Late Monday night, Tucker Carlson's pseudo-journalism rag, the Daily Caller, published a piece on Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann that strongly alleged she popped pills whenever she came under any kind of stress. From the sensationalist headline, “Stress-related condition 'incapacitates' Bachmann; heavy pill use alleged,” to a last paragraph that highlighted her “debilitating headache episodes,” the article tried very hard to make readers understand that because of this “incapacitating” condition, she is unfit to be president. It wasn't until the eighth paragraph that the Daily Caller informed readers that these “stress-induced medical episodes” are in fact “severe headaches” or migraines.
The article has been heavily criticized as "ignorant," as well as sexist. Others have defended the piece, with Slate's Jessica Grose arguing the migraines are “relevant, gender-neutral information.” However, the piece reads like an expose of a “catastrophic drama queen,” as Wired's Steve Silberman put it, whose migraines are sometimes triggered by “anything going badly” requiring her to be rushed to the nearest emergency room. Additionally, according to the piece, Bachmann is a habitual pill-popper whose condition is so “incapacitating” that she couldn't manage it without the help of her husband.
This is certainly not the image of a woman who has balanced career and family life.
But according to one of the article's unnamed sources, an ex-Bachmann adviser:
“She has terrible migraine headaches. And they put her out of commission for a day or more at a time. They come out of nowhere, and they're unpredictable. ... They level her. They put her down. It's actually sad. It's very painful.”
A “former aide,” also unnamed, later makes the point: “As president, when she's in crisis management mode, is she going to have the physical ability to withstand the most difficult challenges facing America?”
The article, by Jonathan Strong, is peppered with such anecdotes from the ex-adviser and former aide. Both are unnamed, because, according to the Daily Caller, “they were providing information only a select group of people could know, at great professional risk.” The article added: “A third source confirmed that Bachmann frequently suffers from debilitating headache episodes.”
But the anonymous sourcing is hardly the only problem with this piece. Strong also makes the case that Bachmann ingests pills at every opportunity and couldn't manage without help from her husband:
“When she gets 'em, frankly, she can't function at all. It's not like a little thing with a couple Advils. It's bad,” the adviser says. “The migraines are so bad and so intense, she carries and takes all sorts of pills. Prevention pills. Pills during the migraine. Pills after the migraine, to keep them under control. She has to take these pills wherever she goes.”
To staff, Bachmann has implausibly blamed the headaches on uncomfortable high-heel shoes, but those who have worked closely with her cite stress, a busy schedule and anything going badly for Bachmann as causes.
Of particular concern to some around her is the significant amount of medication Bachmann takes to address her condition.
The former aide says Bachmann's congressional staff is “constantly” in contact with her doctors to tweak the types and amounts of medicine she is taking. Marcus Bachmann helps her manage the episodes.
In a post on his Twitter feed linking to the article, Strong further characterized her migraines as “unfortunate and potentially disqualifying.”
Again, this whole thing, taken literally -- from the “implausibly” to the “anything going badly,” and the language about her husband -- is dripping with sexism. Migraines are a serious condition that, according to the World Health Organization, are included in its top 20 incapacitating disorders during an attack. It can be so severe that it's difficult for sufferers to think clearly and be able to move. As Dr. Jan Brandes of Vanderbilt University told ABC News, “Many people want to be in a still, dark place with very little sound. ... People are not really functional during this kind of attack.”
I know. I, too, suffer from migraines. And I am a woman. As New York Magazine noted: “Migraines happen to be overwhelmingly a woman's problem, and (though Bachmann's are supposedly stress-triggered), they are often linked to both menstruation and menopause -- unavoidable biological side effects of being a woman.” But there are ways to report on a public figure's medical condition, whether it be gender-biased, without resorting to sexist imagery or using sexist language.
For example, the Daily Caller has no input from medical professionals and it doesn't delve into what kind of medication is usually prescribed in these situations. For people who aren't familiar with migraine headaches, there is no explanation of what the condition is or how it affects sufferers. Instead, we're inundated with views from ex-staffers who worry Bachmann is unfit for the presidency. But many presidents suffered from worse chronic conditions and they still were able to govern, which the article doesn't mention.
But this is the Daily Caller. In a little over a year, it has acquired a particular history of biased views against women. Let's remember that it debuted with two strongly anti-women pieces, one talking about “legalized rape” and another likening Rachel Maddow to a man. A month later, it again referred to Maddow as a man. In September 2010, when a female reporter was harassed by an NFL team, the Daily Caller's headline of its write-up read: “Baby got back: Meet Ines Sainz [SLIDESHOW].” One of the captions in the slideshow stated: “The skin tight jeans -- er, we mean, the sensible outfit that sparked the current controversy.” It later was revealed that one of the Daily Caller writers had once penned a column arguing, as ABC News put it, “that some women who survive date rape invited it.”
There's lots more if you care to look, including a piece about loosening domestic violence laws and another that railed against restraining orders because they “hurt women.” The author advocated instead that women should avoid “late-night strolls in public areas.” Oh, did I mention the time Tucker's website called Rosie O'Donnell half a man? No? Well, it did. And the time it called women “skanks” and ran a slideshow of lingerie-clad women? It did that, too.
So let's just stop pretending that the Bachmann piece wasn't a veiled sexist attack by the Daily Caller. The website has repeatedly proved how it views women, and this is yet another example.