... the media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding. Was the president winning or losing the argument? How were Democrats responding? What were the electoral implications? What did the polls say? And the truth--about the actual nature of the threat posed by Saddam, the right way to confront it, and the possible risks of military conflict--would get largely left behind...

If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. The collapse of the administration's rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should have never come as such a surprise. The public should have been made much more aware, before the fact, of the uncertainties, doubts, and caveats that underlay the intelligence about the regime of Saddam Hussein. The administration did little to convey those nuances to the people, the press should have picked up the slack but largely failed to do so because their focus was elsewhere--on covering the march to war, instead of the necessity of war.

He goes on to blame a liberal media bias, but that's a whole other story.  PBS's Bill Moyers devoted an entire show in April 2007, entitled Buying the War to answering the questions of a complicit media.

How did the mainstream press get it so wrong? How did the evidence disputing the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported? What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President -- no questions asked. How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored. How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?
But what's more interesting about the fallout of this book is the sudden Mea Culpa by some members of the press. 
Katie Couric:
"... I'll start by saying I think he's fairly accurate. Matt, I know when we were covering it--and granted, the spirit of 9/11, people were unified and upset and angry and frustrated. But I do think we were remiss in not asking some of the right questions. There was a lot pressure from the Bush White House. I remember doing an interview and the press secretary called our executive producer and said, `We didn't like the tone of that interview.' And we said, `Well, tough. We had to ask some of these questions.' They said, `Well, if you keep it up, we're going to block access to you during the war.' I mean, those kind of strong-arm tactics were really...
CNN's Jessica Yellin on 360:
Yellin: I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president's high approval ratings.
And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives -- and I was not at this network at the time -- but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president. I think, over time --

Cooper: You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?

Yellin: Not in that exact -- they wouldn't say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces. They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive, yes. That was my experience.

Washington Post's Dana Milbank::

Of course he's right.  We didn't do as much as we could have and the fact of the matter is we did raise these questions.  And I mean I guess what Scott`s just saying in a backwards way there is they were just doing a particularly good job of keeping the facts out of the public domain.

What's worse is as Eric Boehlert points out, the warning signs were provided by Senator Edward Kennedy, who largely was ignored by the press.

Specifically, back in September 2002, with the Bush administration and much of the Beltway media rushing to embrace war with Iraq, Kennedy delivered a passionate, provocative, and newsworthy speech raising all sorts of doubts about a possible invasion. Unlike today, the political press wasn't very interested in Kennedy or what he had to say about the most pressing issue facing the nation. Back in that media environment, being the voice of American liberals didn't mean much.
So what is the moral of the story? 
Boehlert puts it best "let's not forget that it wasn't that long ago that the media did their best to ignore what Kennedy had to say. And when it ignored Kennedy, and when it ignored the voice of liberals, the press -- and the country -- paid a dear price."

Obama and McCain to Media: STFU.

After my beating the drum of the media FAIL for months now – it looks like Barack Obama and John McCain have caught on.

Last week ABC News offered to exclusively air the first of the proposed town hall forums that the candidates agreed, in principle, to have during the general-election campaign.

Ultimately rejecting this offer, both campaigns insisted that any citizen-based town hall event had to be open to all television outlets, be available on the Internet, and not be sponsored or organized by a single news organization. Further the campaigns stressed that the town hall meeting would not be moderated by the press. Also interestingly, the forum being proposed for the general election is a Lincoln/Douglas-style event, which would also allow the candidates to address voters unfiltered and keep journalists on the sidelines, where they belong.

As Eric Boehlert over at Media Matters writes,

By smartly swatting down ABC's proposal, the message seemed clear: The campaigns want to get the media off the stage. Journalists are not the collective third candidate in this election, although at times it's obvious they consider themselves to be just as important as political leaders. That runaway narcissism has severely damaged the craft, and the campaigns have wisely decided to give the press a time-out.

Oh snap.

I guess Obama and McCain learned the lessons of press failure 101 in baring witness to the massacring of Hillary Clinton. Smart move.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Fall and Rise of Hillary Clinton.

Cross posted at Mydd.

I apologize in advance, there will not be a lot of original thought in this diary.  But I just read an incredible article in New York magazine about HRC and the primary and had to share.  It is a very interesting, intimate and in my opinion poignant look at the candidate.  Oh and the pictures are awesome!

Below are some of my favourite bits:

What strikes me as inarguable is that Hillary is today a more resonant, consequential, and potent figure than she has ever been before. No longer merely a political persona, she has been elevated to a rarefied plane in our cultural consciousness. With her back against the wall, she both found her groove and let loose her raging id, turning herself into a character at once awful and wonderful, confounding and inspiring--thus enlarging herself to the point where she became iconic. She is bigger now than any woman in the country. Certainly, she is bigger than her husband. And although in the end she may wind up being dwarfed by Obama, for the moment she is something he is not: fully, poignantly human.

It was Clinton's lack of faith in her political chops that caused her to be so deeply reliant on her chief strategist, Mark Penn. Penn, after all, had helped her win her Senate seat in 2000 when many said that it was impossible, just as he'd aided her husband in securing reelection in 1996 in less-than-promising circumstances. Penn was convinced that Hillary had to run as the candidate of strength; that she should focus relentlessly on her ruggedness and résumé, on her ready-from-day-one-ness. He argued strenuously that the most significant hurdle she would have to surmount was the doubt that a woman was capable of being commander-in-chief. Clinton came to agree, and spent more than a year talking of little else.

Hillary's weaknesses on the stump would have been problematic on their own. But they were exacerbated by the strategy that Penn had concocted for her. It was conventional, safe, inherently conservative, and not obviously wrong. It played to what he and many others, including Bill Clinton, perceived as Hillary's advantages. As the architects of her campaign, they believed they were designing a well-appointed estate in which the candidate would be comfortable--but instead it turned out to be a prison, where the iron bars were the leaden rhetoric of "35 years of experience, "ready to lead," yadda yadda yadda. And although it took Hillary some time to realize that she'd allowed herself to be thus incarcerated, realize it she eventually did. The jailbreak she staged came too late to save her from defeat. But not too late to keep her from emerging as a hell of a politician.

By now, as you'd imagine, Hillary's staff has grown accustomed to outbursts from WJC exquisitely timed to wreak maximum havoc with HRC's plans. But when I wander backstage, I find her people in a blue funk. "It's the last day of his wife's campaign, and he couldn't keep a lid on his emotions for her sake," says one aide. "How much more narcissistic can you get?" I ask how Hillary will handle it. "She used to get upset, but at this point, it's been so bad for so long, I think her attitude is, like, Whatever."

Would that be enough for Hillary? It's possible--but not likely. It's now 36 years since Clinton, while she was working in Texas on George McGovern's campaign, was told by her husband's future chief of staff, Betsey Wright, that she might have what it took to be the country's first female president. Dreams held that long are dreams that die hard, especially if they're held as fiercely and tenaciously as Hillary has always held the ambitions that propel her forward. The endless, brutal, wrenching campaign of 2008 would have wrecked a lesser woman. Hillary tells me she feels just fine: "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Spoken like a true Clinton.

Maybe I don't get out much - but I found this piece to be incredibly revealing.  Thoughts?