Is Political Media Coverage Biased Against Women?

When I saw the Politico question “Is political coverage biased against women?” I had one of those “Is the Pope Catholic?” responses.  Remember how Hillary was treated, with all sorts of sexist comments about her cackle, cankles, clothing, and age? Got more examples?

Politico Arena Asks:

A new study of political campaign coverage finds that the media uses considerably more men than women as sources on women’s issues, the Washington Post reports.

Major TV and print news outlets turn to mainly male sources for their take on abortion, Planned Parenthood and other political women’s issues, according to a study by 4th Estate, a group that tracks campaign coverage. On topics including abortion, men were four to seven times more likely than women to be cited as sources, the study shows.

Is this information a sign that the media’s campaign coverage is losing credibility? Or should men be considered equally knowledgeable on such issues?

My Response:

The media forms us as it informs us. When the preponderance of commentators on women’s bodies, rights, lives, health, and pay parity are male, what message does that send to the female 51% of the population?  What message does that send to your daughter? That women are incapable of speaking for themselves? That their voices are less important than men’s even though commentators are pontificating about and lawmakers are passing measures that affect their lives?

The result is that “women’s issues” get framed as less important than the “really important issues” like the economy (hello—contraceptive coverage IS a huge economic issue for women, as I argued with former RNC chair Michael Steele on “Now with Alex Wagner”—and certainly so are economic policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act since women are now half the workplace and often the family’s primary breadwinners).

Check out the Name It Change It website sponsored by the Women’s Media Center, Women’s Campaign Forum She Should Run campaign, and Political Parity to see innumerable examples of sexism in political coverage of women. For the most part this is not deliberate; it stems from the fact that men see the world through their privileged lens, and hardly recognize the sexism they are parroting.

Women are not seeking to keep men from commenting on any issues. Men have opinions; they are impacted by the issues too and no one says they should be shut out of the conversation. But right now, they hold most of the top clout positions in major media companies (97% according to the Annenberg Center at UCLA). Thus it is men who are keeping women out of the story explicitly or implicitly by the hiring and story-line decisions they make.

  •  According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women accounted for 25% of all creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors, and directors of photography working on situation comedies, dramas, and reality programs airing on the broadcast networks in the 2010-11 prime-time television season.  Among writers, just 15% were women; of directors, just 11% were women; and of directors of photography, just 4% were women.
  • The same study also found that in 2011, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.  Women comprised just 5% of directors, 15% of writers, and 4% of cinematographers.

Download the Women’s Media Center full report, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2012.

The current status of men as the predominant commentators about women is neither fair nor right and it’s time to change it.

Watch for Rovian Tactics

It must have been a slow news day for Arena, but I thought this question was worth answering. Of course, both campaigns will be watching each other like hawks, hoping for gaffes to drop and then making much of them. But you have to admit Karl Rove is the grandmaster of whipping up attacks, whether the information transmitted is true or not.

Could we have a conversation about how to engage voters so they don’t a) get sidetracked from the big issues or b) become cynical and tune out all the noise?

Politico Arena asks:

The Karl Rove-founded Republican group American Crossroads has issued an apology today just hours after suggesting in a tweet that Commerce Secretary John Bryson was drunk when he got into a car accident this weekend.

“How does @CommerceSec have 3 car crashes in 5 minutes and alcohol NOT be involved? ?#Skills,”  the group tweeted early this morning.

“Earlier Bryson tweet with hashtag ?#skills? attempted levity (before facts known) and failed miserably. We took it down and regret the tweet,” the group said on Twitter shortly after 10 a.m.

Were critics of President Obama too hasty in their judgment of Bryson’s accident? What lessons does this incident offer about Twitter?

My Response:

The offending American Crossroads tweet, brought to you by Karl Rove, is important only as a warning of the constancy of their opposition research, the speed with which they are equipped to inflame any issue (remember how effectively they trashed the Democrats for pouring their grief over MN Senator Paul Wellstone’s tragic death before the funeral was over?), and the absolute ruthlessness with which they will steamroll anyone who stands in their way.

The Democrats had better be ready to pre-empt or respond even faster, and the voting public had better be ready to question it all. I highly recommend Bill Israel’s book, “A Nation Seized” for an insider look at Rove’s MO as preparation. Find information at www.BillIsrael.com.

Does Walker’s victory put Wisconsin in play for the GOP?

Pundits will be talking all day about the meaning of the failed Wisconsin recall election.

The bright spot is that the recall process has forced Walker to moderate his language if not his actions and if the numbers hold out, he will be faced with a Democratic majority in the state senate to slow down his union-busting, tea-party sponsored initiatives.

But I see an ominous cloud of Obama’s making for the national elections in November. Will he learn from this that it does no good to try to deflect controversy from yourself and let other people take the fall?

Politico Arena Asks:

Incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker has survived the gubernatorial recall election against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Associated Press reports. The victory comes after Walker divided Wisconsin by making changes to state laws governing collective bargaining for public employees. Though Obama won the state by 13 points in 2008, presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney is expected to be more competitive in the state this fall.

Does this victory put Wisconsin in play for the GOP in 2012?

My Response:

Obama give Romney an unearned advantage by not going to WI and giving it his all. Barrett’s defeat is very bad for the president and all progressive causes. Obama can’t escape being affected by the outcome. He would have been better off losing with honor than appearing to duck this pivotal showdown. He has ceded a chunk of moral authority that could have come from issuing a fiery challenge to the Citizens United torrent of Republican money that bought Walker’s win. That money will continue to flow;  without a robust push back, it could well help Romney carry Wisconsin in November.

 

Is Trump a liability for Mitt Romney?

Politico Arena Asks:

Billionaire Donald Trump will join Mitt Romney tonight at a fundraiser in Las Vegas. The appearance comes just five days after the real estate developer aimed to re-ignite the debate about President Obama’s birthplace.

Tonight’s appearance could pose some political risk to Romney, political experts predict.  Obama released his long-form birth certificate last year, which showed his birthplace to be Honolulu, Hawaii.

Is it worth the money for Romney to associate himself with a birther? Will this help or hurt Romney’s campaign?

My Response:

Any right winger, however wacky or outrageous, who aligns with Romney will bring in some votes. And as to the money Trump might bring, Romney has already shown what he is. He’s just trying to get the best price.

If You Don’t Sing Your Own Song, Who Will?

Analyzing gas prices isn’t usually my beat, but media messaging is. Is failure to talk about declining prices at the pump smart or self-defeating for Obama?

Politico Arena Asks:

Gas prices are expected to hit a two-year low this Memorial Day weekend, averaging around $3.66 a gallon, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Some energy analysts believe prices could continue to drop through the summer months. The falling prices take away a key piece of the GOP’s platform against President Obama – however, the White House has been relatively quiet about the price drop and a recent AP-GfK poll showed the majority of Americans still disapprove of Obama’s handling of gas prices.

Will the dropping gas prices help Obama’s reelection chances – and should the White House work harder to highlight the decrease?  Or will voters still be wary of Obama’s economic performance?

My Response:

People are quick to squawk when they feel the pinch in their pocketbooks, but rarely give credit when the pain goes away-unless leaders and/or media create a pervasive narrative about it.  Perhaps the Obama administration is refraining from crowing about the price drop because they anticipate a rise in price that would cause pre-election squawks next fall.

Whatever the reason, it’s a mistake. They should tell a positive story and take the credit if they want falling gas prices to benefit his reelection.

Gay Advisor’s Departure from Romney Campaign: Homophobia or Just More Hypocrisy?

Regardless of which label one chooses for Richard Grenell’s departure from the Romney campaign ranks, the result is the same. And can anyone tell me why in the world a self-respecting gay person or a woman would ever support the Republican candidate in the first place?

Politico Arena Asks:

Mitt Romney’s foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell announced he was resigning from the campaign this week. Grenell, (an occasional Arena contributor), was the first openly gay spokesman for the Romney campaign.

However, Grenell’s hiring became a source of tension for the campaign after conservatives expressed concern over Grenell’s sexual orientation as well as his endorsement of same sex marriage. Grenell’s voice was also absent during a week of key foreign policy news – the anniversary of Osama bin Ladin’s death.

Does Grenell’s exit reflect poorly on the Romney campaign? And does it indicate that openly gay individuals still have a hard time climbing the ladder in politics?

My Response:

Grenell’s departure not only reflects the homophobic truth of the Romney campaign and its supporters, it also reflects the inconvenient truth gay Republicans must face. Their party denies their basic humanity.

Grenell should have stayed and fought for his job, and his Log Cabin Republican allies should have fought with him. This episode makes them complicit with injustices against their own. So I hold them equally culpable.

Grace, Grit, and Paycheck Fairness – When?

The annual hooplah over Equal Pay Day is over. At gatherings around the country last month, politicians and activists alike decried the persistent 20% plus pay gap between men and women. Now what? Back to work with our heads down as usual?

Not if you’re Lilly Ledbetter.

The namesake of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act—the first bill President Barack Obama signed into law while surrounded with the smart political optics of Ledbetter, bipartisan members of Congress, and other women leaders in red power suits—knows this:

  • Securing fairness and equality in compensation requires each woman to be persistently aware of what she’s worth and stand up for herself in the workplace.
  • Securing fairness and equality in compensation is a long haul process that requires changes to laws and policies so the system is fair to all.

The personal and the political are, as usual, intertwined.

Sure, negotiation expert  Victoria Pynchon can coach you on how to negotiate compensation more effectively for yourself. And when I speak and teach about my book No Excuses and its 9 Power Tools, I emphasize #3—use what you’ve got—to help women identify just how much power they have in their own hands, including the power to make changes in their paychecks.

And sure, as the Daily Muse pointed out, it’s good that the U.S. Department of Labor held an Equal Pay App Challenge seeking an app to educate people about the persistent problems of equal—or rather, unequal—pay.

But clearly these individual actions, as important as they are, constitute isolated drops in the deep blue ocean of needed systemic change.

Ledbetter’s new memoir, Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond, takes the personal and weaves it together with the political as she describes how she became a leader in the fight for equal pay.

The retired Goodyear Tire Company executive reveals how she discovered she’d been paid less systematically for 30 years because of her gender, began advocating for herself with her employer, and then realized she had a larger cause working for equal pay on behalf of all women through the courts and the legislative process.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was needed to overturn the 2007 Supreme Court decision that nullified Ledbetter’s previously successful legal challenge to Goodyear, thus making it harder for women—and all employees—to pursue federal claims of pay discrimination.

Yet as Ledbetter explains in this radio interview with The Women’s Eye, her namesake law simply put women back where they had been before she filed her lawsuit.

“Women are still lagging far behind,” she says. “You should expect and get a good day’s pay for a good day’s work.”

Although the 2007 law restores workers’ ability to sue if they believe they have been discriminated against in pay, it doesn’t solve the underlying difficulty for employees to know whether they’ve been treated unfairly to begin with.

That’s why Ledbetter’s now fighting for the next step—passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act has been called the 21st century fix for 20th century laws. According to the American Association of University Women— which has been a leader in equal pay advocacy—the Paycheck Fairness Act, a much needed updated of the 47-year-old Equal Pay Act, is a comprehensive bill that would create stronger incentives for employers to follow the law, empower women to negotiate for equal pay, and strengthen federal outreach, education and enforcement efforts…the bill would also deter wage discrimination by strengthening penalties for equal pay violations and by prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices or disclose their own wages.

Washington beltway rumor has it that the Senate Democratic majority will bring up Paycheck Fairness in the next week or two, in an effort to solidify their party’s electoral advantage with women while further eroding women voters’ support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Blocked by Republicans in 2010 when it was last considered, the bill has been neither endorsed nor opposed by Romney.

AAUW’s Government Relations Director Lisa Maatz has concerns about that strategy: “It’s always good to see our priority issues in the national spotlight, and there now seems to be a growing call in the Senate to bring up the Paycheck Fairness Act for a vote. It would be useful for voters to know exactly where our lawmakers and candidates stand on this critical issue. But I must also say that I’m not sure it helps our cause if equal pay simply becomes partisan cannon fodder in this year’s elections, with little actual effort made to close the gap.”

I think Ledbetter would agree with me that forcing the issue is a leadership act and might be the only thing that can help the fair pay cause by making voters aware of where the candidates stand so they can vote accordingly.

Whatever happens, women and men who believe in fair pay will need plenty of Lilly Ledbetter’s courage, grace, and grit to prevail.

I’ll be tracking and continuing to write about Paycheck Fairness here, so stay tuned.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

A smart ALEC complaint?

Right-wing legislative think tank ALEC seems to be whining that it’s getting smeared. Pity.

Politico Arena asks:

Common Cause has filed a complaint accusing the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) of violating its tax-exempt status by lobbying state legislators. Critics have seized on ALEC’s support of so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws, coordinating a campaign against the group in the wake of the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Is this a valid complaint? Or a smear against a successful conservative advocacy group?

My Response:

Thank goodness ALEC is being challenged. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and right-wing groups have never hesitated to smear any group standing the way of their total domination of the policy agenda.

That said, the only lasting antidote to ALEC’s twisted use of the tools of democracy is for the rest of us to participate in the democratic process more and better, in order to vote down laws like Stand Your Ground and throw ALEC-leaning legislators out of office.

Memo to Julia Louis-Dreyfus: How Veep Can Lead Without Power

I could hardly wait to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus in her new life-after-Seinfeld sitcom, Veep.

As a student of women’s relationship with power, I made sure to be curled up in bed for Veep’s 10pm edt HBO premier last night, ready to soak it up and take notes on my equally charged up  ipad.

My excitement deflated minute by minute.

Entertainment Watch’s plot overview is one reason:

Louis-Dreyfus’ Vice President Selina Meyer is a veep without much influence constantly trying to gain some, a ripe premise for comedy.… In the first installment of Veep, we saw V.P. Meyer trying to advance her green initiative with the introduction of cornstarch-based utensils in government offices, a move that irritated (“outrage” being too strong a word to use for anything a Vice President introduces) the plastics lobby.

Now, I know that Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president John Nance Garner (do you even know who he was?) described the job as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” And when Veep Meyer asks her former senatorial colleague what she’s been missing since she left the Senate to take the vice-presidency, the senator replies, “Power?”

As the tension between corn starch versus plastic utensils mounts, Veep receives repeated messages that the White House doesn’t want any mention of anything that could bring down the wrath of Big Oil’s mega lobby. The President himself is never seen or heard—rubbing the wound of Meyer’s perceived powerlessness with sea salt.

But that’s just the beginning of the narrative by which Veep renders the foul-mouthed Meyer less than influence-commanding.

Her self-presentation telegraphs “I am not to be taken seriously.” Would a vice president come to work in sleeveless party dresses, with visible cleavage, hair flopping in her face, the red power suit only worn for purposes of the official photograph?

Dreyfus acknowledged that she was styled after Michelle Obama.

“[My character Selina Meyer] is not as chic as Michelle Obama, but who could be?” Louis-Dreyfus said, explaining further that it was still Obama’s singular style that provided the blueprint for the character’s sexy, yet powerful look, “so we can move it slightly away from the square look — no offense,” Louis-Dreyfus concluded.

They model the first female vice president on the First Lady?

Please!! There’s not one shred of job description comparability, and to imply so is demeaning both to women and to whoever sits a heartbeat from the Presidency.

The entire show makes Selina Meyer look like a Palinesque dunderhead, despite never revealing her political party. Meyer gives away her power in so many ways large and small. And swearing like a sailor while thinking up schemes to cut others down to size is supposed to make her look strong enough to operate in a man’s world? I don’t buy it.

Being a leader whether or not you have the formal power doesn’t require cutting others down. It means first and foremost that you have to act like one.

Here are three ways everyone can use power effectively without being the formal leader:

Value Your Piece of the Puzzle

Everyone in an organization holds a piece of the puzzle, without which the full picture can’t be completed. There’s much more mutuality than we often perceive.

Everybody needs help now and then, even—especially—if they hold the title of President whose job by definition is impossible.

Bonnie McEwan, president of the public interest communications firm Make Waves Not Noise and professor in the Milano Graduate School in New York, told me she advises her students to “view themselves as powerful, in a constructive sense, and understand it in terms of the ability to influence for good.”

McEwan teaches her students to analyze their own personal power bases. She highlights two key sources of power within their control: referent power, the power of personality or presence, and expert power, or their abilities and skills to contribute to the work. Meyer could have a lot of fun in Veep working these sources of power out while demonstrating spunk and leadership.

Deepen Relationships

The world turns on human connections, so it’s not surprising that many experts suggest deepening relationships by getting to know people and their motivations is as key to making things happen regardless of one’s position. People like working with people they like and trust. Coming from what was apparently a highly respected Senate position, Meyer brought plenty of that to the vice presidency.

In their book Influence Without Authority, Adam Cohen and David Bradford write about Nettie Seabrooks, who as an African American and a woman, had more than her share of hurdles to acquire influence at General Motors. Nevertheless, the authors concluded that her capacity for cultivating strong relationships and avoiding self-inflicted relationship traps helped her to be effective far beyond her formal position.

Set an Agenda and Deliver the Goods

When I spoke at the YWCA Tucson’s Women’s Leadership Conference recently, a nurse practitioner approached me with a worried look on her face. “I see where our patient care could be improved significantly,” she said, “But how can I exercise leadership when I’m not the doctor and not the manager?”

It can be frightening to tell the boss something he or she might not want to hear, but if you have your facts organized and present a cogent agenda, I’ll bet you won’t just get the meeting, you’ll be rewarded. And if the information or advice you offer proves to make the team shine, or keeps the boss from stepping into a big pile of —it, you’ll build trust and your own sense of empowerment.

Like the Veep, most of us don’t hold CEO positions during most of our careers. Nevertheless, as McEwan says, “If you see yourself as the leader of your staff rather than as the follower of your boss, you empower yourself to take action. Perhaps you can’t do everything, but you can do something.”

If Selina Meyer took these three tips for leading without formal power, she’d lose the contrived punch line of Veep. But believe me, there’s plenty of Washington absurdity to create a hilariously funny sitcom about a female Vice President without making her look small, mean, and truly powerless.

What was your reaction to Veep? How have you led despite not having formal power?

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

Rosen’s gaffe does not equal Ted Nugent’s threat

Should a politician have to answer for what his/her surrogates say? That’s the question Politico’s Arena asked yesterday.

I see a big difference in the comparison between the two examples given, however. Here’s my answer–what do you say?

Politico Arena Asks:

The Secret Service has taken an interest in comments by rocker Ted Nugent about President Obama. At an NRA convention in St. Louis on Saturday, Nugent, a Mitt Romney supporter, said, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”

The Romney campaign has disavowed Nugent‘s remarks. And last week President Obama’s team denounced comments by supporter Hilary Rosen critical of Ann Romney’s role as a stay-at-home mother.

Should Romney be tied to Nugent’s tirade, as the president got linked to Rosen’s remarks? Or should candidates be absolved of responsibility for what supporters say about the campaign?

My Response:

All leaders get tarred or starred by the people they bring with them. It’s how leaders react that counts. Neither Romney nor Obama deserves kudos for his reactions to recent events. But Hilary Rosen’s gaffe does not equal Ted Nugent’s threat.

Shame on Romney for his tepid disavowal of Nugent. Any leader should voice unequivocal opposition to anyone who threatens, commits, or suggests others commit violence. Doesn’t Romney realize that if he becomes president, he might well become the target of similar vitriol that could become violent action if other leaders fail to stand with him against it? He should have issued a much stronger statement blasting Nugent.

In a lesser offense, but nevertheless discouraging to many women who have supported him, Obama threw Hilary Rosen under the bus when he could have used the opportunity to reframe the discussion of women and the economy in more positive and less polarized terms. Instead he bought into the right wing narrative that being a stay-at-home mother is the ideal, and that idealizes women who stay the heck out of the male-dominated economy.

Sure, motherhood is hard, but so is fatherhood if done right. Rosen was wrong in how she said it, but right in what she meant to communicate. Obama would have made himself a hero if he’d recognized women who not only are mothers but also work three jobs to support their kids with no nannies or housekeepers to help them–unlike Ann Romney whose cushy life gives her “choices” most women simply do not have.

And frankly, most women want to work for pay, even if they have multi-millionare husbands, because they want to use their talents beyond the home front. What are they, chopped liver?

Women who work outside the home make up the base of Obama voters, and he should give them more respect in the future.