Saturday, December 02, 2017

Media figure sexual harassers & the 2016 election

Great reflection by Kenneth Bernstein on media figure harassers' treatment of Hillary Clinton during the campaign.  He refers specifically to Lauer, Halperin, Rose, and Thrush.  In the wake of harassment charges against them, we can and indeed should re-think Clinton's loss with gender playing an important role.  

We are, after all, a partriarchal society.
Media figure sexual harassers & the 2016 election
Let’s be clear —  there are many factors that contributed to Donald Trump winning an electoral college victory by a margin of under 100,000 votes in three states while losing the national popular vote by almost 3 million.   Thus it may seem unfair to pin Hillary Clinton’s loss on only one factor,
even though with a margin that close one might make  a very good case that change ANY of a multitude of facts, for example Comey’s second letter in late October on the emails, and the outcome would have changed and we would not now be facing our national horror show.

That is what Jill Filipovic does in today’s New York Times.  A contributing op-ed writer for the paper, her offering today is titled The Men Who Cost Clinton the Election and is well worth your time to read and consider.

Let me start by quoting in its entirety a paragraph that i think frames the case:
The 2016 presidential race was so close that any of a half-dozen factors surely influenced the outcome: James Comey, racial politics, Clinton family baggage, the contentious Democratic primary, third-party spoilers, Russian interference, fake news. But when one of the best-qualified candidates for the presidency in American history and the first woman to get close to the Oval Office loses to an opponent who had not dedicated a nanosecond of his life to public service and ran a blatantly misogynist campaign, it’s hard to conclude that gender didn’t play a role.
Filipovic uses the recent news about Matt Lauer as the starting point for her piece, and in her opening paragraph tells us
Sexual harassment, and the sexism it’s predicated on, involves more than the harassers and the harassed; when the harassers are men with loud microphones, their private misogyny has wide-reaching public consequences. One of the most significant: the 2016 election.
She immediately follows that with the words that begin the second paragraph:
Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. 
Please keep reading.

She then goes through documenting what this represents, starting with the notorious back to back interviews Lauer did with the two nominees, where he constantly interrupted Clinton and spent far too much time on her emails and mainly served up softballs to Trump.  She provides similar criticisms of Charlie Rose and Mark Halperin while noting the role they played in influencing other journalists (this is of course particularly true of Halperin, who seemingly relished his role as agenda setter for the gatekeepers of the media).  She notes that Glenn Thrush had covered Clinton in her 2008 campaign, although without citing specific examples of his biss against Clinton.
The next paragraph from Filipovic is key, and the heart of the case:
A pervasive theme of all of these men’s coverage of Mrs. Clinton was that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations suggest that perhaps the problem wasn’t that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent sex-object status.
Whether or not one immediately agrees with this assertion, it seems fair at this point to acknowledge that we should at least consider the possibility that this was the case.  I can remember when watching Lauer’s interview of Clinton of why he was clearly so hostile to her, something that was obvious in his tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language, at least to this white male who admittedly was a Clinton supporter after seeing her 11 hour performance in the Benghazi hearings.
Let me skip ahead a bit, to shortly after the first paragraph I quoted, where Filipovic in a few words, from one short paragraph followed by the beginning of the next, puts the case into sharp focus:
For arguing that gender shaped the election narrative and its result, feminists have been pooh-poohed, simultaneously told that it was Clinton, not her gender, that was the problem and that her female supporters were voting with their vaginas instead of their brains.
The latest harassment and assault allegations complicate that account and suggest that perhaps many of the high-profile media men covering Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump were the ones leading with their genitals. 
When I read those words what immediately popped into my mind was an interchange Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had after during an address at Georgetown she had said she would be happy when there were nine female Justices on the Supreme Court.  When challenged about that by a journalist, I remember her responding that no one seemed to think it was a problem when there were 9 men.
What both the words from Filipovic and from Ginsburg reminded me that too often we who have the privilege of being white men think from the perspective of that privilege and do not recognize the perspective of those excluded from that privilege — women, people of color, and so on.  Having benefited from the privilege, we sometimes are oblivious to the harm it does, and thus at first refuse to accept when it is challenged.   Sexual harassment being a part of society from which we potentially benefit fits into this picture.
Returning to Filipovic’s words, let me offer another complete paragraph that is key to her piece:
It’s hard to look at these men’s coverage of Mrs. Clinton and not see glimmers of that same simmering disrespect and impulse to keep women in a subordinate place. When men turn some women into sexual objects, the women who are inside that box are one-dimensional, while those outside of it become disposable; the ones who refuse to be disposed of, who continue to insist on being seen and heard, are inconvenient and pitiable at best, deceitful shrews and crazy harpies at worst. That’s exactly how Mr. Lauer, Mr. Halperin, Mr. Rose and Mr. Thrush often treated Mrs. Clinton.
Here as a man, albeit a supporter of Clinton, I can look back at note that I wondered at the time why some of these men were so hostile to Mrs. Clinton, although I did not necessarily recognize that it could have been a result of their attitudes towards women.  My failure to even consider that possibility is, I suspect, something that might actually have been fairly wide-spread among MALE supporters of the Democratic nominee, although I would not be surprised to find that the female supporters discussed it — among themselves.
In examining what happened, Filipovic wants us to see it as part of the larger problems still inherent in too much of American society:
When men see women as sex objects first and colleagues second, their actual talents, skills and smarts are easily overlooked. A boss who harasses the woman in the cubicle next to you may not be sexually coercing you or torpedoing your career, but his actions signal that he does not see women as competent co-workers entitled to a rewarding and effective workplace.
Filipovic is not arguing that the problem is universal, nor am I — note I said in “too much” of American society, not all, or even most.  Filipovic addresses this in her third from the end paragraph:
This moment isn’t about a nation of confused men. It’s about a minority of men who choose to treat women alternately as walking sex objects or bothersome and potentially devious nags. It’s about a majority of Americans who give men a pass for all manner of bad behavior, because they assume men are entitled to behave badly but hold women to an entirely different standard.
Please note the distinction.  The bad behavior is by a minority of men.  It is, however, a majority of Americans, male and female, who give those men a pass.  Martin Luther King Jr. told us that “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  When we remain silent in the presence of wrong words and actions, when we acquiesce, we give increased license — in this case to that minority of men who behave badly.
But clearly it happened.  Clearly we can now, at least in retrospect, see that man whose personal behavior and attitudes towards women is not something we should tolerate were a problem, which leads to the words in the penultimate paragraph of this pointed piece, that itwas
 so egregious that sexual harassers set the tone of much of the coverage of the woman who hoped to be the first female president.
Which sets up the final paragraph, which I will push fair use in sharing in its entirety, noting now that when you finish reading it, stop, think about it, and read it again.
These “Crooked Hillary” narratives pushed by Mr. Lauer, Mr. Halperin, and a long list of other prominent journalists and pundits indelibly shaped the election, and were themselves gendered: Hillary Clinton as a cackling witch, Hillary Clinton a woman it was easy to distrust because she was also a woman seeking power, and what kind of woman does that? Mr. Trump emphasized this caricature as part of his more broadly sexist campaign, but he didn’t invent it. Nor was he the only famous man going on television to perpetuate it — while revealing a deep disdain for women when the cameras weren’t rolling.

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