With Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton facing a barrage of criticisms over the tone of her voice during a recent speech, Media Matters looks back at the rampant sexism she faced from the media during her 2008 presidential bid.
Multiple media figures derided Hillary Clinton's laugh during the first Democratic presidential debate, calling it a "cackle" and "a record scratch." During the 2008 presidential race, Clinton's laughter was repeatedly attacked, despite criticism that such attacks were rooted in sexism.
During the October 13 CNN debate in Las Vegas, Clinton laughed after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders defended her from repeated questions about her use of private email by criticizing the media for fixating on the issue and saying, "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!" Clinton and Sanders shook hands as the crowd applauded.
But several media figures initially focused on Clinton's laugh. BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski tweeted, "oh god the Clinton laugh is out," while the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote, "THE CLINTON LAUGH," and Fox's Sean Hannity tweeted "Omg that laugh."
Several conservative media figures took it further, calling it a "cackle":
::looks up 'cackle' in the dictionary:: ::sees Hillary's face::-- Sonny Bunch (@SonnyBunch) October 14, 2015
(Hillary's laugh grates like a record scratch.)-- Sonny Bunch (@SonnyBunch) October 14, 2015
The cackle. Drink!-- Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) October 14, 2015
Cue the cackle. #DemDebate-- toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) October 14, 2015
Attacking Clinton's laughter was a common theme during the Democratic primary before the 2008 election. In September 2007, after Clinton appeared on several Sunday political talk shows and laughed in response to some questions, media figures spent weeks debating and mocking her laughter. Fox News led the charge, with Bill O'Reilly even discussing Clinton's laughter with a "body language expert" who deemed it "evil," and Sean Hannity calling the laugh "frightening."
The mainstream press picked up on the attacks on Clinton's laugh, with New York Times political reporter Patrick Healy writing an article with the headline "Laughing Matters in Clinton Campaign," in which he described Clinton's "hearty belly laugh" as "The Cackle," calling it "heavily caffeinated" and suggesting it may have been "programmed."
Then-Politico reporter Ben Smith also described Clinton's laugh as her "signature cackle," while Politico correspondent Mike Allen and editor-in-chief John F. Harris wrote that Clinton's laugh "sounded like it was programmed by computer."
And New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who has a long history of nasty attacks on Clinton, claimed Clinton's laugh was allowing her to look less like a "hellish housewife" and a "nag" and more like a "wag":
As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: "She's never going to get out of our faces. ... She's like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won't stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone."
That's why Hillary is laughing a lot now, big belly laughs, in response to tough questions or comments, to soften her image as she confidently knocks her male opponents out of the way. From nag to wag.
The list goes on: MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, then-MSNBC host David Shuster, then-MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, radio host Mike Rosen, Dick Morris, the Drudge Report, The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi, Time magazine's Joe Klein, the New York Times' Frank Rich, CNN's Jeanne Moos, and others all debated or derided Clinton's laughter during Clinton's first run for president.
Politico's Allen said on MSNBC during all of this that "'cackle' is a very sexist term," and disputed MSNBC's Chris Matthews' use of it in reference to Clinton. Other outlets agreed; Jezebel called out Matthews for his "cackle" criticism and other derisive remarks, asking, "can we agree that no matter what your political allegiances, this is not the way you speak of a woman -- whether she is a senator or not?" Rachel Sklar, writing in the Huffington Post, said at the time "I keep finding sexist Hillary Clinton bashing everywhere I turn," noting that criticisms of the candidate's laughter "turn completely on the fact that she's a woman. 'The Cackle?' So would never be applied to a man. We all know it."
Unfortunately, the criticism hasn't stopped in the intervening seven years. The Washington Free Beacon has a "Hillary Laugh Button" permanently on its site. The National Journal published in June 2014, many months prior to Clinton declaring her second bid for president, a "Comprehensive Supercut of Hillary Clinton Laughing Awkwardly With Reporters." And conservative tweet-aggregator Twitchy in August mocked "scary as hell" pens which featured "Clinton's cackling head."
Journalists who have been included on what is being called an "enemies list" of the National Rifle Association are speaking out about the designation, either welcoming the attention as a badge of honor for their work or criticizing the NRA for trying to intimidate them.
The list of 506 organizations, public officials, celebrities, and others was first posted on the NRA web site in September. After being highlighted online last week it has been widely covered and described as an "enemies list" by critics.
The NRA web site lists 37 columnists, cartoonists, and editors along with other organizations and public officials it sees as opponents of its efforts under the headline "National Organizations With Anti-Gun Policies."
The list claims that the journalists in question "actively editorialize in favor of gun control laws."
Several of those news people on the list criticized the NRA for the move in comments to Media Matters.
"I am proud to be on the NRA 'enemies' list," said Frank Rich, a former New York Times columnist currently writing for New York magazine. "But it says a lot that I didn't even know I was on it until [Media Matters] told me today. It just goes to show that NRA in the 21st-century is becoming something of a paper tiger and shouldn't intimidate anyone, including members of Congress. An 'enemies list,' after all, is a lame retread from the Richard Nixon playbook of Watergate."
E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, welcomed being on the list, but offered concern such an effort might intimidate some non-journalists.
"Since I have long favored gun control and written rather passionately about the issue, I guess I would have been disappointed if I had not been on the NRA's list," he wrote in an email. "I don't think it is intimidating to opinion writers to be on such a list, but I wonder if it might intimidate people in other lines of work. I certainly hope not."
Looks like New York Times columnist Frank Rich has been reading the Washington Post:
Think anti-gay bullying is just for small-town America? Look at the nation's capital.
The Smithsonian's behavior and the ensuing silence in official Washington are jarring echoes of those days when American political leaders stood by idly as the epidemic raged on.
It still seems an unwritten rule in establishment Washington that homophobia is at most a misdemeanor. By this code, the Smithsonian's surrender is no big deal; let the art world do its little protests. This attitude explains why the ever more absurd excuses concocted by John McCain for almost single-handedly thwarting the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" are rarely called out for what they are -- "bigotry disguised as prudence," in the apt phrase of Slate's military affairs columnist, Fred Kaplan. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has been granted serious and sometimes unchallenged credence as a moral arbiter not just by Rupert Murdoch's outlets but by CNN, MSNBC and The [Washington] Post's "On Faith" Web site even as he cites junk science to declare that "homosexuality poses a risk to children" and that being gay leads to being a child molester.
OK, the Washington Post isn't Rich's primary target, but I can't think of a better symbol of Washington's casual acceptance of gay-bashing than a newspaper that routinely grants a platform to anti-bay bigots and publishes anti-gay screeds -- and that regularly publishes and quotes the likes of Bill Donohue railing about purported anti-Catholic bias and bigotry without once noting his own history of anti-gay speech.
Take a look at some examples:
From the October 24 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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In his July 25 New York Times column, Frank Rich wrote that "[e]ven though the egregiously misleading excerpt from Shirley Sherrod's 43-minute speech came from Andrew Breitbart, the dirty trickster notorious for hustling skewed partisan videos on Fox News, few questioned its validity." Rich further noted that Fox News touted Breitbart's edited video clip of Sherrod's comments as "what racism looks like."
From Rich's column:
This country was rightly elated when it elected its first African-American president more than 20 months ago. That high was destined to abate, but we reached a new low last week. What does it say about America now, and where it is heading, that a racial provocateur, wielding a deceptively edited video, could not only smear an innocent woman but make every national institution that touched the story look bad? The White House, the N.A.A.C.P. and the news media were all soiled by this episode. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans, who believe in fundamental fairness for all, grapple with the poisonous residue left behind by the many powerful people of all stripes who served as accessories to a high-tech lynching.
Even though the egregiously misleading excerpt from Shirley Sherrod's 43-minute speech came from Andrew Breitbart, the dirty trickster notorious for hustling skewed partisan videos on Fox News, few questioned its validity. That the speech had been given at an N.A.A.C.P. event, with N.A.A.C.P. officials as witnesses, did not prevent even the N.A.A.C.P. from immediately condemning Sherrod for "shameful" actions. As the world knows now, her talk (flogged by Fox as "what racism looks like") was an uplifting parable about how she had risen above her own trials in the Jim Crow South to aid poor people of every race during her long career in rural development.
Once Williams was disowned by other Tea Partiers, Breitbart posted the bogus Sherrod video as revenge under the headline "Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism." To portray whites as the victims of racist blacks has been a weapon of the right from the moment desegregation started to empower previously subjugated minorities in the 1960s. But its deployment has accelerated with the ascent of a black president. The pace is set by right-wing stars like Glenn Beck, who on Fox branded Barack Obama a racist with "a deep-seated hatred for white people," and the ever-opportunistic Newt Gingrich, who on Twitter maligned Sonia Sotomayor as a "Latina woman racist."
Even the civil rights hero John Lewis has been slimed by these vigilantes. Lewis was nearly beaten to death by state troopers bearing nightsticks and whips in Selma, Ala., just three weeks before Sherrod's father was murdered 200 miles away in 1965. This year, as a member of Congress, he was pelted with racial epithets while walking past protesters on the Capitol grounds during the final weekend of the health care debate. Breitbart charged Lewis with lying -- never mind that the melee had hundreds of eyewitnesses -- and tried to prove it with a video so manifestly bogus that even Fox didn't push it. But he wasn't deterred then, and he and others like him won't be deterred by the Sherrod saga's "happy ending" as long as the McConnells of the conservative establishment look the other way and Fox pumps racial rage into the media bloodstream 24/7.
"You think we have come a long way in terms of race relations in this country, but we keep going backwards," Sherrod told Joe Strupp of Media Matters last week. She speaks with hard-won authority. While America's progress on race has been epic since the days when Sherrod's father could be murdered with impunity, we have been going backward since Election Day 2008.
From Frank Rich's August 1 New York Times column, Small Beer, Big Hangover:
One of the loudest birther enablers is not at Fox but CNN: Lou Dobbs, who was heretofore best known for trying to link immigrants, especially Hispanics, to civic havoc. Dobbs is one-stop shopping for the excesses of this seismic period of racial transition. And he is following a traditional, if toxic, American playbook. The escalating white fear of newly empowered ethnic groups and blacks is a naked replay of more than a century ago, when large waves of immigration and the northern migration of emancipated blacks, coupled with a tumultuous modernization of the American work force, unleashed a similar storm of racial and nativist panic.
Rich also slams Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich for labeling Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a racist and Glenn Beck for labeling Obama a racist:
Ground zero for this hysteria is Fox News, where Brit Hume last Sunday lamented how insulting it is "to be labeled a racist" in "contemporary" America. "That fact has placed into the hands of certain people a weapon," he said, as he condemned Gates for hurling that weapon at a police officer. Gates may well have been unjust -- we don't know that Crowley is a racist - but the professor was provoked by being confronted like a suspect in the privacy of his own home.
What about those far more famous leaders in Hume's own camp who insistently cry "racist" -- and in public forums -- without any credible justification whatsoever? These are the "certain people" Hume conspicuously didn't mention. They include Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, both of whom labeled Sonia Sotomayor a racist. Their ranks were joined last week by Glenn Beck, who on Fox News inexplicably labeled Obama a racist with "a deep-seated hatred for white people," presumably including his own mother.
New York Times columnist Frank Rich mischaracterized Tim Russert's question to Sen. Hillary Clinton during the October 30 Democratic presidential debate regarding a 2002 letter written by former President Bill Clinton to the National Archives and Records Administration. Rich wrote that "Bill Clinton exercised his right to insist that all communications between him and his wife be 'considered for withholding' until 2012," adding, "When Mrs. Clinton was asked by Mr. Russert at an October debate if she would lift that restriction, she again escaped by passing the buck to her husband: 'Well, that's not my decision to make.' " In fact, Russert falsely claimed that Bill Clinton's letter asked that the communications "not be made available to the public until 2012."
In its cover story for the March 12 issue, Newsweek suggested that Rudy Giuliani has not been a "staunch advoca[te]" of a troop increase, despite reports that Giuliani has repeatedly endorsed the Iraq war and President Bush's troop increase. Similarly, New York Times columnist Frank Rich alleged that Giuliani had not been a "cheerleader" for Bush's decision to invade Iraq.