I've written a number of times about journalists citing "some people say," "some people think" and "it's been said" as support for their supposedly objective reporting. What was once a desire to protect important sources has deteriorated into a sign of journalistic laziness. When reporters covering presidential politics employ words they fully know will disparage female candidates -- or when they purport to discern dishonesty by examining candidates' facial expressions -- they are taking journalistic prerogative another step too far.
"Women are tested in ways that men are not," Senator Diane Feinstein recently observed about Hillary Clinton. It will be harder for a woman to win the presidency in 2016 than for a man and, Feinstein says, Secretary Clinton knows this. Clinton has been the target of facile, disparaging labels and categories -- ones that enter the general lexicon like lice on a host, becoming firmly attached to women unless people recognize and reject their misuse.
In 2008 CNN's Gloria Borger wrote the following about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
But there is no joy in Hillaryville. In its place are anger (at the press, for being soft on Barack Obama), angst (at losing 11 straight contests), and apoplexy (at Obama, for daring to challenge a nomination that was supposed to have been wrapped up by now).
And so there is frost, not sun, in the Clinton campaign
The first line -- using the words "anger," "angst" and "apoplexy" -- is gratuitous, gender baiting alliteration. "Frost" used to describe Clinton's campaign was not idly chosen. We're all familiar with the ice queen image and other versions of coldness attributed to competent, assertive women.
Then there are Borger's "multiple faces" insults fanning the flames of the distrust theme promulgated by Clinton's detractors:
Multiple faces. But presidential choices are intensely personal. And so the Clinton campaign has decided to play a game of the blind man and the elephant: Present the multiple faces of Hillary, as if somehow each identity might attract a voter. Call it microtargeting her persona. Too bad the result of the groupthink often morphs into caricature. One moment, it's a scold ("Shame on you, Barack Obama"); the next, fuzzy praise ("honored to be here with Barack Obama"). And at the Ohio debate, Clinton seemed more whiny than presidential when she brought up a recent TV skit about journalists falling in love with Obama. "Well, can I just point out that in the last several debates I seem to get the first question," Clinton complained, wearing a false smile.
A "false smile" can be a tight smile, an unfinished smile, a sign of politeness or simply a means of dealing with difficult situations without anger. "Scold" is another loaded word, to say nothing of "whiny." This is how Borger and others like her surreptitiously attempt to poison Hillary's well.
In an April interview with former Commerce Secretary and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Borger did it again: "You know she comes with baggage. There are negative perceptions about the Clintons as paranoid, too protected, even arrogant." A woman who refrains from standing her ground on important issues is seen as lacking leadership potential. One who speaks affirmatively, risks being seen as difficult, arrogant -- a loose canon. Borger knows this. Such reliance on denigrating labels is cheap, shabby, sleight of hand "journalism."
If we ever hope to see a female shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling of the U.S. presidency, and give our daughters the same chance as our sons have had to lead our country, we must reject efforts to slither into the "news" the easy, derogatory categories so often applied to women in the workplace.
Hillary Clinton is not perfect. If there is a shield" around her, it's been constructed because any woman who gets ahead in her career knows that being one of the guys doesn't work. There is much about Secretary Clinton we don't know. Her communication style is occasionally stilted. But there is much we don't need to know of any candidate. Yet, Clinton will have to prove herself over and over and over because that is what's typically required of women who seek to break through professional barriers.
I, for one, won't sit back and watch people like Gloria Borger try to shape Hillary Clinton into a bitch, a brassy, bossy, distant, elusive woman simply because Borger won't do the hard work of a real journalist. When was the last time Borger gave us actual new information or a unique new insight on any topic or person? C'mon Gloria. Is the title of "Chief Political Analyst" for Wolf Blitzer's CNN program a code word for someone who is entitled to cast personal aspersions without providing hard data or at least hard-won reporting? Is it a code word for someone who relies on readily available, gender-specific, disparaging labels to provide "analysis"? It's one way to make and keep a career going, but it isn't journalism.
When Borger again dragged out the "Where's the real Hillary" theme in response to Clinton's recent interview with CNN correspondent Brianna Keilar, where was the "meat"? Nowhere to be found.
We see gratuitous excuses for reporting so often that the public has become jaded. It's time to let the press know that a presidential election is deserving of the best information and insights available from qualified journalists -- of whom a fair number are sitting on their hands thanks to the personnel efficiencies of media oligarchy. Journalists come out of a proud tradition, and many of them place their lives on the line every day to bring insightful news and analysis. Certainly accurate, well-researched election coverage can't be all that hard.