How Now, Ol' Man MSM?
A father-daughter smackdown over sexism and the media coverage of Hillary Clinton.
Posted Tuesday, June 17, 2008, at 3:14 PM
Compare that with the stereotyping of blacks—white America wasn't even aware that we could be stereotyped until Richard Pryor and Co. showed up—as a happy-go-lucky servant class or as sexually rapacious predators. Plug these into the history of race that runs across America's history like a scar, and I think it goes a long way to explaining the difference in how the two have been treated. (I also think the Clinton campaign will turn out to have been an influential force in lessening this distinction.)
So, that's where I'm coming from, as you zany, wacky kids with your disco and your cockamamie clothes like to say. You had the first word, but go—have your fun—take the last one, too.
From: Casey Greenfield
To: Jeff Greenfield
Aha, some common ground! You say that the coverage had less impact on the outcome than people think it has. Your emphasis on what you see as a lack of significant causal relationship between sexist coverage and the outcome of the race underscores my point: The outrage here is not that Hillary Clinton lost, but is that she was treated the way she was. Your comment to the Times about our post hoc finger-pointing suggests something else. Whether she lost because she played the delegate-amassing game incorrectly, or whether she lost because jerks said they feared for the family jewels when they saw her face, the point is that the jerks did say those things, and for the most part, they got away with it. It didn't become wrong the day she lost; it became wrong the moment Tucker Carlson said it.
Even if she won nine of the last 15 primaries, despite the snark and bile hurled in her direction, you can't be sure of the impact at the margin (voters who, maybe, voted against her in the races she lost as a result of the outrageous insults by Matthews & Co.). I don't agree that those nine victories stand as proof that the sexist coverage had little to no effect. How can we know what would have happened if the Times (or you) had called out Chris Matthews six months ago?
On the race and sex issues:
You're right that "shine my shoes" and a lawn jockey icon would have been met with denunciations and outcry across the land. But what of, for example, the "Curious George" Obama-as-monkey T-shirt sold by a right-wing crusader in Georgia? Protesters objected to that, sure, but I think you're making the case that this kind of iconography just doesn't find public airing these days. I think that's not true. Our racial history runs not like a scar; it's a jagged, open wound.
The "first husband" comment is silly, and it has no place in a presidential contest, but to dignify these ludicrous comments a bit more, I'll say this: To slur George H.W. Bush as a "first husband" is to call him dull, uncharismatic, behind the times. That's not great, but would it be so terrible to have a first husband in the Oval Office? To call Hillary Clinton—in the specific context of "a look" she gives her male opponent during a debate—a "first wife outside a probate court" is to suggest something far less benign. Greedy, scary, ball-busting (again with the jewels), irrational: not someone who should be president.
You make a good point about the public vocabulary men and women use to generalize about each other and to insult each other, thereby blowing off steam. I think, though, that your take on that is quite optimistic. (Dare I say naive?) The legendary failures of men—to place socks in hampers, to choose sex over the Giants on HDTV, to listen to reason—don't unsettle the assertion that men are in charge, which, for the record, you are. The gender-insult score sheet can't be "roughly equivalent" as long as the world's power imbalances tilt so heavily in the XY direction. As you yourself said, we interpret this stuff through a prism, and words take on distinct meanings when applied to distinct groups. I might be misreading you, but I'm catching notes of, "Say, when do we get White History Month?"
I don't understand why we need to evaluate charges and examples of sexism against charges and examples of racism: Both are wrong, outrageous, and everywhere. And they are different. You've made the point that race and sex are treated differently in the culture—why, then, do we have to pair these two up over and over? See, this is why I was so surprised and angry when Nicholas Kristof suggested Obama give a speech about sexism, a nice bookend to pair with his Philadelphia race speech. This conversation is now "Let's hear what Obama has to say about social ills, even those of which he has no personal experience"? What? We praised Obama for speaking so broadly and deeply about an issue important to the country and to him personally—and he did it under scrutiny during the Rev. Wright crisis. Now he is supposed to speak about ... sexism in the same way? How's that again? What's next, the rights of the differently-abled? Way to condescend, yet again, to Hillary Clinton supporters, by suggesting that all we wanted in this election was a paean to gender equality.
Anyway. Thanks, Dad, for talking with me about this at such length. Here's $5; buy your colleague Katie Couric a latte, on me. Thank her for her statement on this issue, and ask kindly if she'll break it down for a sometimes-bullheaded guy (that's you).
Jeff Greenfield is the senior political correspondent for CBS News.
Photograph of the Hillary nutcracker © 2008 Eagleview USA Inc.