It's narrative all the way down: Do voters maintain an invidious double standard in the case of female candidates?
It's a very important question. That's especially true right now, as talent begins to emerge from all the demographic branches of the Democratic Party.
That said, how well does the New York Times do with that important question today? Is the paper presenting a careful analysis, or is it running a familiar type of report? Is it narrative all the way down?
This morning, on the paper's front page, Maggie Astor devotes 1800 words to the important topic. Before long, though, Astor is writing this:
ASTOR (2/12/19): How much sexism ultimately influences votes is a matter of debate...Might we note a problem here? Astor seems to be discussing the way voters react to female candidates in sexist ways. But in her first two examples, she describes the conduct, appropriate or otherwise, of two mainstream reporters—two members of her own guild.
What is not a matter of debate is the array of ways that sexism can manifest on the campaign trail, affecting not only how voters perceive candidates but how candidates present themselves to voters.
The likability trap
The very first question of Ms. Gillibrand's campaign was about her likability. ''A lot of people see you as pretty likable,'' a reporter told her. Did she consider that a ''selling point''?
Ms. Warren's evaluation arrived with similar speed, in a Politico article that asked how she could ''avoid a Clinton redux—written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground.''
As we've noted over the years, our journalists routinely do this sort of thing. In earlier campaigns, journalists routinely attributed their own braindead attacks on certain disfavored candidates to "late night comedians." In this instance, Astor describes the conduct of two reporters, but seems to be sliming the voters as she does.
Our journalists routinely find ways to attribute their own guild's behavior to someone else! Three paragraphs later, Astor's slip-slide continues:
ASTOR: Women also tend to be viewed as unlikable based on their ambition. Harvard researchers found in 2010 that voters regarded ''power-seeking'' women with contempt and anger, but saw power-seeking men as stronger and more competent. There is often some implication of unscrupulousness in descriptions of female candidates as ''ambitious''—an adjective that could apply to any person running for president but is rarely used to disparage men. Within 24 hours of Ms. Harris's campaign kickoff, some critics were bringing up her onetime relationship with a powerful California politician, Willie Brown—a common tactic faced by women that sexualizes them and reduces their successes to a relationship with a man.In that passage, Astor describes a research finding that is specific to the reactions of voters. Meanwhile, were "some critics" bringing up Harris' past relationship with Brown?
We challenged that stupid critique ourselves, but those "critics" weren't American voters. Instead, they were the eternal flyweights of Astor's own upper-end press corps!
Meanwhile, the notion that male candidates aren't criticized, by journalists, for being unlikable or ambitious is utterly absurd. Disfavored male pols have been battered that way, within the press, for a great many cycles now.
During the twenty months of Campaign 2000, mainstream reporters and pundits generated and promulgated endless scripts about the way Candidate Gore had allegedly been running for president since he was 6 years old. In line with prevailing press corps preferences, reporters and pundits said, again and again, that Gore "would so and say anything" to become president.
In September 2000, Chris Matthews formally apologized for having said, for more than a year, that Gore "would lick the bathroom floor" in order to reach the White House. Matthews was apologizing because Gore had shot ahead in the polls and seemed on the way to a win. But Gore had been trashed for his alleged ambition for quite a few years at that point. Disfavored male candidates are trashed by journalists, all the time, for allegedly being too ambitious and/or not likable enough.
Astor summarizes some studies which claim to demonstrate the differential ways voters react to female candidates. That's a very important topic, but she handles those studies in the flimsy way familiar to reporters who are simply advancing a Favored Press Corps Narrative.
Meanwhile, she complains about all sorts of conduct which afflict male and female candidates alike. Consider the types of bellyaching found in this pointless passage:
ASTOR: Perhaps the most obvious way female candidates are judged differently is on their appearance: not only how ''attractive'' they are and how they dress, researchers say, but also their facial expressions, their body language and their voice. Accused in 2015 of ''shouting'' about gun violence, Mrs. Clinton responded: ''First of all, I'm not shouting. It's just when women talk, some people think we're shouting.''We hate to provide the buzzkill here, but Rep. Dean is hardly the first candidate to receive such advice about body language. Stating the obvious, male candidates are routinely coached, and judged, in all those ways as well.
Women are conscious that small elements of how they present themselves are subject to scrutiny. Representative Madeleine Dean—one of four Democratic women elected to the House last year from Pennsylvania, whose congressional delegation was previously all-male—said an aide would stand in the back of the room during her campaign events, holding up a cardboard sign with a smiley face to remind her to shift the serious expression she naturally wore while listening to voters.
She was also coached, ''though I did not take his coaching, not to cross my arms in front of myself because then you look mad,'' Ms. Dean said.
Meanwhile, how about the way Candidate Hillary Clinton was criticized for "shouting?" As everyone but the youthful Astor recalls, Candidate Howard Dean was almost driven from the 2004 for an alleged shouting incident after the Iowa caucuses. Five years earlier, when he made his formal announcement speech. Candidate Gore was savaged all across the pundit corps for the way he had allegedly shouted during his speech—but only after that strange criticism of the mild speech emerged from a spokeswoman for the RNC.
When the complaint emerged, the children stampeded, as their sub-rational souls are always eager to do. Here was the terrible Lady Collins, right in Astor's own newspaper, though Astor, 8 or 9 at the time, may not fully remember:
COLLINS (6/21/99): Al Gore has been trying to be more exciting on the stump—trying so hard that if he keeps it up, he'll rupture his vocal cords before the New Hampshire primary.Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Meanwhile, children are dead all over Iraq because people like Collins behaved this way all through the 2000 campaign.
The new Al Gore yells quite a lot. Caught between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, two natural campaigners, the Vice President is trying to make up in decibels what he lacks in spontaneity. ''I am not satisfied! INDEED I AM RESTLESS!'' he cried in New York, announcing his candidacy for President with a list of promises about what he would do to move the country TOWARD AMERICA'S NEW HORIZONS, a goal that will involve eliminating EVERY LAST DIME OF WASTE, fighting GLOBAL WARMING and making our public schools THE FINEST AND BEST IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.
This is our fault. We have been carping about how boring Al Gore is, and the poor man is all but howling at the moon in an effort to sound more compelling. We are being forced to watch him go through an enormous effort to look effortless, and it is as discomfiting as looking at the underside of a swan swimming on the lake. Voters are not going to elect a President who makes them feel like nervous parents at the second-grade class play. Mr. Gore has to give up this futile attempt to become Kennedyesque and embrace the boredom.
Let Gore be Gore! Where is it written that the American people want a fun guy for President? Most of our chief executives were not people you would necessarily want to pal around with. No one ever accused George Washington of being the life of the party. ''Today I dined with the president, and as usual the company was as grave as if at a funeral,'' reported one of his supporters.
Certainly it is a disadvantage to have to campaign in the age of mass media when the only TV star you resemble is Howdy Doody...
("Even his hair looked less stiff," Collins went on to say in her column, thinking about an earlier appearance when Gore wasn't yelling so much. In the passage posted above, you'll note that she's correctly blaming the press corps for saying that Gore wasn't sufficiently fun—that he wasn't likable enough.)
In fairness, it wasn't just Collins. Everybody shouted the claim about Gore's alleged shouting once the RNC put the claim in play. On CNN’s Capital Gang, Margaret Carlson called Gore a "flailing, shouting person." On that same show, Al Hunt and Robert Novak also complained that Gore had "shouted" when he delivered his speech.
"The shouting is terrible," Novak declared. But then, by time of the weekend shows, pundits were widely complaining about the way Gore allegedly shouted and yelled as he made his announcement—a complaint which is stunningly hard to sustain if a person simply views the tape of the rather tepid speech.
On The McLaughlin Group, the Chicago Tribune’s James Warren called the speech "a little bit screechy, a little bit loud;" he compared Gore to a "Baptist minister on amphetamines." Two days later, the Collins column appeared. In the next campaign, Candidate Dean was widely mugged for his own shouting, which seemed to have been electronically enhanced.
To what extent are female candidate treated differently by voters? With impressive talent arising from female pols in the Democratic Party, it's a very important question—but the New York Times tends to run on narrative all the way down.
On its front page, it will tend to blame the press corps' conduct on voters. It will mug and clown and gambol and play, and it will hand you Pure Script.
"Man [sic] is the rational animal," Aristotle is said to have said. In fact, we humans are the plainly sub-rational animal which routinely runs on the rocket fuel of novelized tribal script.
Such script is the typical meat of the Times, our laziest, dumbest newspaper. In fairness to Aristotle, he'd never read the New York Times and possibly couldn't imagine its lazy, script-driven work.
Tomorrow: This second front-page report
Try to believe that a journalist said it: Here is Astor, with a remarkable post on journalistic method:
"Speaking of men, I don't quote any of them in my latest article, an in-depth look at the double standards women running for president face"
These journalistic kids today! And no, we aren't making this up.