"Whiff of sexism" found: Yesterday morning, the New York Times was concerned about Joe Biden's sexism.
Or was it? Frankly, we weren't sure.
Below, you see the way the Times report began. We're including the hard-copy headline, because that's where the piece got its "juice:"
GLUECK AND KAPLAN (11/11/19): In Attacks by Biden, Some Warren Allies Detect a Whiff of SexismSo the report began. According to the headline, it wasn't that Candidate Biden was necessarily displaying sexism.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is “instructing” voters on what to believe. Her policy vision smacks of an “academic exercise.” Her advocacy style is “my way or the highway,” and she has displayed an “elitist attitude.”
In ways overt and subtle, Joseph R. Biden Jr., his campaign and his allies have begun mounting personal attacks on his most formidable rival in the 2020 primary race, portraying her as embracing a rigid, condescending approach that befits a former Harvard professor with an ambitious policy agenda.
It is a politically risky case to make against a leading female candidate, especially to a Democratic primary electorate that has so far signaled little appetite for intraparty warfare. Women historically make up a majority of Democratic primary voters, and for many, memories of attacks against Hillary Clinton in 2016 are still fresh.
The problem was that some supporters of Candidate Warren had detected "a whiff" of the attitude, which upper-end journalists finally turned against within the past few years.
Meanwhile, we were puzzled. What was it about the specific "attacks" Biden had made which had produced this whiff? Based upon those first few paragraphs, we had little idea.
According to Glueck and Kaplan, it was "politically risky" to say such things about "a leading female candidate." Did that mean it would be OK to say that a man had displayed "an elitist attitude" or a "rigid approach?"
Apparently, yes—that would be OK! But what was supposed to turn those claims into "sexist" attacks?
As they started, Glueck and Kaplan had us puzzled. As they continued, though, they semi-quoted Warren herself. They said she'd been "denouncing criticism from 'powerful men' who try to tell women how to behave."
It sounded like Warren was saying that she had detected a whiff of sexism herself! But then the rubber hit the road! The scribes had come up with this:
GLUECK AND KAPLAN: [Biden's] criticism of Ms. Warren troubled some voters who came to see her on the campaign trail over the weekend.So telling! The Times reporters had found two Warren supporters who thought Biden was being sexist! A 21-year-old college student seemed to suggest that Warren wouldn't be criticized for being angry if she were a man.
“I think it’s sexist,” Savannah Johnson, 49, a social worker who supports Ms. Warren and who attended a town hall she held in Goose Creek, S.C., on Saturday, said of Mr. Biden’s criticism.
“I just don’t think that he’d be saying the same thing about a male candidate,” she added. “I think that all strong women kind of get labeled that unfairly.”
Niamh Cahill, 21, a college student who also came to the town hall, said Ms. Warren would not be getting as much grief if she were a male candidate. “Yeah, she’s fired up, she’s angry, but for a good reason,” she said. “There are a lot of things that are wrong in this country.”
Citizens, can we talk? Reporters can run with any theme they want if that's all it takes to trigger journalistic pushback. Only after quoting the two supporters did Glueck and Kaplan begin to explain the nature of Biden's criticism, which he said was triggered in part by Warren's courteous suggestion that Biden should be running for president in the Republican Party.
Out of all this cock and bull emerged the scripted complaint. Continuing, Glueck and Kaplan reported that Biden had continued to criticize Warren’s “attitude” in a way "that struck some voters and political operatives as sexist."
Please don't talk about a female candidate in such an unpleasant way! That said, has any male candidate ever been criticized for being too angry or for having the wrong attitude?
Candidate Howard Dean, come on down! Back in 2004, Howard Dean was the angry candidate—and in a Warren-like manner, he kept saying that he represented "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."
Rightly or wrongly, Candidate Dean was widely assailed for his attitude and for his anger. Here, for example, was Tim Jones, in the Chicago Tribune. Anger-based headline included:
JONES (2/18/04): Howard Dean: Tapping into party's angerCandidate Dean was a male candidate, and he was assailed for his anger. Jones didn't seem to like the anger, or the certitude, much at all:
Howard Dean is seldom more than a few finger wags short of a scold.
Repeal the tax cut, we can't afford it, he argues. Bash China for American job losses if you will, he says, but admit your own complicity. Get angry about health- care costs, but cut down on the fast-food meals and start exercising.
"We go to Wal-Mart and buy all that stuff that's made in China, and then we wonder why our jobs are going someplace else. Think about that," Dean tells supporters in Iowa recently. Then he later adds: " . . . You can't expect to be well and eat 27 gallons of french fries."
Such an odd way to run for president, shunning the cherished campaign tradition that Americans are blameless and embracing the medicinal logic—and the political illogic—that some popular things simply aren't good for you.
That's part of the unorthodox campaign liturgy of Howard Dean, M.D., the former Democratic governor of Vermont, the self-styled populist Rottweiler.
JONES: The fist-waving, finger-jabbing certitude of Howard Brush Dean II—opposing the war in Iraq, urging repeal of the federal tax cut, taking on a then-very popular President Bush—is the signature trait of a man who has tapped into Democratic voter anger and shocked his competition with early success. He is leading his rivals in polls and fundraising, and last week turned down public financing, enabling him to raise and spend as much as he can.This is the picture of Candidate Warren fifteen years later. But just as a matter of simple fact, Dean was widely assailed for his anger and his attitude, even though he was a male!
Dean is on a mission to "take back America." Just ask him. Or just wait a few moments and he'll tell you.
Emerging from the scenic obscurity of Vermont to win the hearts and dollars of Democrats who like their politics served hot, with a couple of sides of outrage, Dean runs on high-octane anger. He rails against "Ken Lay and the boys" at Enron, the "petulance" of Bush, the fossilized Washington retainers and Democrats who are afraid to stand up and be Democrats.
"Give him credit. He really understood that the real Democrats are pissed off at Bush," said Frank Bryan, a University of Vermont political scientist who has known Dean for 20 years.
Eventually, he was said to have shouted too loud at an Iowa rally. Famously, the mainstream press corps landed on him like a ton of bricks.
In our view, Candidate Biden is a terrible candidate; Candidate Warren is too. They're terrible in different ways, but they're terrible candidates both.
Also terrible is the gossipy way the New York Times covers politics. We won't even attempt to discuss this report about the ways other candidates don't like Candidate Buttigieg, the latest offering from the Times' trademarked "mean girls (and mean boys)" school of pseudo-reporting.
The "whiff of sexism" monologues concern a serious topic. As usual, the Times is sidling up to it in the dumbest possible way.
They found a 21-year-old voter who didn't remember the way the allegedly angry male candidate got hammered for his perceived anger when she was only 6. Her complaint let Times reporters run with their preferred "story." Eventually, you pretty much knew that they would succumb to this:
GLUECK AND KAPLAN: Mr. Biden’s attacks, in effect if not intent, include descriptions that some voters and researchers on women and politics see as sexist tropes about female politicians: portraying them as overbearing, schoolmarmish or different from the norm.Biden's "attacks" have that effect if not that intent! Meanwhile, did Biden call Warren a schoolmarm?
Actually no, that was the Times, employing the power of paraphrase—the power to put words the target didn't say into the target's mouth. This practice gives a report more color, and it sticks in the reader's head.
In upper-end press corps circles, it's suddenly cool to pretend to care about this topic. The Times is going to dumb the topic down in the laziest possible way.