Media are criticizing Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough's "thinly veiled" attacks on Hillary Clinton's voice as "a redux of sexist coverage" of women in politics.
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.
Right-wing media pundits attacked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for celebrating her victory in the Iowa Caucus, claiming her tone during her speech was "unpleasant," "angry, bitter, screaming," and suggested that Clinton "may be hard of hearing." Criticism of Hillary Clinton's speech echoes a larger, sexist right-wing media campaign to denigrate Clinton's voice, mannerisms and public appearances.
From the February 3 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Media figures are erroneously attributing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses to her wins in coin tosses held at several precincts to determine the apportionment of unassigned delegates. Media figures claiming that coin tosses could have flipped the outcome misunderstand the caucus process by wrongly conflating county-level delegates -- which the coin tosses assign -- and state delegate equivalents (SDEs). As The Des Moines Register explained, the coin flips "had an extremely small effect on the overall outcome."
Media dragged their feet in acknowledging Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's victory in the Iowa caucus, calling the race "still too close to call" and smearing Clinton as a liar, despite the fact that the Iowa Democratic Party's caucus results show Clinton has an insurmountable lead over Bernie Sanders.
You can watch the Beltway media's narrative shift before your eyes, as reporters get bored with the story they've been telling and move on to something counterintuitive and new. Journalists want to tell stories, not just report facts, and the stories they choose to tell based on cherry-picked examples are often bad for progressives.
Old conventional wisdom: Bill Clinton is the greatest politician of his generation, with a unique ability to inspire audiences in his speeches.
New conventional wisdom: Bill Clinton is old, tired, and should hang it up.
Patrick Healy kicked off the change with a 1,400-word January 28 New York Times trend piece that cited a Clinton speech Healy attended in Iowa the previous night, a speech his colleague attended in Las Vegas last week, and the opinions of a handful of observers as evidence that "the old magic seems to be missing." (Other journalists who saw those same speeches came away with dramatically different interpretations of Clinton's performance; Healy wrote a similar piece last March.)
Now Mark Halperin, a key bellwether for Beltway insider journalists, has picked up the narrative. During today's edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, he called Healy's story "pretty accurate." Halperin said that he had seen Clinton at an event yesterday and that while the former president's "best moments are great," he was "not his best," with "a little bit of a rambling quality to his presentation." "I thought he was better in New Hampshire when I saw him last week," Halperin added.
Indeed. After that January 20 speech in New Hampshire, Halperin said on Morning Joe that Clinton had been "as good as I've seen him in years in driving a message." He also issued a stream of tweets describing the event as a "#ClintonClassic."
Just before the speech he attended yesterday, Halperin was calling Clinton "The Master."
Somehow, one speech and one Times article later, the narrative has shifted dramatically.
From the January 29 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the January 28 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the January 27 edition of Salem Radio's The Hugh Hewitt Show:
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From the January 27 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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From the January 26 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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The hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe promised to ask a "bunch of hard questions" to embattled Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder about his role in the Flint water crisis, but instead co-host Mika Brzezinski introduced Snyder as "pretty transparent," and Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough conducted a softball interview that allowed Snyder to deflect blame from himself and his political staff to career civil servants and local officials in Flint.
The problems with the interview began with Brzezinski's description of Snyder as "pretty transparent."
Brzezinski's characterization of Snyder echoed a talking point put forward by the Governor himself. But as The Guardian noted, the series of emails that Snyder released two days before the interview with Morning Joe included significant redactions that undercut his claim of transparency:
Michigan governor Rick Snyder cited a commitment to transparency and accountability when he announced he would voluntarily release his emails related to the city of Flint, Michigan.
"The Flint water crisis is an extraordinary circumstance and therefore I'm taking this unprecedented step of releasing my emails to ensure that the people of Michigan know the truth," Snyder wrote.
But that pledge didn't translate smoothly into the first document of the 274-page tranche released Wednesday: A three-page email that was entirely blacked out.
Snyder said the document was redacted because it contained privileged attorney-client communications about a lawsuit unrelated to the Flint water crisis.
But redactions appear throughout the files, which only cover a two-year period between 2014 and 2015 - not 2013, when the decision to use the highly corrosive Flint river was made. And Snyder declined to release emails of his entire staff, saying they're protected under state statute. Michigan is only one of two states that exempt the governor from the Freedom of Information Act.
When Scarborough asked Snyder how two state agencies and the federal Environmental Protection Agency could have all failed to act on the water crisis as it emerged, Snyder responded that the explanation is "a huge bureaucratic problem and it's part of the problem with culture and government." Scarborough replied, "You did appoint, though, these two environmental bureaucrats in Michigan, though, didn't you?" But he then let Snyder claim that his administration did not adequately respond to the crisis because "career civil servants" in the state Department of Environmental Quality failed to realize that the water was contaminated.
The Morning Joe hosts failed to ask Snyder about his recently-released emails, which show that his own chief of staff Dennis Muchmore -- who has since retired -- disputed that the state was responsible for addressing the issue and cited state officials to dismiss concerns about contaminated drinking water as attempts by "some in Flint" to turn the issue into a "political football." Muchmore also referred to people raising concerns about the water as an "anti-everything group." Snyder himself "wrote just seven brief emails concerning Flint water during the past two years," according to an MLive.com review of the emails.
Morning Joe also let Snyder attempt to pin the blame on local officials in Flint. Brzezinski asked Snyder whether it was the state-appointed emergency manager who "authorized the switch for the city of Flint to stop buying water from Detroit." Snyder responded: "In terms of the change itself, it was a broader effort in terms of saying they wanted to change their water system to a new water authority. And it was actually voted for by the city council and it was ratified by the emergency manager. It was a 7-1 vote of the city council to leave the Detroit water system." Earlier in the interview, Snyder also took credit for working to "reconnect the Detroit water system" once the problem "first came to light."
But the Morning Joe hosts failed to challenge Snyder by explaining that the decision to use the polluted Flint river as the new water source was the state-appointed emergency manager's alone. As the Detroit Free Press "Truth Squad" noted in response to an even more inaccurate document distributed by the Snyder administration that claimed the "[c]ity of Flint decide[d] to use the Flint River as a water source":
City officials did not drive the decision to take water from the Flint River. There was never such a vote by the city council, which really didn't have the power to make such a decision anyway, because the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.
The council's vote in March 2013 was to switch water supply from Detroit to a new pipeline through the Karegnondi Water Authority - but the pipeline wasn't scheduled to be completed for at least three years.
Flint officials didn't make that decision [to use the Flint river as a water source] while under state emergency management. State-appointed emergency manager Ed Kurtz made that decision, which would have had to be approved by the state.
Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer has similarly explained that Snyder's citation of the March 2013 city council vote to place responsibility on local officials "doesn't wash":
Snyder's spokeswoman has consistently placed responsibility for Flint's water crisis in local hands, pointing to a 7-1 Flint City Council vote endorsing the switch to Karegnondi. But that explanation -- like so many things about this whole situation -- doesn't wash.
The Flint City Council voted 7-1 to approve the switch, with the support of [Flint mayor Dayne] Walling, who lost his seat earlier this month. But that's of no matter; when an emergency manager is in place, he or she is the ultimate authority. Moreover, emergency managers are appointed precisely because, in the judgment of the governor and treasurer, a city hasn't adequately managed its affairs.
Additionally, the Morning Joe hosts failed to mention that the Flint City Council also voted 7-1 to stop using the Flint river in March 2015 -- only to have that move rejected by the state-appointed emergency manager.
Brzezinski did ask Snyder to respond to a "pretty searing" New York Times article that posed the question: "If Flint were rich and mostly white, would Michigan's state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water?" But Brzezinski led into the question by assuring, "we think you're a really good man," and when Snyder responded by disputing the Times' premise and again laying blame on "a handful of quote unquote experts that were career civil service people that made terrible decisions," Morning Joe moved on to a discussion of the Detroit public school system.
The Morning Joe hosts could have asked Snyder about a Times editorial that more definitively linked the question to his own conduct, writing that the emails Snyder's political staff sent him "show a cynical and callous indifference to the plight of the mostly black, poverty-stricken residents of Flint."
In his final State of the Union address on January 12, President Obama mentioned Speaker Paul Ryan's renewed interest in tackling poverty. Ryan's poverty focus was most recently in the spotlight a few days earlier at the January 9 Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity, which he co-hosted with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). But time and time again, Ryan's expressed commitment to alleviating poverty has turned out to be just rhetoric -- including proposals that would actually hurt Americans in poverty -- and media have let him get away with it.
Let's review: Ryan has repeatedly proposed drastic benefit cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would leave millions of Americans without the help they need to put food on the table for their families. Experts have slammed his past budget plans as gateways to creating "more poverty and less opportunity." His tax proposals would give more spending power to the wealthiest than they would the middle class and working poor. And his opposition to providing a living wage, affordable health care, and federal paid family leave to all Americans (except himself) flies in the face of expanding opportunity for parents and their children.
That hasn't kept the Beltway press from doting on Ryan's supposed anti-poverty plans, giving him and other right-wing political and media figures room for a fact-free, rhetoric-heavy, "populist" rebrand of the Republican Party just in time for 2016.
The Kemp Foundation's so-called "poverty forum" was filled with feel-good calls from Republican presidential hopefuls to "lift people up" and out of poverty, embrace Americans' right to "rise up," and exhortations about our country's "moral imperative" to create opportunity for all.
To American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, it was just the reboot conservatives needed in an election year where Republicans' commitment to American economic security is under heightened scrutiny.
Many in the media fell for this image reboot hook, line, and sinker. Soon after the five-hour event, headline after headline credited Speaker Ryan for bringing a "dose of Kemp optimism" to the 2016 cycle and turning the race toward "a forgotten issue." Others cast the congressman as a "star" for "deftly prodd[ing] GOP presidential candidates" on their plans.
But scratch beneath the glossy surface of Saturday's rosy, revivalist rhetoric and you'll find nothing but age-old right-wing media myths about the face of the American poor, along with supposed policy "solutions" that would throw millions of Americans back into poverty.
At the center of the forum was a portrait of America's poor that comes straight from the Fox News and Rush Limbaugh playbook -- a portrait that is completely unrepresentative of the actual realities of poverty in America today. Ryan, Scott, and the GOP candidates in attendance consistently conflated poverty with dependency, drug addiction, temptation to engage in criminal behavior, a lack of moral conviction, and an unwillingness to work.
These discussions echo the poor-shaming and vitriolic rhetoric that have become emblematic of right-wing media's discussion of the poor. Channeling countless Fox hosts' flawed assumptions that the poor are work-averse, the candidates called for more work requirements as a means to lift up those "who are completely dependent on government."
What these demonizing portrayals ignore, however, is the truth. The working poor, the elderly, and the disabled make up 91 percent of safety net and social insurance beneficiaries.
There was also no shortage of single-motherhood-shaming and fearmongering about out-of-wedlock births, especially from former Fox News employees and current presidential candidates former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and Ben Carson. Huckabee's Fox-honed habit of smearing unwed mothers reared its head as he promoted marriage as a key to eradicating poverty, despite the fact that there are more married parents living in poverty than never-married parents.
No questions were asked -- even from MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, who interviewed the event moderators and organizers -- about what candidates would do about marital poverty.
In addition to irresponsibly misrepresenting the poor, the summit's participants also dangerously distorted the impact of programs created during the "War on Poverty."
Despite their presidential aspirations, many of the candidates rejected the idea that the federal government should play an active role in alleviating poverty in America. Some, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, falsely suggested that these programs -- which have actually kept millions out of poverty -- have only given Americans "the choice of earning more money on the couch than getting a job." This off-hand dismissal of federal programs' success has also been a go-to tactic among right-wing media for years.
In reality, the social safety net has lifted millions of people out of poverty. In 2014, Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP, and federal housing subsidies together protected more than 40 million Americans from poverty. But that didn't keep many speakers at the Kemp Forum from unfairly labeling such programs -- including SNAP and other nutritional assistance programs -- as failures.
The candidates also uniformly opposed raising the federal minimum wage, despite consistently demanding that more well-paying jobs be created. This counterintuitive stance is based on easily debunked fearmongering -- straight from the right-wing media noise machine -- that raising the minimum wage would kill jobs. In fact, study after study has shown that raising minimum wages has a positive or neutral impact on the job market and employment overall.
The evidence is clear that Speaker Ryan and his conservative colleagues haven't changed their positions on poverty -- they are simply rebranding tired and ineffective policies in an effort to convince voters that their party "cares" about the poor.
Media planning to give this effort more airtime should remember that the right's new talking points on this issue are only part of the story. They must also look at the reality of their policies -- which history has shown would turn the War on Poverty into a war on the poor.
Right-wing media leapt to criticize the Iran nuclear deal following the brief detention of American sailors by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf. However, foreign policy experts in the media are crediting the deal and the diplomatic contacts created by it for the quick release of the sailors.