By Caryl Rivers | March 3, 2008
THE “SATURDAY Night Live” skit that showed reporters fawning over Barack Obama and tossing him puffball questions, while grilling Hillary Clinton like a felony suspect, wasn’t too far off the mark.
The media coverage of the Clinton campaign will be, for years to come, a textbook case of how the coverage of female candidates differs from that of males. Women have to walk a very thin line when they run for high office. On the one hand, they have to appear tough, nothing at all like a sniveling female, and when they do talk tough, they are called “shrill.”
The media loved Hillary when she put her hand on Obama’s and said it was a privilege to be on the same podium; they hated her when she slammed him for giving out what she called misleading information on her healthcare plan. (After googling “shrill” and “Hillary” after that encounter, I stopped at 20 pages.)
At the same time, the news media have gone into a deep swoon over Barack. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said, “Look, I haven’t seen a politician get this kind of walk-on-water coverage since Colin Powell a dozen years ago flirted with making a run for the White House. I mean, it is amazing.”
Meanwhile, Hillary’s credentials have been the subject of intense scrutiny. Weeks ago, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews dissed her as a cheated-on wife for whom voters feel sorry. “Let’s not forget, and I’ll be brutal,” Matthews said, “the reason she’s a US senator, the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner, is that her husband messed around.”
It’s certainly fair to question to what degree Hillary’s experience as first lady should count on her resume. But the media in general have not given as much critical scrutiny to Obama’s record. As Gloria Steinem noted in her much-discussed New York Times op-ed piece, what if Obama had been a woman, with the same resume? A female candidate with his resume would have been laughed at if she said she wanted to run for president.
Caryl Rivers is a Boston University journalism professor and the author of “Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women.”