Fox's Howard Kurtz On Media Gender Bias: “Deal With It”

Gender bias and sensationalism in the media is something political figures like Hillary Clinton simply need to “deal with,” according to Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz.

In a May 28 column, Kurtz highlighted a newly released excerpt from Hillary Clinton's upcoming book, Hard Choices, in an attempt to analyze Clinton's purported wariness of the press. He gave particular attention to a New Yorker article, published the same day as the book excerpt, which detailed the media's obsessive focus on Clinton. While the New Yorker noted that Clinton supporters attribute “some of the negative” coverage she has faced to sexism, Kurtz offered an alternate take:

My take is this: Let's say Hillary's people are right and that the press is petty, sensationalist, often unfair and sometimes mean to women? Deal with it. It's like complaining about bad weather. Every candidate has to cope with an adversarial media, and Democrats usually get a break at least on social issues.

Clinton has had to “deal with” an inordinate amount of these baseless attacks in the media for years, sexist coverage that imparts a serious impact on women in politics.

Media coverage of Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign was a gender debacle. Press featured “news” segments on Hillary's hair style, examinations of the Clinton “cackle,” and even a 750-word rumination on the “startling” amount of cleavage then-Sen. Clinton “displayed” on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

In recent months, right-wing media have worked overtime to stir up concern about Clinton's age, an effort led in part by conservative strategist and Fox contributor Karl Rove in anticipation of a possible 2016 presidential run. The conservative bubbled first encouraged the media to revive old conspiracy theories about Clinton's health, relentlessly hyped their own attack, and then demanded that Clinton respond with evidence to their specious claims. Far from subtle, as recently as May 27 Fox News painted Clinton “old and stale,” amplifying an affront first used by Rove.

Clinton's age has long been a focus of right-wing media's ire. Last year The Washington Times claimed that Clinton's age by 2016 is “not particularly old for a man,” though at her age “a woman in public life is getting past her sell-by date.” Fox's Erick Erickson asserted that by 2016, “I don't know how far back they can pull her face.”

It's not only Hillary -- media's gender bias infects coverage of women in politics in general. Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis has endured unprecedented speculation over her mental health, parenting acumen, and personal relationships. When she spoke out in support of women's choice, she was labeled "Abortion Barbie." Similarly, when Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was photographed sitting next to President Obama during Nelson Mandela's memorial service, she was objectified and sexualized by right-wing media, who accused the pair of “flirting.”

By framing this gender bias in the media as something Clinton should simply “deal with,” Kurtz ignores its broader effects. A 2013 survey by Name It. Change It. found that when media cover a female candidate's appearance, she loses ground in the polls, regardless of “whether the coverage of a woman candidate's appearance was framed positively, negatively or in neutral terms.” A second survey found that “sexist coverage further diminishes her vote and the perception that she is qualified.”

Kurtz himself has a history of using sexist tropes in his reporting. In 2013, Kurtz published extensive descriptions of photos the daughter-in-law of a Washington Post executive had posted on her personal Facebook account, speculating in his media criticism column about her “candid approach to sexual matters.” He's previously suggested that women are less likely than men to watch “harder-news,” and decided that a sexist depiction of Clinton on the cover of the New York Post was “kind of funny.”