MSNBC cleaves to Clinton neckline coverage controversy

››› ››› MATTHEW BIEDLINGMAIER & JEREMY HOLDEN

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET on July 30, MSNBC devoted a total of 23 minutes and 42 seconds to segments discussing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) "cleavage." MSNBC broadcast separate segments on this topic during the hours of 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. ET, skipping only the noon and 4 p.m. hours. During the same period, CNN devoted 3 minutes and 54 seconds to coverage of Clinton's cleavage, while Fox News devoted none.

As Media Matters for America documented, in a July 20 Washington Post Style section article headlined "Hillary Clinton's Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory," staff writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Robin Givhan wrote that "[t]here was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2. It belonged to Sen. Hillary Clinton." Givhan further asserted that Clinton's look was "unnerving" and claimed: "The last time Clinton wore anything that was remotely sexy in a public setting surely must have been more than a decade ago." Givhan added, "[I]t was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!" Following Givhan's article, several media outlets also picked up on the story. For instance, on the July 29 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, during an exchange with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and NBC chief foreign correspondent Andrea Mitchell, CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood declared his intent to "defend" Givhan's article. Harwood asserted: "When you look at the calculation that goes into everything that Hillary Clinton does, for her to argue that she was not aware of what she was communicating by her dress is like Barry Bonds saying he thought he was rubbing down with flaxseed oil."

Media Matters reviewed each hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET July 30 on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN and documented the coverage devoted to Clinton's cleavage. Only news segments were analyzed; previews and teasers were not included in this review. Each segment specifically referred to Clinton's outfit and how much cleavage it showed during her July 18 speech on the Senate floor.

  • During the 9 a.m. ET hour, MSNBC host Amy Robach interviewed Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times to discuss the story. Robach introduced the story by saying "some critics are now saying that Senator Hillary Clinton may be trying to cash in on her cleavage," referring to a fundraising letter sent by the Clinton campaign calling Givhan's article "grossly inappropriate." While showing a graphic of Clinton's outfit, Robach asserted, in reference to Clinton's cleavage: "I don't even see much there. ... [T]hat looks like a shadow." Sweet said that she "want[ed] to invoke what Andrea Mitchell said yesterday [on Meet the Press]: Sometimes a blouse is just a blouse."
  • During the 10 a.m. ET hour, Washington Post "Reliable Source" columnist Amy Argetsinger claimed that Givhan "was actually very complimentary of the clavicle display." Argetsinger added, "She said that it shows that Hillary Clinton is more comfortable in her own skin." Host Mika Brzezinski asserted: "I feel like women who are sort of in high-profile positions can't win. You know? It's not like she's strutting around in a bikini. It was just a blouse. It was a blouse." Media Matters previously documented this exchange.
  • During the 11 a.m. ET hour, while discussing the story with washingtonpost.com staff writer Chris Cillizza, Robach compared Clinton's cleavage to that of Britain's home secretary, Jacqui Smith. During the segment, a split-screen image of Clinton's cleavage and Smith's cleavage was shown, and the two women were compared. During the segment, Harwood's Meet the Press comments were also replayed. Cillizza responded to Harwood's comment: "Do I think Hillary Clinton did this on purpose? Gosh, I may not be cynical enough, but I don't think so." Robach agreed: "I don't think so either, but again, who knows?" Media Matters also documented this exchange.
  • During the 1 p.m. ET hour, introducing an interview with Cillizza, host Tamron Hall noted that "[l]ast week on the Senate floor, Clinton wore a low-cut blouse that showed a little bit of cleavage if you look closely there." Hall asked Cillizza if Clinton's attire was "a wardrobe malfunction or has the senator capitalized on a hit there." Cillizza responded that "politics is like a celebrity culture: who's wearing what and how they're wearing it" and mentioned photos of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in a swimsuit and former Sen. John Edwards' (D-NC) "haircut." Hall again played Harwood's comments and Cillizza again disagreed with Harwood.
  • During the 2 p.m. ET hour, while prefacing an interview with washingtonpost.com staff writer Mary Ann Akers drawing attention to Clinton's appearance on the Senate floor, host Contessa Brewer specifically noted the "neckline" of Clinton's outfit, asserting: "Well, fair or not, the formidable female front-runner is getting a whole lot of attention for her appearance while she campaigns for the job of president -- specifically, the neckline on this outfit. The senator's cleavage visible, ever so slightly as she spoke on the Senate floor." Like Robach during the 9 a.m. ET hour, Brewer then said: "It was just the tiniest little shadow. What's the big deal?" Brewer concluded the segment by asserting: "Cleavage, cleavage, even the tiniest bit gets you headlines."
  • During the 3 p.m. ET hour, while introducing an interview with Roll Call reporter Emily Heil, host Chris Jansing asked: "[H]ave we crossed into the political version of the surreal when we start talking about cleavage?" Heil asserted: "We're not actually talking about Hillary Clinton's cleavage" but that "that's what people are finding so -- to use a crude pun -- so titillating about it."

MSNBC Beginning of segment End of segment
Total time
9 a.m. ET 12 minutes 57 seconds 16 minutes 52 seconds 3 minutes 55 seconds
10 a.m. ET 20 minutes 19 seconds 24 minutes 40 seconds 4 minutes 21 seconds
11 a.m. ET 13 minutes 4 seconds 17 minutes 45 seconds 4 minutes 41 seconds
12 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE
NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
1 p.m. ET 8 minutes 34 seconds 12 minutes 31 seconds 3 minutes 57 seconds
2 p.m. ET 30 minutes 14 seconds 32 minutes 57 seconds 2 minutes 43 seconds
3 p.m. ET 10 minutes 43 seconds 14 minutes 31 seconds 3 minutes 48 seconds
4 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
TOTAL: 23 minutes 42 seconds
CNN Beginning of segment End of segment
Total time
9 a.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
10 a.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
11 a.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
12 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE
NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
1 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
2 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
3 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
4 p.m. ET 50 minutes 10 seconds 54 minutes 4 seconds 3 minutes 54 seconds
TOTAL: 3 minutes 54 seconds
Fox News
Beginning of segment End of segment
Total time
9 a.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
10 a.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
11 a.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
12 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE
NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
1 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
2 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
3 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
4 p.m. ET NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE NO COVERAGE
TOTAL: NO COVERAGE
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Stories/Interests
Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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