On the July 30 edition of MSNBC Live, during a discussion of Pulitzer Prize winner Robin Givhan's July 20 Washington Post Style section article that referred to the “cleavage on display” during Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) July 18 speech on the Senate floor, Post “Reliable Source” columnist Amy Argetsinger claimed that Givhan “was actually very complimentary of the clavicle display.” Argetsinger added, “She said that it shows that Hillary Clinton is more comfortable in her own skin.” But while Givhan did write that "[s]howing cleavage ... does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease," she also described Clinton's appearance as “unnerving” and wrote that “it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!” Later on the program, MSNBC compared the “cleavage” purportedly displayed by both Clinton and British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith -- a comparison originally made in Givhan's article -- by airing a split screen of the two speaking for approximately 25 seconds.
From Givhan's July 20 article:
It's tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!
Not so long ago, Jacqui Smith, the new British home secretary, spoke before the House of Commons showing far more cleavage than Clinton. If Clinton's was a teasing display, then Smith's was a full-fledged come-on. But somehow it wasn't as unnerving. Perhaps that's because Smith's cleavage seemed to be presented so forthrightly. Smith's fitted jacket and her dramatic necklace combined to draw the eye directly to her bosom. There they were ... all part of a bold, confident style package.
Argetsinger later asserted that “these little superficial dynamics” are “fair game for fashion critics” because women's “ascension to these roles of power is still more recent and they're still people sort of testing out the -- what the American public will like and what they won't when it comes to women in power.”
Later, during the 11 a.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live, anchor Amy Robach led into a segment on the controversy by airing an exchange between NBC chief foreign correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Post columnist Eugene Robinson, and CNBC chief Washington correspondent John Harwood from the July 29 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, in which Harwood stated, as Media Matters for America noted: “When you look at the calculation that goes into everything that Hillary Clinton does, for her to argue that she was not aware of what she was communicating by her dress is like Barry Bonds saying he thought he was rubbing down with flaxseed oil.” Robach's guest, Post staff writer Chris Cillizza, claimed that “the reality in politics these days ... is that how you look does matter.” Cillizza went on to respond to Harwood's comment, “Do I think Hillary Clinton did this on purpose? Gosh, I may not be cynical enough, but I don't think so.” Robach agreed, “I don't think so either, but again, who knows?”
Robach went on to note that she “happened to be anchoring at the time when the new Home Secretary, Britain's Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was speaking after ... the attempted terror attacks in Great Britain. And talk about cleavage, there was no denying that.” MSNBC went on to air a split screen of Smith and Clinton speaking for approximately 25 seconds. Robach closed the segment by stating, “We'll probably be watching even more so what she picks out every morning, every evening, so unfortunately I think it hasn't ended for Hillary Clinton.”
From the 10 a.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live on July 30:
MIKA BRZEZINSKI (host): To politics of a certain kind now: Is Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign trying to cash in on her cleavage? Before racy rumors start spreading, here is what is going on.
It started when an article in the Style section of the none other than The Washington Post ran after Senator Clinton wore this outfit to deliver an education speech on the Senate floor. Critics say she is showing too much skin, come on. Now her campaign is using the cleavage controversy in a new fundraiser. Joining us now is the Washington Post “Reliable Sources” columnist Amy Argetsinger. Hi Amy, how are you?
ARGETSINGER: Hello, how are you?
BRZEZINSKI: I'm OK. Button up, girl!
ARGETSINGER: I know, got to be careful these days.
BRZEZINSKI: I'm concerned. So here's the thing. It's not like -- you know what -- the thing kind of got me mad just because I feel like women who are sort of in high-profile positions can't win. You know, it's not like she's strutting around in a bikini. It's just a blouse, it was a blouse. Is this going too far, do you think, Amy?
ARGETSINGER: Well, well, again, and it was just a blouse, but it was also a fashion critic who was writing about her.
ARGETSINGER: I think everybody's taking this out of context. Really, it was my colleague Robin Givahn who wrote this essay. She writes about not just what's going down the runways but what people in public life --
BRZEZINSKI: Wear, yeah.
ARGETSINGER: -- regular people on the street are wearing and what that says about them.
She was -- she did an essay about a year or so ago when Dick Cheney wore a fur-lined parka to a very formal memorial event when everyone else was wearing a dark overcoat, and she was critical of him then. If you actually read her essay, she was not critical of the cleavage display.
BRZEZINSKI: No, but she noted it in a very articulate fashion.
ARGETSINGER: She noted of it and that made people furious. She took note of the fact that Hillary Clinton was showing a bit of cleavage because she had been watching Hillary Clinton over the years and had noticed that she had never shown cleavage, even in her stupendous inaugural gowns. There is one I guess that was originally designed with a jewel neckline that Hillary Clinton specifically had remade up with a high neck. So what my colleague is arguing is that the fashion choices people make are purposely sending signals of one kind or another. And she was actually very complimentary of the clavicle display. She said that it shows that Hillary Clinton is more comfortable in her own skin. However, I think we found that a lot of people don't want to hear about this. A lot of people found to even touch upon a sort of discussion is demeaning.
BRZEZINSKI: Well and that's I think -- that's where I think I'm going with this. I mean one Republican is mocking the cleavage controversy, calling Hillary quote, “a tempest in a B-cup.”
ARGETSINGER: That's a good one. It wasn't very much cleavage either. It was not that much at all, was it?
BRZEZINSKI: No, it wasn't. And I only looked because I read the article. But I also just thought, you know, what she must have be thinking when she woke up that morning and opened up The Washington Post and saw this article, not on what she was speaking about on education but on her cleavage, and how that probably would't happen to a guy.
ARGETSINGER: But, you know, it does, it happens with John Edwards's haircuts --
ARGETSINGER: -- like I said it happened with Dick Cheney's parka choice. It does happen. Granted, I think women are going to be under more scrutiny because their ascension to these roles of power is still more recent, and they're still people sort of testing out the -- what the American public will like and what they won't when it comes to women in power. And these little superficial dynamics -- I don't know, they're fair game, I guess, for a fashion critic.
BRZEZINSKI: All right, and actually [former Sen.] John Edwards [D-NC] did critique Hillary Clinton's appearance at last week's --
ARGETSINGER: He did. He went there. It was a little bit of a joke.
BRZEZINSKI: Let's look. I have it. Let's look at this.
EDWARDS [video clip]: I admire what Senator Clinton has done for America and what her husband did for America. But I'm not sure about that coat.
From the 11 a.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live on July 30:
ROBACH: It's the camera shot seen 'round the world. Hillary Clinton on the Senate floor talking, she was about higher education, but everyone else is talking about her low-cut neckline. A Washington Post style reporter first noted Clinton's cleavage, which prompted the Clinton camp to fire off a letter to reporters calling the piece inappropriate and asking for money. So is Clinton being unfairly scrutinized and/or is she trying to play the sex card both ways? The question has set off a heated debate, most notably on Meet the Press.
[begin video clip]
ROBINSON: We make decisions every morning on what we put on and how -- what sort of image we want to project. And unfortunately in our society, women are scrutinized in a way that men aren't.
MITCHELL: This was so marginal. This was like microscopic evidence --
HARWOOD: I'm going to defend that column too.
MITCHELL: --of inappropriate attire.
HARWOOD: I'm going to defend that column too. When you look at the calculation that goes into everything that Hillary Clinton does, for her to argue that she was not aware of what she was communicating by her dress is like Barry Bonds saying he thought he was rubbing down with flaxseed oil, OK?
MITCHELL: Sometimes a blouse is just a blouse.
[end video clip]
ROBACH: Let's bring in Chriz Cillizza, who writes the blog, “The Fix” for the WashingtonPost.com. I mean, Chris, I almost needed magnifying glasses to really see the cleavage, I have to say. But is this debate truly trivializing Clinton and women, or is this basically a coup for her camp in terms of publicity and getting women voters to rally around her and getting a few extra dollars.
CILLIZZA: Well look Amy, the reality in politics nowadays, Gene Robinson, my colleague I heard him say just on Meet the Press is that how you look does matter. Do we need more evidence? John Edwards and his haircuts and him combing his hair, which became famous in the 2004 election. Barack Obama coming out of the ocean in his swimsuit. You know, I mean, look, how people look matters. I wrote about it this morning on “The Fix” is that from the presidential level all the way down to the state legislative level, how you look can affect whether or not you win or lose. Do I think Hillary Clinton did this on purpose? Gosh, I may not be cynical enough, but I don't think so.
ROBACH: I don't think so, either but again who knows. The funny thing is when this all came to play, I immediately thought because I actually happened to be anchoring at the time when the new Home Secretary, Britain's Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was speaking after the recent terror attacks, or the attempts at terror attacks in Great Britain. And talk about cleavage, there was no denying that. And Andrea Mitchell brought that up as well. And I believe we actually have a split screen of the two women and you can see there is a big difference between what Jacqui Smith was wearing although it's been covered by our -- there we go -- and Hillary Clinton. There was some buzz about Smith in the British papers, but nothing like what we are seeing with Hillary Clinton. Is it just America? We are not used to it?
CILLIZZA: I think it's a combination of that and the fact that it is Hillary Clinton. Look, everything that she does is so closely scrutinized. This is probably the most well-known politician maybe other than her husband, in America, certainly, potentially in the world as well. You know, think back to the debate last Monday night, when John Edwards was asked to say something he liked and something he disliked about Clinton, the thing he said he disliked was her coat --
CILLIZZA: -- which was sort of a bright coral color. Well, would we say that about a man? Probably not, I mean this is the hard thing that we deal with is what's appropriate, what inappropriate. You know what would you say about a man that you wouldn't say about a woman, and vice versa. We've never had a woman in the race and certainly not a woman as a frontrunner in the presidential race, and it forces you to grapple with that kind of stuff.
ROBACH: And really, is she different than any other position where women pioneers who have seen similar scrutiny? We've heard a lot of talk about [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], what she wears, what she looks like -- I guess she just made like the hot list on Capitol Hill. And then let's talk about Katie Couric, the first female solo news anchor. The first day people couldn't believe that she wore white after Labor Day. I mean, is Clinton facing anymore scrutiny than other women who are obviously in the public eye, or is it mainly just because it's Hillary? What do you think?
CILLIZZA: I think it's probably, again, a combination. You're right, any time you're a trailblazer in any field, there is going to be more scrutiny on you, but, again, remember this is someone who has been in the public eye, at the top of people's minds for years, and so this is someone who people are incredibly interested in. Every little jot and till of her life, winds up becoming something that people are fascinated by. So what she's wearing, whether she meant to wear what she wore -- all of that becomes debate. It's that celebrity culture sort of leaking into politics now.
ROBACH: Yeah, well we probably even watching more so what she picks out every morning, every evening so unfortunately I think it hasn't ended for Hillary Clinton.