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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sexism versus shoddy journalism and elitism in the stream of Palin invective

I may be in a minority in this. And I'm willing to be educated, or reminded of something I forgot.

But the most blatantly, obviously sexist question I've heard in the last 35 years has been the one put to Sarah Palin or other GOP representatives, to the effect of "Can Sarah Palin really be vice president while being a mother of five, especially a new mother to a special needs child?"

That is indisputably a question that carries an implied criticism, and an implied point of view that is grossly sexist. This is so clear that I've even heard Joe Biden making this point on the morning news shows. (He's not doing that out of sympathy for Gov. Palin, but because the Obama-Biden campaign recognizes they need to completely disassociate themselves from this meme lest it rebound on them.)


Politico.com has a story up which contains many assertions I disagree with, but it includes statements from Clintonistas expressing their agreement that there's been sexism in the media coverage of the Palin nomination. They specifically reference the "can't be mom and VP" meme.

I recall some news coverage of Hillary Clinton that was different from how male candidates are covered. It's pretty rare that news stories about male candidates comment on the color of their clothing or their fashion accessories. There were other ways in which Hillary was mocked, though — for example, her laugh — which I don't think were related to her gender. (That is, a man with a similar laugh might be mocked, too.) And there were a host of criticisms offered about her that were substantive and completely non-sexist in nature, going both to her policies and her character.

To her credit, though, by the Democratic National Convention, she was able to completely turn the tables on those who'd focused on the nonsubstantive things, sexist or otherwise. She did so, for example, by including a Tina Fey clip from Hillary's guest appearance on "Saturday Night Live" that made fun of her laugh as part of her pre-speech video introduction, and by making a joking reference in her speech about the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit."

I actually don't recall any overtly sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton that was so witheringly critical, however, as the "can't be VP 'cause she's a mom" meme which has been directed at Gov. Palin. In other words, I can't think of any way that the sexism directed toward Hillary was either as malicious or as potentially harmful. Is there something I'm forgetting? I'm genuinely interested in my readers' comments on this.


That said: I think it's a mistake to characterize most of what's been objectionable in the MSM's coverage of Sarah Palin as being "sexism" per se. Most of it is just awful, unprincipled, and unethical journalism, but it's of a sort that could be unleashed against a male candidate just as easily. It's also mixed with pretentiousness and elitism, but again, that's a function of Gov. Palin's rural roots and lack of "approved by the 'best' people" credentials rather than her gender.

Best example: The incredible misreporting — journalistic malpractice — in which you had such institutions as ABC News and the New York Times claiming that Sarah Palin had been a member of the Alaska Independence Movement. On the one hand, the very newsworthiness of this story depended on their characterization of the AIP being a fringe party, with a report that it had made noises about Alaska seceding from the United States, and with the strong implication that it was filled with kooks and dangerous radicals. On the other hand, journalistic ethics require that news stories have credible sources — and the sources here were the very same "kooks and dangerous radicals" that they wanted to associate with Gov. Palin. If their premise was correct, these sources were self-disqualifying!

There were videos which supposedly included AIP plans to "infiltrate" the major parties — the "Manchurian Candidate" meme — which conspiracy theorists spun into an explanation for why Sarah Palin ran for governor as a Republican. But did Jake Tapper or anyone from ABC News, or Elisabeth Bumiller or anyone from the New York Times, ever stop for one moment to think that through? If Sarah Palin were a mole, a Manchurian Candidate designed to promote Alaska's secession, what possible interest could she or the AIP have in her leaving the Alaska Governor's Mansion and her position as Commander-in-Chief of the Alaska National Guard? Why would she do that in order to move to Washington and take a job where her only voting power is in case of a tie in the Senate? It just makes no sense.

Worst of all, voter registrations are matters of public record in Alaska. The McCain campaign had no trouble at all producing a computer printout from the voter registration database which conclusively proved that Gov. Palin has been a registered Republican continuously since 1982, which under state law negates the possibility that she could have been a member of the AIP or any other party during those same years.

Jake Tapper, Elisabeth Bumiller, their editors, and everyone working with either of them or under their direction on these particular pieces of reporting (and I use that term very loosely) should immediately be fired for publishing this nonsense without checking into it. It is inexcusable. It is gross journalistic malpractice. It should end their careers as journalists.

But what they did is not "sexist."


A distinction: I do think that the intensity of the anti-Palin reaction has Gov. Palin's gender as part of its cause, but it's not traditional sexism at work. It's desperation and fear: Obama supporters, the Hard Left, and the sympathetic left-leaning journalists recognize that part of the danger Sarah Palin presents to them is that she is so obviously not another dull white male. But that's not based on a perception that women are inferior; to the contrary, it's based on their concern that she'll be a superior, effective candidate who they have to discredit immediately.

And most of the challenges to Gov. Palin's experience aren't sexist, either. If Barack Obama had picked Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia, for example — who also has a background as a local elected official before becoming a governor, and whose tenure as governor is no longer than Gov. Palin's — he eventually would have been challenged on his record too. We and Gov. Palin should welcome those challenges, because every one of them give us a chance to talk about accomplishments. And it's in accomplishments, as a reformer and an effective executive (both as mayor and especially as governor), where Gov. Palin's record is stronger than her calender tenure would suggest. (Tim Kaine, for example, although popular, can't come remotely close to matching Gov. Palin's accomplishments.)

I do think that Gov. Palin and the McCain campaign, and their sympathizers (including bloggers like me), should continue to hold the press accountable. When they repackage, without serious thought or any even the semblance of a prudent, independent investigation, the allegations that are fed to them by sources like the Daily Kos, they need to be exposed and chastised.

But I think we should avoid using the "sexist" label when it doesn't really fit. Gov. Palin is not, by nature, a "victim." Let's not cast her as one, at least not as one that has to do with her gender when it's not her gender that's the basis for the unfair attacks. She damn sure is not asking for special consideration on account of having two X-chromosomes.


Last point: Howard Kurtz, media critic for the Washington Post: You have earned a reputation, despite occasional lapses, for integrity. You stand on the brink of forfeiting that entire reputation. Let me say this clearly, Mr. Kurtz: When a campaign denies a scandalous, outrageous, unsourced rumor, that does not grant you a license to throw your journalistic ethics in the trash and immediately put the rumor into your newspaper. If that were the standard, then no campaign could ever deny the most outrageous, unproven, harmful statements without thereby guaranteeing that you'd print them. You might as well just take bribes, if that's the way you're going to practice journalism. Repent, Mr. Kurtz, and make amends, while you have a shred of your reputation left to you.

Posted by Beldar at 07:41 AM in 2008 Election, Mainstream Media, McCain, Obama, Palin, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Sexism versus shoddy journalism and elitism in the stream of Palin invective and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) Stan made the following comment | Sep 4, 2008 9:07:25 AM | Permalink

Palin was savaged because she is a conservative woman just as Clarence Thomas has always been savaged because he is a black conservative. Some of the savaging played to sexist stereotype. Some of the savaging of Thomas played to racist stereotype.

The Left was (is/will be)throwing everything it can in a vicious effort to punish and harm her. No one should be surprised. They are always vicious in their attacks on effective conservatives (Reagan, Gingrich, W, Cheney, Thomas).

That the MSM is stupid, ignorant, shoddy, and elitist it its efforts to help the Left is also no surprise. Just one more chapter in a long, long book.

(2) stan made the following comment | Sep 4, 2008 9:15:31 AM | Permalink

Big Lizard has a very good take on this.

(3) stan made the following comment | Sep 4, 2008 10:34:08 AM | Permalink

As does this note at NRO.

(4) A.W. made the following comment | Sep 4, 2008 12:27:22 PM | Permalink

I think the mistake we can fall into is thinking this all gets separated out.

The fact is often bigotry and hatreds mix and interact. That is, the stereotypes an Asian man and an Asian woman face are completely different. So Michelle Malkin gets hate mail that almost invariably goes to liking her to a whore. Get it? Asian woman = whore. You would see a whole different set of hatred, if her name was Michael Malkin.

So is her differing treatment Sexism or partisanship? Both. Its that joyful intersection of identity politics which too much of this election has been about. Take abortion, for instance. If she was a man, she would be seen as another pig who wants to impose problems on women that they cannot live with. Since she is a woman, she is seen as a traitor. The hidden assumption is that women must support choice. Period. But by that theory, the sexism and the partisanship are bound up together.

And there is a general feeling that if you don’t march in lock-step with the liberals, that then you forfeit the right to any fairness at all. I once saw a liberal make fun of a man for having a handicap, calling him a cripple. When I called him on it, his view was as a conservative the handicapped man was so evil that he could be evil, rude and just plain uncivil in return. “So if he was black and conservative you would call him a n-----?” The answer, surprisingly, was yes.

And that feeds into frankly the Maoist influence over the modern left. That is not to say every lefty is a communist or something. But a lot admired and adopted maoist attitudes and tactics, on many subjects. Mao was partisan above everything else. It was always party before principle, something the left adheres to a lot today.

I mean, I thought the left believed in privacy. Oh, no, not for republicans. I thought they believed in supporting single motherhood. Again, not for republicans. I thought they told us women could have it all—career and family. Again, not for republicans. I thought they didn’t like police brutality, and therefore would support firing a trooper who beat his wife, and threatened to kill another person. Again, not if republicans are involved. And we saw just as much of this during the Clinton era. They trashed laws against sexual harassment, engaged in the sleazy defense of “nuts and sluts.” And NOW sat silent the entire time.

As I said, party before principle is the real rule.

(5) Milhouse made the following comment | Sep 4, 2008 3:02:56 PM | Permalink

Beldar, I still don't understand how her being registered as a Republican proves that she wasn't a member of the AIP. Mind you, I'm not claiming that she was one; she denies it, and I see no grounds on which to call her a liar. I'm perfectly willing to take her word for it, but how do the records prove it?

You say "state law negates the possibility", but how does it do so? Is it actually illegal in Alaska for people to join a party other than the one on their voter registration? Is it illegal for parties to admit members who are registered with a different party? Or are state officials supposed to go through the membership rolls of the various parties, and change the voter registration of anyone who is found to be a member of one party while registered with another? Further, if there is such a law, is there any evidence that it's enforced in any meaningful way?

I also still don't quite get what the fuss is about, even if she had been an AIP member. The AIP is part of the Alaskan political scene, it's a perfectly respectable party, and it can't be illegitimate for someone to join it. It would be slightly odd for a candidate of one party to have once been a member of another, but it does happen from time to time, and I wonder whether the same fuss would be made had it been the Democratic Party that she was alleged to have joined. I also don't see why it's at all noteworthy that her husband was registered with a non-Republican party.

(6) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Sep 4, 2008 7:41:48 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Milhouse is right, all the election records prove is that Palin did not vote as an AIP voter. Alger Hiss was a registered Democrat for years even while he sold out his country to the Communists. As for being Veep v. Governor, that's easy: of course AIP would want her in DC, placing AIP's agents in high places with the Feds as Veep, meanwhile instructing her in the mysteries of forensic toxicology as a prelude to bumping off McC. Do I believe that Palin is a Manchurian candidate? Saying yes would merely unleash a tidal wave of facetiousness, and I've already done enough of that here...

Should the AIP actually want to secede, they will follow what Hawaii is doing, namely set up a separate government based on blood descent from the original inhabitants. That route, after enough law review articles, can supplant the feds, to the chorus of "RACIST!! REPARATIONS!! YOU'RE ALL GUILTY!!! YOU OWE US!!!" The New York TIMES and its last 837 subscribers will solemnly nod and vie for an advance copy of Congress's latest groveling apology/indemnity. There's that dam facetiousness again...

Howie Kurtz is not about to be shamed by you or anyone else. Anyone who can cover the media beat for the Washington POST, while simultaneously hosting a show on the press for CNN has conflicts. How to manage the conflicts? Simple, say as little as you can get away with about either of your employers. He's not about to shamed by you or anyone else. A big ruckus might do the job, a Force 12 blogstorm, but nothing less will.

So far as sexism, Hillary. v. Sarah, I think we'd be less prone to notice any heaved Hillary's way. A) she's been around for years, and is a scoundrel of the first chop, so our perceptions have been dulled. B) Palin is a fresh victim for the press, and of course has the all-important (R) after her name. C) Hillary had an only child who is an adult in 2008. Palin has five kids, one a nursing infant. Do not underestimate the revulsion large families stimulate in the press. Not green. Pope Al would not approve.

I think you are bang right on trying to keep the debate on the "achievements" ground. It is both Palin's and McC's strong point.

For Milhouse: The reason law enforcement might be interested in Todd Palin's membership is the middle name of the party: Independence. The American Civil War settled that states are not going secede from the Union without violence. Fantastic? Remember, a fringe independence party of Puerto Rico sent a couple of hit men to murder Harry Truman in 1950. They succeeded in bumping off a cop and one of Harry's security detail. Characteristically in those days, they got the death penalty. Equally characteristically, Harry commuted their sentence to life imprisonment. Most characteristic of all, the Bumpkin pardoned them in 1979. I'm not the only facetious one in this world, I guess. So people who belong to "independence" parties are going to earn interested looks from the FBI at least. Is Todd a secret assassin? Only to SLATE, Sullivan, & Co.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(7) Milhouse made the following comment | Sep 5, 2008 1:43:53 AM | Permalink

Gregory, if the elected government of Alaska were to hold a referendum, and the people of Alaska were to vote for independence, do you really think any USA president in the 21st century would go to war over it, as Lincoln did? Those days are over. It would simply not be acceptable today to keep a state in the union by force.

The AIP is not illegal, it's an entrenched part of the landscape of Alaskan politics, just like the Scottish Nationalist Party in Scotland. And it is illegal for law enforcement to take a special interest in someone merely for being an AIP member.

(8) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Sep 5, 2008 9:54:49 AM | Permalink

Dear Milhouse: We disagree. I think if Alaska voted to secede and could not be bullied, the Feds in the end would use force. Forget principle: Alaska is far too strategically important to be let go. So far as "these days are over" tell that to the Southern states who tried to stop civil rights enforcement. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson: all sent in federalized troops to suppress actions that had the support of a majority of the white citizens, who in those days ruled the show. The white citizens were wrong to do what they did, but standing on their principles got them soldiers with bayonets. So, too, today. Let the stakes be high enough, and the tanks will roll.

Quiz time: you write:

"And it is illegal for law enforcement to take a special interest in someone merely for being an AIP member."

What section of the United States Code makes it illegal? Not Milhouse's belief (which I add, is a noble belief that I share) nor Gregory's, but actual federal or state law, in writing, not repealed. While you are looking, you might glance at Title 18, section 983 of the United States Code. This beauty gives the feds the right to seize your property on the notion that it is tied in with drug crimes. Want it back? 18 USC 983 tells you what you must do to prove your innocence and get it back. If this sounds vaguely unfair to you, you'll never be a lawyer, who can a)condescendingly tell you how it follows all the proper procedures and b) has never had to fight such an action to get HIS property back. This is but one example of powers the feds have that the laity might cry in horror, "That's illegal!"---but are not. It isn't casual malice that creates these powers, though never underestimate the smug certainty of too many officers of the law that they're all right, but genuine problems, demanding actions. Is the cure worse than the disease?. There isn't enough paper in the universe to settle that question.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(9) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 5, 2008 12:11:07 PM | Permalink

Milhouse: I agree it's not particularly noteworthy if Gov. Palin (as opposed to her husband) had been a member of the AIP unless you accept as your premise that they're kooks and radicals, which as you point out, is a questionable premise. I don't know how their party rules define "party membership," but for legal purposes, in states like Alaska, "party membership" is what entitles you to vote in their (semi-closed) party primaries, and without it, you can't. And state law defines party membership in terms of how you're registered with the state, not what the rolls of the party say. It's about voting, not about beliefs or sympathies. Sarah Palin has never been able to vote in any but GOP primaries since 1982. As the state law contemplates the existence of "parties," which is for purposes of having primaries and then having their party affiliations listed on the general election ballots, she has been a Republican, and nothing but a Republican.

If the press reports had said "She's a registered Republican for purposes of state law, and that's her exclusive party membership legally, but she's a double-secret undercover quote-unquote "member" (not by legal standards) of the Alaska Independence Party," then we could have inquired about that allegation, and it wouldn't have been conclusively disproven by the state registrar's party registration records. But that's not what they said at all. And given what they said, the only natural, logical interpretation is that they meant "party member" for purposes of voting, since that's most of what political parties are all about.

What Bumiller and Tapper published was a falsehood; since it was inconsistent with what Gov. Palin was contending, it was damaging to her reputation; and since they didn't even check the government records which would have conclusively proved or disproved what they were alleging, I believe they were acting in reckless disregard of the truth, such that were she so minded (which I doubt she is), Gov. Palin could recover against the NYT and ABC News for defamation notwithstanding the "actual malice" standard of NYT v. Sullivan.

(10) Neo made the following comment | Sep 5, 2008 12:55:08 PM | Permalink

I really don't know why Barry continues with the charade of running for POTUS. I mean, how could be possibly take on the duties of the office when wo many people just can't live without him.

(11) Milhouse made the following comment | Sep 7, 2008 8:59:53 PM | Permalink

Gregory, the law that prevents law enforcement from taking an interest in someone merely because of their party affiliation is the First Amendment. I can't cite you the US Code, but I seem to recall that there were plenty of court cases in the '60s and '70s establishing that the mere exercise of a first-amendment-protected activity cannot trigger police surveillance, because it would have a chilling effect.

(12) Golodh made the following comment | Oct 30, 2008 4:01:20 AM | Permalink

Well, I don't care a hoot about Governor Palin's gender, family situation, or wardrobe.

What I do care about is whether or not she has anything up-top that might qualify her for the office of VP or President in case McCain suddenly retires for lack of a pulse.

And that's where I'm convinced that "the media" have it absolutely right: Governor Palin is a complete and utter neophyte when it comes to existing policy. And a "people politician" who doesn't know and doesn't care about issues or details.

Just think of the Couric interview. Those gaffes were 100% of her own making. They honestly showed her as she is. Ignorant.

But there are worse things than ignorance. Suppose we elect someone as VP who has to spend a year or so on a national politics-101. Is she capable of absorbing all that brand-new information? Will she have the stamina to finish the course?

Her track record as mayor of Wichita and Governor of Alaska definitely suggests otherwise.

In Wichita she even had to hire a "city manager" to handle those aspects of being a mayor that she was not up to. And she left Wichita embroiled in lawsuits, the town wrecked by incoherent and opportunistic development, and with a white-elephant sports center (4 miles outside of town) that's left a hole in the budget and is under-used.

Not to mention her appropriation of road-maintenance funds for decoration of her office.

And then her "accomplishments" as Governor of Alaska. She got money from the feds to build that "bridge to nowhere" (she was in favor), then turned round when she had the money, decided that Alaska could do without that idiotic scheme, cancelled the bridge, and spend it on something else. How's that for a "mavericky" anti-pork politician eh? But that seems to be her level of honesty.

Then her much-vaunted "I take on the old-boys network" stance to get the Alaskan natural gas pipeline built. A project that has been deliberately stonewalled by the oil industry for decades.

Sure enough, the pipeline project made more headway in the past two years with her pushing it than in the past twenty. I'll give her that much. Even if it's much more expensive than it needs to be, and is being build by a Canadian company. But when is that pipeline going to carry any natural gas? That gas belongs to the oil companies, and will only be made available with their agreement. Is there any such agreement? No. Is it likely that there will be an agreement? No. Unless the oil companies get a lot of concessions on price, delivery, and shipment. Meaning: if they can build liquefaction plants and ship the gas right out of Alaska to the world market where it may fetch a better price. Or simply left in the soil where it steadily accretes value. And that's the highlight of her Governatorial career.

When you compare Governor Palin with e.g. Governor Schwarzenegger, you will see that Arnold has an honest dedication to duty, a lively curiosity, firm convictions but respect for other opinions, a focus on issues instead of people or image, a willingness to talk to lots of people and sift through their words, an eye for detail where needed, and a memory like a cast-iron pot.

Now compare that to Governor Palin. Dogmatic. Unwilling to listen. Religious extremist. Out to promote herself. Ignorant and proud of it.

Doesn't know even know about the issues in her own state. Seems to think that drilling for a few percents of oil in the Arctic preserves is worth it when we have billions of barrels in oil-shale reserves lying around in Colorado. All it takes is to boost the extraction process. Not to mention maximizing alternative energy sources like wind and nuclear. But not a peep about that from Palin. Our so-called "expert" on energy policy.

That's what counts for me. Her (in)competence.

Not free-floating speculations about "they savage her because she;s a woman", "they dislike conservatives", "this is a plot to get her by the mainstream media". If the mainstream media all seem against her then that's because they all see the same thing: a vapid mouthpiece that can't even be trusted to mouth the lines her handlers give her.

If expecting a bare minimum of substance from a candidate is "elitist" then I'm "elitist" too. If it were a good idea to pick a "folksy" individual to be Commander in Chief, then how come we don't select our generals from the ranks?

Governor Palin is dangerous as a White-House candidate. Dangerous because of her ignorance, her incompetence, her narrow-mindedness, her prejudice, and because of her ability to get people cheering for her who know even less than she about what she's talking about.

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