Friday, February 08, 2008

Enough with sexist Hillary-bashing (Lois Dubin)

Whichever candidate one supports in the Democratic presidential contest (or the Republican, for that matter), it is simply undeniable that Hillary Clinton has been getting disproportionately negative coverage and commentary from the press, the pundits, and the blogosphere all though the campaign (for reasons that are no doubt complex) ... and that a substantial portion of this pervasive Hillary-bashing has had blatantly sexist and misogynistic overtones.

(The fact that it sometimes comes from women doesn't change matters, any more than, say, a public allusion to Obama's youthful cocaine automatically loses any possible racial overtones if it comes from an African-American.)

Even people who aren't especially passionate fans of Hillary Clinton, like Glenn Greenwald or Katha Pollitt (who supports Obama) or Ezra Klein, have occasionally gotten exasperated about all this (and for some slightly more heated reactions see here and here and here). But, on the whole, there hasn't been that much public discussion of it, and there has been too much willingness to just give it a pass.

MSNBC News, to take just one example, has been notoriously unsubtle in its persistent anti-Hillary bias, livened from time to time by unambiguously sexist remarks from chief blowhard Chris Matthews. Greg Sargent at TPM asked a few days ago: "What will make MSNBC -- and like-minded colleagues -- stop with this stuff? At this point, multiple journalistic worthies have pleaded for sanity. Brokaw did this just last night." Maybe, Sargent added yesterday, it will occur to them that Chris Matthews's buffoonery is actually helping Clinton by "driving women into the Hillary camp"?

Yesterday MSNBC seems to have gone over the line for some people when another of their talking heads, David Schuster, rather bizarrely suggested that Chelsea Clinton's campaigning on her mother's behalf meant that she was being "pimped out" by the Clinton campaign (video HERE). The Clinton campaign decided to treat this as The Last Straw, and it provided the occasion for a lot of other people who have been getting fed up with this bullshit to say so, too.

One of them is my friend Lois Dubin, who teaches history, religion, and Jewish studies at Smith College. Lois's letter to MSNBC, which she has given me permission to post below, pretty much says it all. Enough is enough. If people oppose Hillary Clinton's candidacy, dislike her politics, or even dislike her personally, fine. But there are ways to do all that while also trying to avoid blatant bias, sexism, misogyny, superficial journalistic groupthink, and Clinton Derangement Syndrome. Get a grip, people!

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Shuster has been "temporarily suspended" and has issued two on-air apologies. His second, more groveling, apology is HERE. By itself, this expiation ritual doesn't matter so much one way or another, and it hardly addresses the main issues, but it does suggest that MSNBC must have gotten a very strong public reaction. I also suspect that some comments about the Shuster affair by Josh Marshall (at TPM) captured part of the background story here:
[...] many have rightly criticized Chris Matthews for his repeatedly degrading, often sexist and consistently clownish comments about Hillary Clinton. The most logical way for me to understand this development is that MSNBC is under a lot of fire for Matthews -- but Matthews is untouchable -- and Shuster's easier to can or suspend.
So Shuster is taking the fall for Matthews and the rest. But he's really no more than a bit player in the larger story.
Protesting Correspondent David Shuster’s referring to Chelsea Clinton’s campaigning for her mother Senator Hillary Clinton as being “pimped out in some weird sort of way”

From Lois Dubin

Dear Mr. Phil Griffin, Mr. Steve Capus, Mr. Keith Olbermann, Mr. Dan Abrams et al.,

In 2004, I became a devoted and enthusiastic viewer of MSNBC, particularly when Keith Olbermann was the only person on TV or major newspapers to call attention to the questions surrounding the Ohio vote and electronic voting more generally. He continued to speak out courageously on Constitutional issues and the many threats to our civil liberties and democracy presented by the Bush administration (aided ably by Jonathan Turley and John Dean.) Keith Olbermann deserves much credit for his loud and courageous voice during these very trying years.

Now, I regret to say that I am truly dismayed by your network's coverage of the Democratic primary. Perhaps Mr. Olbermann's enhanced popularity has gone to his head, or perhaps the lesser Chris Matthews' standards have infected Mr. Olbermann. Chris Matthews shoots his mouth off, often with trivial inanity, often with simple errors, and exceedingly often with misogynist comments worthy of a frat boy. No thanks, MSNBC, we already have a frat boy in the White House. We don't need at least two more on your shows.

The Democratic Party has two intelligent, worthy and exceptional candidates. Each is ground-breaking.

However, your network is relentlessly cheer-leading for Senator Obama and relentlessly denigrating and ridiculing Senator Clinton. Your disappointment when she wins a state's vote is palpable. You have hang-dog deflated looks. Most of your commentary consists of: How is Senator Obama going to beat her? Yes, he can, yes he can, the little engine that could. Give me a break! Cheer-leading is not analysis and you are not providing balanced coverage or analysis.

And now, David Shuster's comments referring to the pimping of Chelsea Clinton are simply the icing on the cake. They are absolutely unacceptable.

I know, he apologized for his use of "slang" this morning. Small crumbs, thanks a lot. It's not merely slang he used. It's language that is profoundly denigrating of all women and of families. If he said anything remotely resembling that about a member of Senator Obama's family, everyone would be shouting: Racism, implications of ghetto gangs, absolutely unacceptable! But, surely it is equally unacceptable to raise specters of whoredom and cynical manipulation because a daughter is campaigning for her mother!!!!! The novelty of this in a Presidential race -- a serious candidate who is a woman and who happens to have a daughter-- seems to be unhinging some people in your organization.

Surely it is not news that family members usually support the members of their family who run for office (notwithstanding the situation with Rudy Giuliani and his grown children, Chris Matthews' last crush). When JFK had every member of his large family campaigning for him, was that a sex ring? When Mitt Romney's family campaigned for him? When middle-aged and older politicians have their young trophy-wives dangling on their arms campaigning for them? When Michelle Obama speaks out about her husband, is she being "pimped"?

To talk in such terms about any of them would be ridiculous and insulting. To talk that way about Chelsea Clinton, an intelligent career woman in her late 20s, is simply disgusting. Do you really think she doesn't support her mom? Do you really think she doesn't want to do everything she can in this campaign? So, why talk about her in sexual and sexualized terms? Why talk about her as if she's a stupid manipulated object or victim who doesn't know her own mind ... as someone who is being controlled by a puppeteer or a predator-pimp? Do you really mean to state that Senator Clinton is a predator-pimp? !! Of her daughter?! Or - of you? What kind of fears and fantasies lurk behind this particular comment of your correspondent and the broader presentation of Senator Clinton on shows such as Hardball and Countdown? Can you ever take women seriously?

Seriously, gentlemen, you'd better get a grip at MSNBC. You are already losing viewers and you'll lose many more if you keep this up. I have no intention of watching programs that portray Senator Clinton as a she-devil with horns or a castrating bitch. - I hope you will pardon my intemperate language. If you were portraying Senator Obama in similarly egregious ways, drawing on racist stereotypes that exist in our culture, I would also tune you out. Neither is acceptable, racism or sexism. Unfortunately your broadcasts send the unfortunate message: we wouldn't want to be seen as racist in any way, but we're open for business when it comes to sexism and misogyny.

Lately, the only voices of reason on your network have been Tom Brokaw--with his occasional cautionary notes--and Dan Abrams--who has called attention to the imbalance in your coverage. Gentlemen, there are good reasons for people to choose to vote for Senator Obama and there are good reasons for people to choose to vote for Senator Clinton. But there is no good reason for your network to be engaged in Hillary-hate-speak 24/7. I know it's hard for a network to fill up all the airtime. If you can't provide more balanced coverage and more intelligent analysis, then please just show some old movies sometimes!

Give us a break from the puerile frat-boy, rat-pack, pile-on mentality. You insult women; you insult all of us; you damage the cause of democracy which we all share.

Regretfully and sincerely yours,
Professor Lois Dubin