Sarah Palin should have been so lucky.
Even before former Vice President Joe Biden has announced the identity of his running mate, there is a memo from powerful Democratic women on how news organizations may–and may not–cover her.
According to the memo, there is only one way for news organizations to cover Mr. Biden’s choice: with fear and trembling. The memo, sent to news directors, bureau chiefs, editors and producers, and others who determine news stories and angles, is headlined “We Have Her Back.” It certainly lays down the law.
The memo is from: Fatima Goss Graves (National Women’s Law Center), Ilyse Hogue (NARAL) Valerie Jarrett, Alexis McGill Johnson and Melanie Newman (Planned Parenthood), Debra Ness (National Partnership for Women and Families), Cecile Richards (Supermajority), Jess Morales Rocketto, Hilary Rosen, Stephanie Shriock and Christina Reynolds (Emily’s List), Tina Tchen (TimesUp).
“Re: News Coverage of the Vice Presidential Candidate” has some interesting directives for news professionals:
Reporting on a woman’s ambition as though the very nature of seeking political office, or any higher job for that matter is not a mission of ambition• Reporting on whether a woman is liked (a subjective metric at best) as though it is news when the “likeability” of men is never considered a legitimate news story.
Reporting, even as asides in a story, on a woman’s looks, weight, tone of voice, attractiveness and hair is sexist news coverage unless the same analysis is applied to every candidate
Reporting on questions of electability of women is, in itself, a perpetuation of a stereotype about the ability of women to lead
Reporting on doubts women may not be qualified leaders even when they have experience equal to or exceeding male leaders
Reporting on and using pictures of a woman’s, particularly black women, show of anger at injustice or any other kind of passion in communication perpetuates racist tropes that suggest unfairly that women are too emotional or irrational in their leadership or worse “hate America”
Oh, and when the journalists discuss among themselves, they might find even more ways to hamstring their coverage. With a Nurse Ratchet tone, the signers helpfully suggest:
We are certain that if you pursue thoughtful conversation internally, you will find even more examples of how these stereotypes can seep into coverage, and thereby seep into the public consciousness as voters are seeking to understand those seeking office. We believe it is your job to, not just pay attention to these stereotypes, but to actively work to be anti-racist and antisexist in your coverage (ie: equal) as this political season progresses and this Presidential ticket is introduced. As much as you have the public’s trust, you also have great power. We urge you to use it wisely.
So, news organizations can’t report on a woman the way they would on a man (and certainly not the way Democratic outlets report on a conservative woman!).
Smell the intimidation?
What sorts of things are off limits? Paul Mirengoff of Powerline anticipates some:
What, specifically, is off the table? Would it be out-of-bounds to point out that Kamala Harris’ rise in politics began with jobs she got with the help of a powerful, married male politician with whom she was having an affair?
Would it be out-of-bounds to note that Rep. Karen Bass was a fan of Communist dictator Fidel Castro and delivered a eulogy for Communist Party president Oneil Marion Cannon, whom she described a “mentor”?
Would it be okay to observe that Keisha Lance Bottoms’ experience in public life consists only of eight years on the Atlanta city council and less than three years as Atlanta’s mayor?
We sort of knew this was coming, right?