Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On Low Roads and Hypocrisy: The Media, Sexism and Hillary Clinton

Apparently, the New York Times grew uncomfortable watching other media outlets attack Obama’s critics. Although the newspaper endorsed Clinton, it has now joined a barrage of pundits who have launched a full scale assault on ABC's debate in advance of the Pennsylvania primary.

Media's Summary: Clinton = Witch; Obama = Saint
The media's outrage demonstrates (yet again) that Clinton provokes the wrath of journalists who seemingly believe that their ethical and professional duties involve: (1) constructing and enforcing a de facto rule that prohibits any public criticism of Obama; (2) smearing Clinton and portraying her as a pathological liar, closeted-neoconservative, cold and conniving Tonya Harding in pantsuits, and as a threat to the Democratic Party; (3) denying and obscuring Obama's own weaknesses, deceit, shifting positions, and subtly negative campaigning; and (4) offering constant praise for Obama and anyone who supports him. New York Times columnists Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich have spent almost an entire year writing opinion pieces that scrutinize and condemn every dimension of Clinton or praise Obama’s character, ideas, and campaign. Content with the monotony of their own repetitive and predictable Clinton-Bashing, Dowd and Rich reach the same weekly conclusions. Clinton is a mean, deceitful, selfish, and heartless witch. Obama is an inspiring, smart, honest, and ethical leader.

Obama Can Appear "Positive" Because Media Does His Attacking
Obama benefits from a mainstream media and blogsphere that do his "dirty work" for him, which allows him to remain above the fray. Whatever Clinton says or does, a host of media outlets will seek and find or even invent fault. The New York Times, for example, recently rushed to discredit a story Clinton tells on the campaign trail concerning a young woman who lacked health insurance and money to pay for a doctor visit. This rather innocuous story -- which describes the plight of far too many poor people -- became headline news because it purportedly documented "yet another" Clinton "lie." News of Clinton’s "deceit" spread quickly. There was one problem: The story was true.

If the media had simply investigated the issue, rather than rushing to portray everything Clinton says as something unseemly, they would have discovered the veracity of her account. That did not matter. Smearing Clinton legitimizes media professionals among their colleagues, especially the white men. Media professionals can obtain street credibility if they uncover the newest reason why Clinton would melt if you heaved a bucket of water on her.

Obama, on the other hand, does not have to answer difficult questions or face relentless scrutiny. The toughest moment in his campaign surrounded the Reverend Wright controversy. The media held their collective breath searching for a way to spin this low point into triumph. The next day, Obama’s staff released a statement announcing that he would give two "major policy speeches" on race and the economy. The media reported exactly this: "Obama will give two major policy speeches in Philadelphia this week."

This is the only time I can recall seeing the media describe campaign speeches as "major" based solely on a candidate’s description of them. But it helped shape the mood for Obama's valiant return. The atmosphere was solemn and hopeful. Fittingly, change was also on the horizon. Soon the race speech would rise above mere "major" status and morph into a courageous, crucial, historic, and brilliant dissertation on race. Commentators passionately and uniformly praised the speech. Many of them compared Obama to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But Dr. King never wore the safe "post-racial" label, and he died as a result of his sustained, courageous and organized efforts to combat racial injustice. Obama, by contrast, addressed racial justice in one fleeting moment solely to overcome a serious threat to his political campaign. Yet, his opportunistic usage of race was completely off-limits as a topic of serious inquiry. Only marginalized commentators like Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell could even explore these questions. Good "liberals" could only offer effusive praise or (worse) silence.

Hutchinson's Summary: Clinton = Obama = Typical Politician
For the record, I do not endorse all of Clinton's political tactics, nor do I believe that moments like Wright-gate should derail a candidate. But Obama's response to the situation is just as "political" as Clinton's efforts to show her superiority and question her opponent's readiness for the presidency. They are both typical politicians. According to Obama's campaign narrative, however, he offers a new, kinder and gentler politics, even though "change," "hope" "unity," and "Washington-outsider" rhetoric have framed many previous campaigns.

Successful candidates must construct personal narratives that resonate with the public and inspire trust; Obama has accomplished this important task. But most media have uncritically accepted and have even strained to validate his campaign narrative in their reporting. This constitutes a terrible abdication of their important social function.

The Media and the "Isms" Factor
The blatant media bias also conflicts with liberal and progressive commitment to racial and gender justice. When liberal egalitarians spew endlessly about the inherent evil of Clinton and the unquestionable sincerity and rightfulness of Obama, this smacks of hypocrisy and disparate treatment. Their coddling of Obama also suggests that liberals, especially white liberals constantly yearning to prove how "post-racist" they are, suffer from the "bigotry of low expectations." This stereotype discounts the intellectual capacity of blacks, which could cause Obama’s supporters unconsciously to question his ability to take on a strong competitor, despite his frequently touted academic achievement and eloquence. The unprecedented efforts to insulate Obama from any measure of media or political scrutiny could stem from the operation of this stereotype.

Obama’s surrogates and the media have utilized a variety of responses to vilify his critics. Early on, his surrogates called them racists. Then they dismissed them as being "more of the same." Then they brushed them aside for wasting Obama’s time with "business as usual." Then they demanded that Clinton leave the race, which would undoubtedly reduce the opportunity to critique and raise questions concerning his relative fitness for office. His supporters have also dramatically described fairly standard campaign tactics as "knifing," "kneecapping" and tossing the "kitchen sink" at the first viable black presidential candidate (an argument which, ironically, validates Ferraro's statements). Obama’s guardians have predicted that Clinton's allegedly "divisive" campaigning will destroy the Democratic Party and weaken its nominee, an argument that requires the listener to forget that the Democrats have only managed to produce one two-term President since FDR.

But the New York Times exceeds the melodrama of many Obama protectors when its editorial asserts that Clinton has called out "the dogs" for Obama. The imagery used to describe Clinton and Obama consistently portray her as a conniving, ruthlessly violent old hag and Obama as a defenseless, frail, and effete "Negro" (also known as "boy"). The media’s blatant efforts to prop up Obama and demonize Clinton smack of a racial paternalism that is as rooted in white supremacy as segregation. Their disparate coverage also relies extensively on gender stereotypes, which should trouble all individuals who are truly committed to the advancement of civil rights. Yet many self-proclaimed progressives have condemned feminists who critique the media’s treatment of Clinton as being knee-jerk activists engaged in vulgar identity politics. Anti-feminism now joins post-racial (but still enough qualify as "real") blackness as newly minted leftist ideologies. Blacks have acquiesced in and legitimated this disturbing occurrence with their almost unanimous support for Obama.

This entire election has caused me to grow even more suspicious and cynical of liberals. It also confirms how utterly unhelpful media have become. A short time ago, the most powerful among these companies were "embedded" in military tanks in order to stream U.S. war propaganda domestically and throughout the world. Some, including the New York Times, later admitted to suppressing antiwar coverage or confining it to "second-page" status, but their apologies only came after popular support for the invasion dissipated, and the precious opportunity to educate the pre-war public opinion had long passed.

With respect to this campaign, the opportunistic New York Times endorsed Clinton, but now that everyone else is ready to burn her at the stake, they view her as the Democrats' worst nightmare. Similarly, the New York Times endorsed Senator McCain, but once he secured his party's nomination, it suddenly unveiled 25-year-old, unsubstantiated allegations of adultery and conflicts of interests surrounding McCain. The paper sat on the story and released it soon after its ability to influence the Republican contest had expired. Media actors have contributed heavily to the venomous atmosphere of this election. The media’s pernicious bias against Clinton and its uncritical stance toward Obama undermine the credibility of their efforts to police the tone of any candidate's campaign.
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