Seven weeks into 2019, we already know the media didn't learn 2016's lesson about sexism
This, so much this: "How sexist will the media’s treatment of female candidates be? Rule out ‘not at all.’" It’s only seven weeks into 2019, and already the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan has plenty of examples of how nothing burger stories that would play as nothing burgers if they involved male candidates are big deals when the candidate in question is a woman. Sen. Kamala Harris and her hot sauce or her taste in music or her romantic past. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and her fried chicken. For that matter, even the question of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry is, as Sullivan writes, “a real blunder, to be sure, but not the career-ending one it’s often portrayed as”—and it’s not hard to name bigger issues in the pasts of male candidates or prospective candidates that somehow haven’t gotten a fraction the attention.
As media consultant and former journalist Heidi Moore told Sullivan, “We see in coverage of women lawmakers that even minor flaws are treated as disqualifying, while men’s flaws get brief attention but are glossed over as a case of ‘nobody’s perfect.’” Let’s have another amen. And when Sullivan writes that “it’s harder—theoretically, at least—to say, ‘Sure, I’d love to vote for a woman, just not THAT woman,’ when there are a half dozen female candidates to choose from” … well, that “theoretically, at least” is doing a lot of work. Or maybe it’s that there are men out there doing a lot of work to keep the “just not that woman” claim alive.
It’s worth noting that Sullivan was the public editor at the New York Times until early 2016, so it has extra resonance when she points to that paper’s 2016 coverage, and to politics editor Patrick Healy’s recent claim that “I don't think we applied double standards to Clinton.” Sullivan’s response? To quote media critic Jay Rosen quoting political scientist Norman Ornstein: “A balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.” Unfortunately, what we get from the media these days is all too often one step worse, and we have nearly two years (or maybe more!) of watching that in action as it relates to women running for president.