Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Notes on Politics: 'Game Change' Caricatures the Women in the 2008 Presidential Election

While the nation's political chattering classes are busy buzzing about Republican Scott Brown's "epic upset" (I've seen this phrase in many news stories) over Democrat Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race to fill the remaining term of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, it's worth taking a step back from the day's news (and the woefully inept Coakley campaign which blew a substantial lead and had once been considered a lock) and looking at how women in and around national politics are treated by the media.

I spent the bulk of last week plowing through the lengthy and riveting expose of the 2008 presidential election, the best selling Game Change, written by two journalists who declined to reveal who they interviewed for their book and who gave them what pieces of information. (That, to me, is problematic from a journalism ethics point of view, but that's grist for another rant on another day.) When I was done reading the book, I was so steamed about how the women were treated that I dedicated my Pop Culture and Politics column to it. With the exception of Michelle Obama, the female spouses of the candidates and the two female candidates -- Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin -- were described in an abysmal, sexist fashion. One had her reactions to bad news stories about her family labeled "hysterical" and another was dismissed as being a "beauty queen" who "flounced" back home after a disagreement with her husband, that's when she wasn't said to be weeping. One woman was depicted as having "hissy fits" and "conniptions," while another was maligned (guess which woman) as "Napoleon in a navy pantsuit and gumball-sized fake pearls."

Adding to my irritation were the cartoonish illustrations which accompanied a Game Change excerpt published in New York Magazine which portrayed Elizabeth Edwards as a monster (in one image, one of her hands was curled up so that her fingers looked like claws as spit came out her mouth), John Edwards' mistress was a smitten flirt and John Edwards himself was shown shouting and then sweating as news of his affair broke. Elizabeth Edwards, by far, came out looking the worst.

After taking this all in, I had to wonder: Were the authors simply relating the viewpoints of the blabber-mouth, disloyal former campaign aides who dished about these women, or were these words selected independently by the reporters and reflect their own opinions? Or, frighteningly, both?

Image credit: Nathan Fox/New York Magazine.

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