With Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton facing a barrage of criticisms over the tone of her voice during a recent speech, Media Matters looks back at the rampant sexism she faced from the media during her 2008 presidential bid.
Media figures and outlets are strongly condemning Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. But while Trump's rhetoric is extreme, it is not unique -- several other Republican candidates have extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric without receiving such "universal condemnation," as The New Republic noted.
Multiple media figures derided Hillary Clinton's laugh during the first Democratic presidential debate, calling it a "cackle" and "a record scratch." During the 2008 presidential race, Clinton's laughter was repeatedly attacked, despite criticism that such attacks were rooted in sexism.
During the October 13 CNN debate in Las Vegas, Clinton laughed after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders defended her from repeated questions about her use of private email by criticizing the media for fixating on the issue and saying, "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!" Clinton and Sanders shook hands as the crowd applauded.
But several media figures initially focused on Clinton's laugh. BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski tweeted, "oh god the Clinton laugh is out," while the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote, "THE CLINTON LAUGH," and Fox's Sean Hannity tweeted "Omg that laugh."
Several conservative media figures took it further, calling it a "cackle":
::looks up 'cackle' in the dictionary:: ::sees Hillary's face::-- Sonny Bunch (@SonnyBunch) October 14, 2015
(Hillary's laugh grates like a record scratch.)-- Sonny Bunch (@SonnyBunch) October 14, 2015
The cackle. Drink!-- Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) October 14, 2015
Cue the cackle. #DemDebate-- toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) October 14, 2015
Attacking Clinton's laughter was a common theme during the Democratic primary before the 2008 election. In September 2007, after Clinton appeared on several Sunday political talk shows and laughed in response to some questions, media figures spent weeks debating and mocking her laughter. Fox News led the charge, with Bill O'Reilly even discussing Clinton's laughter with a "body language expert" who deemed it "evil," and Sean Hannity calling the laugh "frightening."
The mainstream press picked up on the attacks on Clinton's laugh, with New York Times political reporter Patrick Healy writing an article with the headline "Laughing Matters in Clinton Campaign," in which he described Clinton's "hearty belly laugh" as "The Cackle," calling it "heavily caffeinated" and suggesting it may have been "programmed."
Then-Politico reporter Ben Smith also described Clinton's laugh as her "signature cackle," while Politico correspondent Mike Allen and editor-in-chief John F. Harris wrote that Clinton's laugh "sounded like it was programmed by computer."
And New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who has a long history of nasty attacks on Clinton, claimed Clinton's laugh was allowing her to look less like a "hellish housewife" and a "nag" and more like a "wag":
As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: "She's never going to get out of our faces. ... She's like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won't stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone."
That's why Hillary is laughing a lot now, big belly laughs, in response to tough questions or comments, to soften her image as she confidently knocks her male opponents out of the way. From nag to wag.
The list goes on: MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, then-MSNBC host David Shuster, then-MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, radio host Mike Rosen, Dick Morris, the Drudge Report, The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi, Time magazine's Joe Klein, the New York Times' Frank Rich, CNN's Jeanne Moos, and others all debated or derided Clinton's laughter during Clinton's first run for president.
Politico's Allen said on MSNBC during all of this that "'cackle' is a very sexist term," and disputed MSNBC's Chris Matthews' use of it in reference to Clinton. Other outlets agreed; Jezebel called out Matthews for his "cackle" criticism and other derisive remarks, asking, "can we agree that no matter what your political allegiances, this is not the way you speak of a woman -- whether she is a senator or not?" Rachel Sklar, writing in the Huffington Post, said at the time "I keep finding sexist Hillary Clinton bashing everywhere I turn," noting that criticisms of the candidate's laughter "turn completely on the fact that she's a woman. 'The Cackle?' So would never be applied to a man. We all know it."
Unfortunately, the criticism hasn't stopped in the intervening seven years. The Washington Free Beacon has a "Hillary Laugh Button" permanently on its site. The National Journal published in June 2014, many months prior to Clinton declaring her second bid for president, a "Comprehensive Supercut of Hillary Clinton Laughing Awkwardly With Reporters." And conservative tweet-aggregator Twitchy in August mocked "scary as hell" pens which featured "Clinton's cackling head."
As the media begin to spotlight the murder trial of Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell, it's critical that they also examine the anti-choice policies that force women into what Demos senior fellow Bob Herbert called "the terrible alternatives" - alternatives that the right now hopes to make the face of abortion.
Gosnell has become a poster boy for media conservatives looking to make him the monstrous face of abortion, and while the procedures conducted by Gosnell as explained in a grand jury report are illegal and nothing short of monstrous, the report made clear that Gosnell's business model was to prey on women who had no access to legal abortions. Herbert and BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith emphasized this point on the April 15 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
HERBERT: What you want to do, though, is, if a woman is going to have an abortion, because abortion is legal in this country, then you want it to be accessible and safe. You want it to be done under sanitary conditions with qualified practitioners and that sort of thing.
One of the problems is that in so many parts of the country, it's just not available, and then women go to the terrible alternatives.
SMITH: There has certainly been a campaign on the right to make it, in lieu of being able to actually ban abortion, just to make it incredibly difficult to get. And this is obviously the downside of that, right, that people wind up going outside the law.
As the media examine how they should cover this case going forward, it's important to keep in mind that there has been, in fact, a lot of discussion of the atrocious actions alleged to have taken place at the Women's Medical Society in Philadelphia, largely by pro-choice advocates pointing out that the case illustrates the horrible alternatives that rise up in the absence of safe and legal abortion services.
Stressing style over substance, lots of Beltway pundits teamed up with Republican partisans to push the theater criticism point that Vice President Joe Biden may have blown last night's debate with his body language. Specifically, critics are complaining he smiled and chuckled too much while Rep. Paul Ryan was speaking.
Even after CBS News' snap poll showed that Biden had scored a big win with undecided voters, pundits and Republicans suggested Biden's facial expressions, not the substance of his comments, were newsworthy.
From the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin:
And BuzzFeed's Ben Smith:
The media effort is reminiscent of when pundits and Republicans teamed up on Al Gore after his first presidential debate with George W. Bush in 2000. Back then, they pushed the line that Gore had sighed too often in response to Bush's answers. History shows that right after the debate viewers crowned Gore the winner of the face-off. But after the media's sigh initiative, Bush was perceived to have won the debate. Today, Gore's sighs are routinely referenced as debate blunders. ("Utterly insufferable," Esquire recently wrote.)
It's unlikely the press can turn Biden's strong showing into a stinging defeat, in part because the 2000 sigh episode was part of a much larger anti-Gore press push. But it's telling how seamlessly the mainstream press joined with Republican operatives to launch post-debate (style) spin targeting Biden last night and trying to tie him to Gore's performance.
From former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer:
And the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza:
In its piece, "Is Joe Biden The New Al Gore?" Politico reported that "at least among some pundits and Republican strategists: it reminded them of Al Gore's infamous sighs in the 2000 presidential debates against George W. Bush, which were enough to seriously hurt Gore's candidacy." [Emphasis added.]
Politico stressed that Gore's sighs were "universally panned by pundit" are now "remembered as one of the standout aspects of the debates that year." What's lost in that rewriting is that Gore actually won the first debate. The Associated Press reported on October 4, 2000 that Gore had won three out of four snap polls conducted that night.
Blogger Bob Somerby meticulously documented Gore's press treatment during the 2000 campaign. He recently revisited the infamous sighs:
Did George Bush win that first debate? Only after the press corps began playing videotaped loops of Gore's troubling sighs (with the volume cranked, of course).
Debates matter. But so can the media's lazy style spin.
BuzzFeed's Ben Smith only needed 40 minutes of a 90-minute debate to pick the "winner."
Mitt Romney, trailing in the polls, needed to prove tonight that he could stand on stage with President Barack Obama as an equal and a plausible president of the United States.
He did that in the crucial first 40 minutes of Wednesday night's debate, addressing Obama respectfully, even warmly -- but then tangling with a sometimes hazy and professorial Obama on taxes and deficits.
"You don't just pick the winners and losers -- you pick the losers," he told Obama of his energy investments, sliding time and time again into a second person singular address calculated to level the rhetorical playing field.
Calling a game in the middle of the fourth inning isn't standard practice in any league.
UPDATE: Conservatives like Sean Hannity quickly began highlighting Smith's early call of a Romney victory:
Politico's Ben Smith makes a good point about Fox -- and, indeed, all media:
The challenge to reporters is to cover Fox -- and, at times, MSNBC, and a range of print and online publications, and to a lesser degree every media outlet -- as the political actors they often are. …
And as the POLITICO article suggests, it's a story that will only get bigger as the 2012 Republican primary campaign ramps up. That's a campaign in which Fox News is just undoubtedly the single most important player -- it pays the candidates, and reaches the electorate. Its executives' and hosts' specific decisions will be crucial to deciding the nominee. Coverage that treats Fox as an observer, not a player, will miss much of the point.
One thing this means is that, contrary to the media's tendency to beat itself up for being too slow to chase after stories Fox (or Breitbart or The Weekly Standard, etc) is promoting, they should be extremely wary of such stories.
But the nakedly partisan and flagrantly dishonest tactics employed by the likes of Fox News aren't the only ways in which the line between observer and participant is blurred. There are far more subtle (and less nefarious) ways in which this happens.
News reports that speculate that a scandal "threatens" to dog a politician contribute to it doing so, whether or not it should do so on the merits. Speculation about how voters will react to a speech plays a role in shaping that reaction. The constant insistence that national security issues will benefit Republicans makes it more likely that they do so. Media who don't ask politicians about the views of executive power and the Constitution help ensure that the public doesn't think much about those issues. And so on.
Smith's point that reporters should treat Fox as a political player rather than merely an observer is spot-on. But they should also keep in mind that they aren't merely observers, either. The decisions they make about what to cover help determine what politicians and voters talk and think about. Their speculation about how an event "plays" politically helps shape how it plays. There's no way for them to avoid that -- but it's important that they be aware of it.
Last week, Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier told Greg Sargent that the AP's fact-check pieces are consistently among the wire service's most popular features.
In response, Politico's Ben Smith raised some concerns about the practice:
The rise of a formal fact-checking establishment has been, by and large, a very good thing for politics. ...
And there seems to be a market for it: Ron Fournier tells Sargent that AP is doing more and more of it in part because it's popular. That may be in part because readers like simple stories cast in black black-and-white, as fact checks often are.
But the practice, and the presumption of absolute authority, can itself easily be misused politically, and I think it's worth adding a note of caution on two levels. First, just because it's labeled "fact check" doesn't render an article any less vulnerable to error and spin. Further, much of politics is made of arguments about policy and values that aren't easily reduced to factual disagreements.
Smith's concerns strike me as reasonable: The structure many media organizations impose on their fact-checking pieces is often problematic. In particular, the labels many media fact-checkers apply are highly questionable and misleading. Take this PolitiFact assessment of Jeff Sessions' statement that Elena Kagen "violated the law of the United States" in her handling of military recruiters at Harvard:
So did Kagan violate the law when she banned military recruiters from using the Office of Career Services for that one semester?
First off, the law didn't say universities may not bar military recruiters. It said certain types of federal funds may not go to those schools if they bar the recruiters. There's a big difference.
It's certainly fair to say Kagan tested the law, but it's another thing to claim she violated the law. Kagan barred military recruiters from using the Office of Career Services only after a Third Circuit court ruled the Solomon Amendment was "likely" unconstitutional. And she reversed course even before the Supreme Court ruled against the universities -- so she didn't willfully flout the law after the Supreme Court made the law unmistakably clear.
Some may argue that the Third Circuit decision didn't affect Massachusetts, which is in the First Circuit, and that the Supreme Court was decisive in its reversal of that circuit court decision. So one could also argue that Kagan didn't comply with what the law required, but we think it's a stretch for Sessions to say Kagan "violated the law of the United States at various points in the process." There was at least some legal ambiguity -- for a time -- about Harvard's obligation. And, we note, no money was ever denied to Harvard. And so we rate Sessions' comment Barely True.
In short, PolitiFact said Kagan didn't really violate the law, then declared the statement that she did so "Barely True." That's an interesting definition of "barely true."
PolitiFact also gave a "barely true" to George Will's statement that Utah Senator Robert Bennett voted for TARP, the stimulus, and an individual mandate for health care -- despite concluding that Will was "incorrect that Bennett voted for Obama's stimulus bill, and it was inaccurate for him to suggest that Bennett cast a vote for an individual mandate." So, PolitiFact found that one of the three things WIll said was true and two were not -- and gave him a "Barely True." Sounds more like "mostly false" to me -- but PolitiFact doesn't have a "mostly false" classification, so they leave the impression that Will's statements were more accurate than they really were.
But that isn't a problem with fact-checking. It's a problem of execution. The problems Smith identifies aren't inherent to fact-checking; they are the product of the journalists responsible for conceptualizing and writing the fact-checks, not of fact-checking itself.
The other problem with the execution of these highly structured, branded "Fact Check" pieces is that fact-checking shouldn't be relegated to occasional, highly specialized pieces; it should be a basic part of everyday journalism. Checking the truthfulness of a politician's statements shouldn't be something a news organization saves for its "Fact Check" feature; it should be present in every news report that includes those statements. It isn't enough to occasionally debunk a false claim, as I've been saying over and over again.
Smith suggests the popularity of the AP's fact-checking pieces stems from the public's fondness for "simple stories cast in black black-and-white." I'm not so sure that's the case. I think it may stem less from the public's appetite for simplistic "Mostly True" graphics and more for its appetite for clearly-written explanations of the key issues of the day, rather than the endless passive-voice prognostication and horse-race journalism that makes up so much of today's political news content. It may be the substance and clarity that readers crave, not the overly-simplistic, label-friendly branded "Fact Check" pieces.
What I'd like to see isn't another media organization with a branded, occasional "Fact Check" feature -- it's a news organization that commits to never reporting a politician's statement without placing that statement in factual context. I suspect that a news organization that made that -- rather than assessments of how the claim will "play" -- a central value would see at least some of the readership benefits that the special branded features apparently bring. And I'm certain it would result in better journalism and a better-informed readership.
It's interesting that Fox News is refusing the ads, and apparently using confusion as some sort of justification. For instance, Fox regularly buys print advertising for themselves in newspapers and trade publications, yet I've never heard of a Fox ad being rejected because readers might confuse the network with actual news (they act more like a PAC nowadays). Or perhaps Fox felt VoteVets ads might create some sort of cognitive dissonance for viewers who have become used to the network's shoddy coverage of environmental issues?
Now, in a statement provided to Media Matters, VoteVets.org is asking why the conservative network would reject an ad "that calls on Congress to defund our enemies":
"There's nothing confusing about the link between oil and terrorist funding, and even the most dyed-in-the-wool neocons agree on that point," said VoteVets.org senior advisor Richard Smith. He continued, "The only confusing thing here is why FOX News would reject an ad that calls on Congress to defund our enemies by finding new sources of energy."
Take a look at the ad. Does it confuse you as much as it apparently confuses the folks at Fox News?
Politico's Ben Smith posted the FBI agent's affidavit in the alleged plot to interfere with the phones* at Sen. Landrieu's office by O'Keefe and three others to his Twitter account this afternoon. You can read it here (pdf).
Politico's Ben Smith writes:
As the left makes the counterintuitive argument - which it lost in 1994 - that Democrats' real problem is caution, not overreach, John Judis makes the more straightforward case: It's all about the independents.
But, contrary to Smith's suggestion, the two positions -- that the "Democrats' real problem is caution, not overreach" and that "It's all about the independents" are not mutually exclusive. And contrary to his suggestion, "independents" are not some static universe of voters in the "center" who can only be unhappy with Democrats if Democrats "overreach."
Indeed, Judis does not seem to subscribe to the views Smith ascribes to him. Judis writes "Obama's declining approval can be attributed to the rising rate of unemployment and that the only way he could have prevented, or eased, the fall in his popularity would have been to get Congress to adopt a much larger stimulus program last winter."
That sure doesn't sound like a contradiction of the view that the "Democrats' real problem is caution, not overreach."
Smith's construct adopts the tired assumption that in order to appeal to "independents," Democrats must jettison progressive ideals. But it's rarely anything more than that: an assumption. Much of the time, Democrats can better appeal to "independents" through clear articulation of a progressive agenda, and -- this part is important -- successful implementation of the same. Just consider last year's stimulus: Had it been larger, as many economists said it should have been, the economy might now be in much better shape. Surely we can all agree that if that were the case, Democrats might well enjoy more support from independents?
The Village was cooing last night over "Game over: The Clintons stand alone," the speculative and gloating hit on the Clintons by Politico's Ben Smith.
Smith breathlessly recounts claims about the Clintons that first appeared in Mark Halperin's new book Game Change, then takes a sneering ha-ha-nobody-likes-the-Clintons tone in noting the purported lack of Clinton loyalists contesting the book's claims.
Now, there's another pretty obvious possible explanation for the lack of an aggressive high-profile response to the book by the Clintons and their former staff. As John Aravosis -- who, if memory serves, did not take a favorable view of Clinton during the presidential primaries -- explains:
I think, rather, that Hillary is being a good Secretary of State. ... I think the lack of response from Team Clinton on this book is because she doesn't want to be a distraction for the President. And if that's the case, she deserves credit.
Now, I don't know if Aravosis is right, or if Smith is. Don't really care, either. But it is striking that Smith never even considers the possibility that "Team Clinton" is laying low for the reason Aravosis suggests. It suggests a tunnel vision on Smith's part, and an eagerness to portray the Clintons as adrift and alone.
One passage in Smith's article was particularly striking to me (emphasis added):
Finally, the depiction of candidate Clinton in "Game Change" suggests that her competitiveness sometimes expressed itself as consuming suspicion.
"I am convinced they also imported people into those caucuses," she reportedly told Penn a month after her concession. In that conversation, which the authors appear to have obtained from a tape-recording or transcript, she reporteldly gave Penn a particularly self-serving assignment:
I want you to start thinking about how I avoid being blamed [for Obama's possible defeat]", Clinton said. "Because I shouldn't be blamed. But they are going to blame me. I somehow didn't do enough."
What's interesting about this passage isn't the substance of Clinton's purported comments. I mean, who really cares if Clinton asked Mark Penn to think about how she could avoid being blamed for an Obama general-election loss? What's remarkable about that?
No, what's interesting is Smith's description of the book's sourcing for the comment. Think about it for a minute: Ben Smith can't tell whether the authors got the quote from a tape-recording or a transcript. That speaks volumes about the authors' shiftiness in describing their sourcing. There's a huge difference between having recordings and having a transcript. If it was a transcript, that would raise all kinds of questions about who produced it and when and how accurate it was.
It says something about the authors that they were ambiguous about which it was, recording or transcript. Just as it says something about them that the source of the famous Clinton/coffee quote isn't described in any way whatsoever:
But Bill [Clinton] then went on, belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy. Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.
Quick: who's the source of that quote? The Kennedy friend, right? That's what a lot of people have assumed. But read it again: Halperin & Heilemann don't actually say the Kennedy friend was their source. Their source could have been a friend of the friend. Or the friend's gardener. Or the friend's cousin's roommate's high school girlfriend's uncle. We have no idea.
That's bad enough. What's worse is that Halperin and Heilemann's writing is either sloppy or disingenuous enough that it leads the reader to assumptions about the sourcing -- the Kennedy friend; the tape-recording -- that, for whatever reason, the authors don't come out and confirm. They imply sourcing that is stronger than they are willing to assert.
That, to me, is a clear sign of a book -- of authors -- that cannot be trusted. Yet it apparently didn't raise any red flags for Smith, or Cillizza, or the other journalists who have been raving about Smith's piece. And that speaks volumes about the state of political journalism.
UPDATE: Greg Sargent weighs in:
what's mystifying is that virtually none of the media figures lavishing attention on this book have broached the sourcing issue, something you'd think would merit a bit of discussion among professional journalists. Discussion of this has been left almost entirely to bloggers.
On January 1st, Politico ran an article by Ben Smith and Carl Lee headlined "Democrats' worst nightmare: Terrorism on their watch." The "nightmare" in question was not, as you might assume, hundreds or even thousands of dead Americans. No, the "nightmare" was the political fallout of such an event -- and Politico thought that nightmare came true with a Christmas Day attempt to down an airplane:
[T]he White House's response to last week's attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit could rank as one of the low points of the new president's first year. Over the course of five days, Obama's Obama' reaction ranged from low-keyed to reassuring to, finally, a vow to find out what went wrong. The episode was a baffling, unforced error in presidential symbolism, hardly a small part of the presidency, and the moment at which yet another of the old political maxims that Obama had sought to transcend - the Democrats' vulnerability on national security - reasserted itself.
It was the perfect Politico article: It focused on style over substance, it reflected the attacks Republicans like Dick Cheney were making on President Obama, and it forecast political struggles for Democrats based not on any actual data, but on outdated assumptions and stereotypes.
Smith and Lee asserted:
[Obama's] response failed to reckon with the intense public interest in a story of repeated government failures and a near-fatal attack.
the listlessness of an initial response remains a puzzle
Explanations of Obama's low-key reaction in the face of a terror attack include the characteristic caution of a president who resists jumping to conclusions and being pushed to action. They also include the White House's belief - disproven repeatedly in 2009 - that it can evade the clichéd rules of politics, which include a suspicion of Democratic leadership on national security. Only Sunday night, when criticism of the system "worked" comment was not going away, did White House aides realize their approach was not working and that they needed to shift course.
Again: the article included not a single poll result or other actual fact indicating the slightest public concern with Obama's handling of terrorism or national security. Not one. It was simply a regurgitation of GOP spin and conventional wisdom: President Obama's handling of national security must be a political weakness, because he is a Democrat.
And, if a new CNN poll is any indication, Politico's basic premise was wrong. Here's Greg Sargent:
Okay, some new polling from CNN just landed in the old in-box, and it appears to suggest that the public isn't buying claims that Obama's handling of the Christmas Day plot was too detached, cool, or weak:
As you know, a man has been charged with attempting to use an explosive device on Christmas Day to blow up a plane that was flying to Detroit. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama has responded to that incident?
No opinion 4%
I'm sure Politico will now run a piece acknowledging that they got it all wrong and apologizing for running such a piece without any actual facts or data to back it up. Yep, I'm sure that's coming any minute now.
Reporting on Sarah Palin's response to Politifact naming her claim that Democratic health care bills contain a "death panel" the 2009 "Lie of the Year," Politico's Ben Smith suggests that it's possible that this has all been a big misunderstanding:
She was talking about, she now says, the Medicare Advisory Board, in combination with forecasted declines in Medicare spending:
In the haze of confusion over this issue, some of Palin's defenders had equated her words with a measure, since dropped, to provide of end-of-life counseling.
Contrary to Smith's suggestion, back in September, when asked what Palin was referring to when she said that under reform, "Obama's 'death panel' " would "decide" whether her parents or her son Trig, who has Down syndrome, were "worthy of health care," Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton responded in an email to ABC's Jake Tapper: "From HR3200 p. 425 see 'Advance Care Planning Consultation'."
That is, of course, the very provision serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey had referred to in claiming that the House health care reform bill would "absolutely require" end-of-life counseling for seniors "that will tell them how to end their life sooner." The media subsequently debunked McCaughey and Palin's claims more than 40 times.
Either Palin's own spokesperson was caught up in that same "haze of confusion"... or Palin is cynically changing her definitions in an attempt to preserve her credibility.
Oh, and the Medicare Advisory Board isn't a "death panel" either.
UPDATE: Smith responds, calling my argument "pretty convincing."
Apparently, Sen. Chuck Schumer referred to a flight attendant as a "bitch" (not to her face.) A House Republican aide overheard the remark and ran to the Politico, which promptly typed it up as though it was news.
That, believe it or not, isn't the ridiculous part.
Here's the ridiculous part: The National Republican Senatorial Committee, recognizing that they aren't going to defeat Chuck Schumer anytime soon, decided to try to spin this into a scandal for Sen. Kristen Gillibrand. No, Gillibrand didn't call anyone a name -- but she was sitting next to Schumer at the time! Don't you see? She's doomed!
Well, Politico's Ben Smith fell for it:
Word that Chuck Schumer called a flight attendant a "bitch" in comment to Kristen Gillibrand may be more damaging to Gillibrand than to the senior senator.
Nobody in New York, or Washington, thought Schumer was the politest soul or nicest person in Congress, or voted for him for his politesse. He's rock solid politically at home -- a place where rudeness is considered a virtue -- and his political trajectory is toward the sort of office held by notable nice guys Lyndon Johnson and Tom DeLay.
Gillibrand, by contrast, has been unable to make much of an impression in her year as an appointed senator, according to recent polling. She's dogged by the perception that she's merely a second vote for Chuck, and personally not as forceful a character as a New York Senator ought to be. Her conduct here -- silence toward Schumer's jibe, followed by her staff's telling my colleague Anne Schroeder that Schumer was "polite" to the flight attendant -- feeds both those impressions.
"We also hope his fellow Senator and passenger Kirsten Gillibrand will rightly condemn these actions by her colleague," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said in a statement this morning, but Gillibrand spokesman Matt Canter declined, in an email, to rebuke Schumer in any way.
Now, keep in mind that nobody -- not even the House Republican aide who gave Politico the story in the first place -- contradicts Kirsten Gillibrand's staffer's statement that Schumer was "polite" to the flight attendant.
Actually, don't bother keeping that in mind. Smith's write-up is silly enough even without keeping the facts in mind. Kirsten Gillibrand is in trouble because she was sitting next to Chuck Schumer when he said something rude to her, and because her spokesperson said Schumer had been polite to a flight attendant? Please.