By Sandra Kobrin
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
David Shuster has stirred the latest hue and cry against MSNBC after he slurred Chelsea Clinton last week. Sandra Kobrin says he's just one symptom of a cable news culture that's sick with misogyny.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Cable news has always been the Wild Wild West for journalists: mostly men report the news with a smile, a swagger and a wink.
They're the bad boy brothers to the straight-laced network news people, whipping out their virtual six-shooters, mouthing off with their flip and fiery words and wearing their rebel attitude like a badge of honor. It's a smelly locker room with the doors wide open.
During the past year, three MSNBC commentators--Chris Matthews of "Hardball with Chris Matthew" and the network's star, David Shuster who appears on numerous programs, and Don Imus, whose former show was "Imus on MSNBC"--have been suspended, reprimanded, fired or forced to apologize for their sexist and-or racist comments.
Rather than doing anything to prevent these episodes, MSNBC has instead used these controversies as part of an advertising campaign to promote its political coverage, according to Washington-based monitor group Media Matters for America.
The latest outrage is Shuster on "Tucker" last week, commenting on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign by saying, "Doesn't it seem like Chelsea's sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?"
Two Women's eNews commentators--Caryl Rivers and I--have both made the case for Hillary putting Chelsea to good use in her campaign to help her with younger voters and provide the kind of supportive family member that show-stealing Bill does not.
But what does pimping have to do with that?
I'll tell you what: It's a way to draw a not-too subliminal link between the first viable female presidential candidate and a street walker; to remind the world that women's "oldest profession" is prostitution and to hold that over women constantly, whether we're in low-paid invisible positions where this kind of slur is often made with impunity or whether, like Hillary, we're attempting to break into a high-status sphere of male monopoly. Not to mention it also portrays Chelsea as a hooker.
Too few are willing to tackle the negative media treatment of Hillary but Bob Herbert of the New York Times is one exception. Last month in a column entitled "Politics and Misogyny" he wrote: "If there was ever a story that deserved more coverage by the news media, it's the dark persistence of misogyny in America. Sexism in its myriad destructive forms permeates nearly every aspect of American life. For many men, it's the true national pastime, much bigger than baseball or football."
Like Imus before him, Shuster has been suspended by the cable network. His colleague Keith Olbermann has found his comments inappropriate and indefensible and offered his sincere apology.
Thanks Keith, but women battered by cable news shouldn't be too ready to forgive and forget; the lessons of domestic violence tell us that just invites more abuse down the line. And other opinion stars hardly offer women real allies.
Listen to Tucker Carlson, host of "Tucker" and also of MSNBC: "There's just something about her that feels castrating, overbearing and scary," he said about Clinton this past July.
Carlson has also been quoted as saying of Clinton, "I have often said, when she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs."
Or Mike Barnicle. During a Jan. 24 broadcast of "Morning Joe," Barnicle said Hillary "looked like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court."
MSNBC is not the only cable network spouting this pathetic drivel, it's just the worst right now.
It was, of course, Fox News who wrote the book on sexist, biased, bullying TV tactics, championing bully-pulpit journalists like Bill O'Reilly or spokespeople like Robert Zimmerman who said in 2005 that Paula Zahn reinventing herself as a journalist is like "putting a fresh coat of paint on an outhouse."
Barbara Walters of ABC has said that Hillary should drop her anger at the way she's been treated by MSNBC. Walters said in Monday's episode of "The View" that Shuster "made a mistake. It's OK and she should drop it already."
She's wrong. Mind-numbingly wrong, and to my view making a strong case for her retirement. This has to stop.Thank goodness for Media Matters, the watchdog media Web site that has assumed responsibility to fighting these affronts. On Monday it demanded that the public "Tell MSNBC Enough Is Enough."
Count me in, that's exactly what I'm trying to do with this column.
Media Matters' Web site offers a protest letter for visitors to fill out and send. Go for it.
"Hardball with Chris Matthews" host Matthews merits special attention on Media Matters. This is the guy who has to apologize for what he said on Jan. 17 about Hillary: "The reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around."
Media Matters maintains "The Matthews Monitor" to ensure that Matthews' coverage is based on fact, not "speculation or personal animus."
Let's not forget, meanwhile, that Don Imus is back on the air as I suppose Shuster will be after some time in Hawaii or whatever expensive getaway he chooses to take.
Hillary is angry about the slur against her and Chelsea. She wrote to NBC's head honcho Steve Capus, who oversees MSNBC, saying he needed to look at "the pattern of behavior on your network that seems to repeatedly lead to this sort of degrading language."
She's considering backing out of the NBC debates later this month as a protest, an understandable impulse but a little too close to cutting off her nose to spite her face.
Other watchdog sites and news organizations along with Media Matters are monitoring cable's attitudes toward women and minorities.
Even right-leaning Accuracy in Media has joined the protest. Last week in a guest column, Jerry Zeifman slammed Matthews for badgering Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America and political consultant who received the usual talk show treatment of being tossed around with the back hand. Michelman got bashed for not throwing her support from the John Edwards campaign to that of Hillary Clinton. Zeifman noted that the episode made him "ashamed of myself for not having spoken out sooner of my own (negative) experiences with Chris Matthews."
Even Bill Press, MSNBC's own commentator who often appears on "Tucker" with Shuster, is disgusted. As he wrote on the Huffington Post on Feb. 9, "What's most disturbing about Shuster's pimp remark is that it reinforces the impression of media bias in this campaign. It began with the networks' deciding which candidates were serious and which were not; and therefore ignoring qualified contenders like Joe Biden or Ron Paul. It continued with the media's admitted infatuation with John McCain and Barack Obama. It culminated with the media's declaring open season on the Clintons. In contrast to fawning reports about Obama crowds, every story about the Clinton campaign is sprinkled with snide, critical, even crude, comments about Hillary or Bill. Now not even Chelsea is spared."
I believe the intrinsic problem with these bully journalists is the problem of all bullies. They're scared of real strength. Scared of real power. Thanks to their own insecurities, they're deathly afraid of Hillary, scared that she actually can run the country, and maybe run them out of town on a rail while she's at it.
We can only hope.
Sandra Kobrin is a Los Angeles writer and columnist.
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Media Matters, "A Mess at MSNBC":
Accuracy in Media, Jerry Zeifman,
"MSNBC's Chris Matthews Still Abusing His Guests":
New York Times, Bob Herbert, "Politics and Misogyny":
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