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."
An inaccurate new media narrative claims that while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answered extensive questions about his role in a scandal plaguing his administration, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to face questions regarding the September 2012 attacks on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi. In fact, Clinton has repeatedly addressed the Benghazi attacks, including answering 150 questions during a five hour congressional hearing on the attacks.
In an effort to control the political damage stemming from scandals plaguing his administration, Christie held a nearly two hour long press conference with state and national media to answer questions regarding his aides' involvement in the politically-motivated closing of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge
Following Christie's press conference, conservative media pivoted from Christie's scandal to attack Clinton, claiming that she had never addressed Benghazi in the same way.
On January 19, The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi wrote, "If New Jersey Governor Chris Christie must answer for four days of traffic jams on roads leading to the George Washington Bridge; surely Clinton has the same obligation to address a deadly assault that the bipartisan committee found 'preventable.' " In a January 22 piece, conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin complained that Christie was receiving undue scrutiny while Clinton received very little attention in the "mainstream media" and had not had to endure a "two-hour bearing-of-the-soul press conference," as Christie did:
No car company would dare manufacture a car with as vast a blind spot as that which plagues the pro-Hillary Clinton mainstream media.
There is no interest and never has been in investigating how she missed the infiltration of jihadis into Benghazi, Libya. No curiosity simmers about how she could have been unaware of the dire security situation that her ambassador faced. Accountability? Confession? No two-hour bearing-of-the-soul press conferences are needed. Benghazi was not at her level. No responsibility, no culture of cover-up. None.
TAPPER: Christie, it's also the nature of Christie to go out there and give a two-hour plus press conference and answer all those questions, although he has laid low since then. But still, that was one of the longest press conferences in modern American politics. Hillary Clinton was on her way out, and you know, I can't tackle her. I haven't had a chance to interview her since Benghazi happened. I don't even know, has she done interviews? I think she did some interviews on her way out.
HEWITT: It's a pretty stark contrast, isn't it, between Christie's two hour longest day press conference and Hillary hiding?
TAPPER: So a big contrast between Christie's press conference and most politicians in scandals, but certainly, of course what you've said is right. I mean, most politicians don't then go out there and give two hour press conferences. John McCain did like a 90 minute one after Keating Five.
But Clinton has faced questions from both the media and members of Congress about her role as Secretary of State during the attacks in Benghazi. As Tapper alluded, in a February 2013 interview with the Associated Press, Clinton confronted those critical of her actions during the attacks. She also testified for five hours in front of hostile Senate and House committee members -- testimony that was covered extensively in the press. The Huffington Post pointed out that during her testimony Clinton faced almost 150 questions from Democrats and Republicans:
At the Jan. 23 hearings before two congressional panels, Clinton faced some 150 questions from 48 House and Senate members, split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Nearly half of those queries fit into a small handful of broad categories: What happened to memos or other warnings about the security situation before the attack? -- 25 questions, from 10 different lawmakers. Why had the administration put a mission in Benghazi in the first place? -- 20 questions, from 10 lawmakers. When exactly did the administration know that the Libya attack was terrorism and not part of a broader regional protest about the video? -- 22 questions, from eight lawmakers. (The repetition of questions did not produce notably different answers from Clinton.)
Nearly every question was asked more than once. Many were packed together in a tight bundle, as part of the legislator's opening remarks.
In a rational world, that would settle the dispute over Benghazi, which has further poisoned the poisonous political discourse in Washington and kept Republicans and Democrats from working cooperatively on myriad challenges, including how best to help Libyans stabilize their country and build a democracy. But Republicans long ago abandoned common sense and good judgment in pursuit of conspiracy-mongering and an obsessive effort to discredit President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who may run for president in 2016.
This new narrative continues the right-wing media's campaign to distract from the ongoing scandals plaguing Christie's administration by pivoting to Benghazi -- for Fox News in particular, the Christie scandals have been all about Benghazi. But the repeated collapse of these narratives demonstrates why traditional media should not get fooled by another Benghazi Hoax.
A Washington Times article and a Boston Globe column both discussed a statement from the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women that criticized Sen. Edward M. Kennedy for endorsing Sen. Barack Obama and not Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, but both omitted the Clinton campaign's reported disavowal of NOW New York's statement. In a New York Daily News column, Bill Hammond reported that "her [Clinton's] campaign quickly disavowed [NOW New York president Marcia] Pappas' attack on Kennedy. 'This statement does not at all reflect her views or the opinion of the Clinton campaign,' spokesman Howard Wolfson said."