Maybe you thought that the recent outrage from the right over Newsweek's use of a photo of Sarah Palin in a running outfit meant conservatives are finally coming to understand that sexism has no place in the news media. And maybe you thought all the attention the mainstream media paid to the controversy was a sign that they, too, are beginning to see the light -- and not simply another example of them asking conservative media critics how high they should jump. Well, if you thought that, you'd be wrong.
Take, for example, Newsbusters. The right-wing media critics were all over the Newsweek/Palin controversy. But they haven't said a word about Mark Halperin doctoring a photo to portray Mary Landrieu as having semen in her hair.
But Newsbusters certainly isn't alone in ignoring Halperin's vicious portrayal of Landrieu. Do a Nexis search for news reports containing the words "Halperin" and "Landrieu" in the past week, and you'll get exactly one result: a blog post by Michael Tomasky. And this comes immediately after the media uproar over the Newsweek Palin cover.
Now, you might think the difference in attention is because Newsweek made the mistake of putting the photo of Palin on its cover, while Halperin's photoshop of Landrieu appeared only on Time's web page. On the other hand, Newsweek used a photo Sarah Palin voluntarily posed for in order to promote herself, whereas Halperin doctored a photo of Mary Landrieu to make it look like she had semen in her hair. So, let's call it even, shall we?
And, no, the disparity can't be explained by the fact that Beltway journalists love Mark Halperin, creator of ABC's insider gossip sheet The Note. Glenn Beck called Mary Landrieu a prostitute, and the media didn't give a damn. And when I say Beck called Mary Landrieu a prostitute, I don't mean that he hinted that Landrieu might do legislative favors in exchange for campaign cash. I mean he literally called her a "prostitute."
Progressive political figures like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi have been on the receiving end of sexist media treatment for years, and conservative media critics like Newsbusters don't give a damn. Nor does much of the mainstream media. The lesson? Newsweek's treatment of Sarah Palin was, indeed, sexist -- but many of those who criticized it don't really care about sexism in the media. They care that a Republican was the target, and that Republicans were upset.
It is truly amazing that Time allowed Mark Halperin to publish the following caption and image on his blog, The Page -- no matter how briefly (the site has since pulled it down):
Maybe Halperin thought it was really clever to echo a scene from a late-90s romantic comedy, but it isn't. The image and all that it suggests -- yes, her hair is supposed to be held up by semen -- isn't supported by any facts provided by Halperin in his post. The page to which he links doesn't have anything to do with semen, romantic comedies, or hair gel. In fact, it's a statement from Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) Communications Director "on motion to proceed timing" on the Senate's health care reform bill.
In other words, it's part of a broader, sexist right-wing narrative that the U.S. Senator from Louisiana is, as Glenn Beck put it yesterday, "a high-class prostitute" engaged in "hookin'" -- all because she lobbied Senate leadership for expanded Medicaid funding for Louisiana in the Senate health care bill in what was characterized by the media as an exchange for her "yea" vote to proceed with floor debate on the bill.
Not to be left out, Rush Limbaugh got in on the action yesterday too, declaring that Landrieu "may be the most expensive prostitute in the history of prostitution."
These types of backwards, sexist remarks are what we have come to expect from Beck or Limbaugh, but this is truly a new low for Halperin, and, by association, for Time. As my colleague Julie Millican pointed out last week, the other weekly news magazine -- Newsweek -- has a sexism problem that it needs to address concerning another female politician.
So let this serve as a word of warning to those media figures like Halperin who like to think of themselves as separate and apart from -- perhaps I should say above? -- right-wing bloviators and pot-stirrers like Beck and Limbaugh: When you engage in baseless, sexist smears of women politicians, you are no different than the side-show commentators. Maybe you're worse -- at least they don't purport to be journalists.
From the November 12 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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In the wake of the Senate Finance Committee's October 13 passage of a health care reform bill, the fifth such bill passed out of congressional committees this year, numerous media figures have advanced the claim that the bill and the process of crafting health reform more generally was overly partisan, and have blamed Democrats. But these charges ignore the numerous Republican amendments included in both Senate health reform bills, and turn a blind eye to Republicans Senators' refusal to negotiate on health care reform in good faith and to their efforts to bring about, in the words of Sen. Jim DeMint, Obama's "Waterloo."
Mickey Kaus, Friday: "the possibility for a Nobel backlash seems non-farfetched."
Time magazine, Friday: "Why Winning the Nobel Peace Prize Could Hurt Obama"
Gallup, Monday: "Barack Obama appears to have gotten a slight bounce in support after he was announced as the Nobel Peace Prize winner on Friday. His 56% job approval rating for the last two Gallup Daily tracking updates is up from a term-low 50% as recently as last week, and 53% in the three days before the Nobel winner was announced."
Huh. Maybe it turns out that Americans don't hate their president for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Weird.
(A quick pre-emptive note to commenters: Read that again. I didn't say anything about whether Obama should have won the award. My point is simply that the idea that it was absurd to suggest that winning the award was some sort of disaster for Obama.)
Following the news that President Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, numerous media figures have called for him to "turn it down" or "give it back," often asserting that he has not accomplished enough to deserve the prize. On his radio show, Glenn Beck said Obama "has to turn it down. ... [I]t's the only way for him to make a win out of this"; Internet gossip Matt Drudge asked on his website, "Will he turn it down?"; and Michelle Malkin said, "[I]f Obama had an ounce of real humility, he'd refuse to accept the award."
Halperin adds: "Whatever Obama says, they're gonna disagree reflexively"
From the September 24 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Is there any accusation that could be made about President Obama that Beltway reporters wouldn't be willing to credulously report? Is there anything that would make them frame their reporting of those accusations around the premise that the charges are ridiculous? Today, Time's Mark Halperin suggests there is not.
Under the headline "Student Speech Courts Controversy," Halperin writes: "Critics accuse the president of imposing a political agenda on children during next week's address." That is how he has decided to frame the conservative movement's bizarre, unhinged attack on the President of the United States for his terrifying plan to… tell the nation's students that it's important to stay in school and work hard. It's a "Controversy"! The president has "critics"! Are their criticisms legitimate? Who knows! There's a link to an AP article on the "controversy" if you actually want some of those dreadful details.
It's worth noting that in claiming their criticisms hinge on fears that Obama is planning to "impos[e] a political agenda on children," Halperin is significantly soft-peddling the lunatic whack-a-doo tin-foil conspiracy nut nature of conservatives' complaints. They aren't saying Obama will teach kids about the importance of universal health care or stopping global warming – they're accusing the president of engaging in Maoist indoctrination in an attempt to create his own Hitler Youth.
There is something wrong with these people. As long as Beltway reporters like Halperin keep treating their complaints as valid, they will maintain a hold on our discourse that prevents serious discussion of actual issues. And no, reporting that "critics" say that Obama is planning to indoctrinate students but the Obama administration denies it does not suffice. Resorting to "he said/she said" journalism when one side's claims are blatantly ridiculous is just pathetic.
When even Mark Halperin decries the media's focus the inconsequential "freak show" rather than on the substance of health care reform, you know things have gotten bad. Here's Halperin:
HALPERIN'S TAKE: WHY EVERYTHING ABOUT THE HEALTH CARE MOBS IS A NATIONAL DISGRACE
1. Coverage of the mobs is playing into the hands of the mobsters.
2. Coverage of the mobs is crowding out a needed national debate about health care.
Meanwhile, the New York Times has what it bills as "A Primer on the Details of Health Care Reform." I don't endorse all of the points contained in the primer*, but this is exactly the kind of thing the media should be doing.
And MSNBC is, as I write this, doing a segment on "Heath Care: Fact & Fiction," in which Dylan Ratigan and Politico's Jonathan Martin are discussing and assessing the truthfulness of various health-care related things you may have heard. Again, without endorsing everything they've said, the mere fact that they're discussing policy is a huge leap forward from Friday's madness.
And, in an example of how the media should approach insane and false claims, ABC's Jake Tapper provided a pretty strong debunking of Sarah Palin's off-the-charts false claims about "death panels."
* Just one example: in the section on whether people could keep their current health plan and doctor under proposed health care reform, the Times repeatedly emphasizes that while the proposed reforms does not require anyone to change plan or doctor, their current plan may change, or their current doctor may stop accepting that plan. Well, OK, that's true -- but doesn't really have much to do with the proposed reforms; those things may well happen without reform. The Times doesn't make that clear.
From the July 30 edition of Citadel Media's Imus in the Morning:
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In his write-up on The Page of the Supreme Court's ruling on Ricci v. DeStefano, Mark Halperin did not note that the Court was split, voting 5-4 in favor of reversing the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. In addition, while mentioning that Monday is retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter's last day, Halperin did not note that Souter agreed with the 2nd Circuit's decision in Ricci.
Time's Mark Halperin frequently repeats right-wing myths about the "liberal media." But today he undermined his already-weak case by arguing that one reason "to bet AGAINST major health care reform passing this year" is that "Most journalists still have health insurance."
The clear implication is that because most journalists have health insurance, they don't see the need for reform -- and that colors their reporting.
Sounds pretty reasonable.
Now, when do you think Halperin will consider other, similarly reasonable things? Like the fact that all working journalists have jobs, which -- by Halperin's logic -- colors their coverage of policies meant to help the unemployed. Or the fact that few national political reporters earn the minimum wage -- and, indeed, those like Mark Halperin make considerably more than the average worker, which likely colors their coverage of minimum wage proposals and tax policy. And so on.
(Another of Halperin's reasons to bet against reform is "1/6 of the economy can't be remade without genuine bipartisan support." But polling shows that roughly 80 percent of Americans support health care reform that includes a public plan. There is "genuine bipartisan support" for real reform -- in America, if not in Washington, DC. Halperin makes the mistake journalists often make: thinking the likes of Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans are even remotely representative of Americans.)
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