With reports that Sen. John McCain had picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate, sexist commentary on cable news followed. On CNN, John Roberts raised the question of whether as vice president, Palin would be able to devote the time necessary to care for her baby with Down syndrome, and on MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd suggested that Sen. Joe Biden bears the burden of having to adjust his behavior in a vice-presidential debate because of Palin's sex.
With reports that Sen. John McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate, sexist commentary on cable news soon followed.
During the August 29 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN anchor John Roberts said to congressional correspondent Dana Bash: “There's also this issue that, on April 18, she [Palin] gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome. The baby is just slightly more than 4 months old now. Children with Down syndrome require an awful lot of attention. The role of vice president, it seems to me, would take up an awful lot of her time, and it raises the issue of how much time will she have to dedicate to her newborn child?” Bash replied: “That's a very good question, and, I guess -- my guess is that perhaps the line inside the McCain campaign would be, if it were a man being picked who also had a baby, but, you know, four months ago with Down syndrome, would you ask the same question?”
On the August 29 edition of MSNBC Live, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and NBC News political director Chuck Todd suggested that Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden bears the burden of having to adjust his behavior in a vice-presidential debate because of Palin's sex. Mitchell asked Todd: “Does it make it harder for Joe Biden, in a debate, to be tough on a woman? Let's talk about gender politics for a moment.” Todd responded: “Absolutely. You know, he's now this big, bad bully, right?”
Media Matters for America noted that, during MSNBC's April 26, 2007, coverage of the first Democratic presidential candidates debate, host Chris Matthews asserted that "[y]ou can't be aggressive against a woman candidate on stage, or you're in big trouble," and wondered how the male candidates would overcome such a challenge. Then-MSNBC host Tucker Carlson asked a Clinton campaign spokesman whether Clinton had an “unfair advantage ... because of her sex.”
From the 11 a.m. ET hour of the August 29 edition of CNN Newsroom:
ROBERTS: You know, there's one other issue. We've talked about her experience and what depth of experience she has, the fact that maybe she tries to peel off a few women voters on the Democratic side who really wanted to see a woman in the White House in some way, shape, or form. There's also this issue that, on April 18, she gave birth to a baby with Down syndrome.
ROBERTS: The baby is just slightly more than 4 months old now. Children with Down syndrome require an awful lot of attention. The role of vice president, it seems to me, would take up an awful lot of her time, and it raises the issue of how much time will she have to dedicate to her newborn child?
BASH: That's a very good question, and, I guess -- my guess is that perhaps the line inside the McCain campaign would be, if it were a man being picked who also had a baby, but, you know, four months ago with Down syndrome, would you ask the same question? And that might be another way to kind of, you know, kind of close the gender gap in trying to make the point that, yes, she not only has, unfortunately, a baby with Down syndrome, but she has five children, the oldest of whom, is apparently going -- is in the Army and is apparently going to head off to Iraq in the fall.
So, you know, it absolutely is going to be a question that she is going to have to answer and there's no question that she had to do soul searching and figure out if she could take this on when John McCain made clear that he wanted her to be her [sic] running mate. And it's going to be one of the interesting things that we are going to be able to hear from her when she finally does speak, whether she'll address these things here or in subsequent interviews -- that's going to be a fascinating thing. But it also does appeal to social conservatives in another way, and that is that, you know, part of her story, if you read her discussions about that baby, is that, you know, she knew, before she gave birth to that baby, that it had Down syndrome and she chose to keep the baby. And that is because she is somebody who is anti-abortion. She is somebody who is very staunchly anti-abortion. That kind of story also can help appeal to the social conservatives that John McCain is still trying to win over in his own party.
From the 11 a.m. ET hour of the August 29 edition of MSNBC Live:
MITCHELL: The other thing is that I was told that some of the big money people are very excited about this. They think it fires up the ticket, gives them a fresh start, and with fundraising at least, for their party, because, as we know, they're reaching the deadline. Once he accepts the nomination, he's not going to be raising money for himself, but there's a lot of Republican money-raising to be done out there, especially with the cap. His accepting the government funding and that part of it, I think, is going to be a very successful deal. Does it make it harder for Joe Biden, in a debate, to be tough on a woman? Let's talk about gender politics for a moment.
TODD: I tell you, I --
MITCHELL: The debate will be the big debut --
MITCHELL: -- of Sarah Palin.
TODD: You know --
MITCHELL: And --
TODD: -- he's now this big, bad bully, right? And that's what --
TODD: -- he's going to be careful not becoming. He can't just, you know --
MITCHELL: But of course --
TODD: She's going to have an expectations bar that's really low, and, you know, there's going to be questions that are given to her in such a way, that, to see, just on a basic qualification test, how well she knows certain world events. So she's going to have a very low bar to pass, and Biden can't jump on her. You know, Biden can't beat her up too much. Just the way you said it --
MITCHELL: But, of course --
TODD: -- it's a real balance you have to strike.
MITCHELL: Chuck, the other part of that is that he can go after McCain and put her on the defensive regarding McCain. And she doesn't have the foreign policy experience to defend John McCain on foreign policy, the Iraq war, and a lot of other things that are not popular with women. So the very women that she needs to appeal to are not as likely to go for the tough foreign policy line that John McCain represents.
TODD: Well, look, the good news for the McCain campaign is they unveiled a surprise on all of us, on the press, on the Republican Party, on everybody. The bad news is they have a very small window. [Republican strategist] Mike Murphy was saying this earlier on our air, a very small window to define who she is. There's going to be a race to define her.