Journalists have a love/hate relationship with Hillary Clinton that often involves sexist coverage that has only worsened during the 2016 presidential campaign season
On the day that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton performed one of the most important tasks of her campaign — naming a vice presidential running mate — New York Times columnist and PBS Newshour analyst David Brooks and commentator Mark Shields spent time talking about what they believe to be Clinton’s “lack of warmth.”
“With Hillary there apparently is this warm side that she has never let us see but intimates really do talk about. But to reveal that would mean breaking through the wall of distrust that she has encased herself in for the last 25 years,” said Brooks. “She’s never shown a personal willingness to do that because it makes her vulnerable. And her emotional invulnerability, though at once made her survive, but has hurt her politically and her likeability…”
When Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump announced his running mate last week, journalists discussed how Indiana Governor Mike Pence would shore up the real estate mogul’s conservative bonafides and add legislative heft to the Republican ticket. There was no talk about how “warm” Trump is, or is not.
It’s not surprising. From the day America first met Clinton media attention has been both blatantly, and subtly, sexist.
A report released last year by the Women’s Media Center illustrates the harm that sexist media coverage does to women who run for public office. When it comes to Clinton, this kind of coverage is just as damaging as the report suggests, and has only gotten worse in her current bid for the presidency.
“I think [the media coverage] has become increasingly worse over the course of her career,” says Donnalyn Pompper, a professor of Strategic Communication at Temple University. “The media coverage has been vociferously, just negative, beyond negative.”
Throughout the 2015-2016 campaign cycle, Clinton has received the most amount of negative coverage than of any other candidate. Yet she experienced some peaks during her love and hate relationship with the media.
Clinton became widely popular and well-respected in the US and overseas during her time as Secretary of State. The only exception is the backlash received during the 2013 Benghazi attacks.
“She actually came alive on the job—meeting people and connecting with their problems, making speeches and working crowds,” said Indira A.R. Lakshmanan of Politico.
Clinton also played a pivotal role in restructuring the education system of Arkansas during her time as that state’s first lady in the 1980s. But, almost 40 years later, Clinton has become an easy target for the media.
“There is a deliberate effort out there to depict Hillary in a way that’s demeaning and misogynistic,” said Susan Frank, the President and COO of The Better World Group and co-author of an article discussing the effect of sexist political cartoons. And Clinton is not the only example of this.
In their report, the Women’s Media Center says there is a direct relationship between sexist news coverage of a female candidate and the likelihood for people to vote for her. Some of that has to do with the media’s perpetuation of society’s expect warm and familial subservience from women, as Jia Tolentino wrote in May for Jezebel.
Brooks, who recently wrote that Clinton is “too professional,” – a criticism hardly ever heard about male politicians – said on the PBS Newshour on Friday that the presumptive Democratic nominee has never shown a personal willingness to show her warm side because it makes her vulnerable. “Her emotional invulnerability has hurt her politically and her likeability…,” Brooks added.
The Women’s Media Center released a video in 2010 in response to the overwhelming amount of sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton and other women during the 2008 election cycle. Temple University’s Pompper believes the increased amount of biased media coverage is in response to more confident women in politics asserting themselves around their male counterparts.
“Shirley Chisholm, [who] was the first African American woman elected to the US Congress… she said that the ultimate weapon of men, in reaction to women who assert their equality, is to call them unfeminine, call them anti-male, even call them a lesbian,” said Pompper. “Hillary Rodham Clinton has been called all these things and worse.”
The coverage of Clinton over the years, fueled by sexism and a focus on vanity than the issues, will not dissipate any time soon, even if she moves back into the White House.
“If she is elected president, there will be a level of scrutiny on her as much as there was when Obama became president,” said Frank. “There is a lot of opinion journalism and […] we’ll have to work harder to ensure that we sift through all the noise […] to really get to the heart of the matter.”
With the Democratic Convention currently underway in Philadelphia, we take a look at the colorful ways that Clinton has been covered by U.S. news outlets over the years.
Jon C. Dowding is a student journalist at Temple University in Philadelphia. This month he will be reporting on the Democratic National Convention from Philadelphia as part of a groundbreaking project allowing students to cover the event for local newspapers, TV stations and digital outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @