Caryl Rivers

(WOMENSENEWS)–The guys were front and center, either expressing all the opinions or clobbering each other.

To the extent that a woman’s voice was heard it was the on-field reporter politely asking questions and steering attention away from herself.

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The half-time entertainment continued the male centrality, with Tom Petty’s all-male band of Heartbreakers strumming away as an apparently endless supply of female admirers and onlookers, apparently half their age, crowded the bandstand.

But if you think a cloud of testosterone hung heavy over the Super Bowl, just cast your mind back over the state of opinion journalism–especially on TV–that we’ve been treated to in the political primary season that ended its biggest run yesterday with Super Tuesday.

The highlight, to continue the football metaphor, was MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, discussing Hillary Clinton on “Morning Joe” with Joe Scarborough. Matthews dissed Clinton as a cheated-on wife for whom voters feel sorry.

“Let’s not forget, and I’ll be brutal,” Matthews said. “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 that her husband messed around.”

Web sites such as Media Matters were outraged, and the Women’s Political Caucus staged a protest rally about Matthews’ comments. Matthews apologized in a half-hearted manner, and the whole incident has been neatly swept out of view.

Men Host, Dish Out Opinion

It’s understandable, given who hosts the big opinion shows.

On cable, there’s no female equivalent of Chris Matthews (Hardball), Joe Scarborough (Morning Joe), Sean Hannity (Hannity and Colmes), Keith Olberman, Tucker Carlson and Bill O’Reilly; all entitled to voice strong political and ideological views.

The 24-hour news cycle is almost as male-driven as the Patriots’ and Giants’ downfield marches. Women are about as likely to be calling the plays on cable and on the Internet as they were on the field in Arizona.

When I broke into journalism, there certainly were star columnists, but they only wrote a few times a week. The network nightly news shows, which David Halberstam once called “our national nightly seance,” rarely offered opinion. That’s why it was such a big deal when Walter Cronkite came out against the Vietnam War. LBJ said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost America.”

It’s not that women don’t have things to say and aren’t trying to be heard.

Syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman noted that half of all 96 million blogs are written by women. But among the top 90 political blogs, a full 42 percent were edited and written by men-only, while seven percent were by women-only. The 45 percent “co-ed” mix was overwhelmingly male.

Uneven Coverage

The effect of male domination in the media created very uneven coverage of the Democratic political race, especially on cable, where the enthusiasm for the Obama campaign has been palpable and the dislike for Hillary Clinton obvious.

Some of this, of course, the Clinton campaign earned by the appearance that it had injected race into the South Carolina campaign in a skuzzy way.

But it’s also got to do with the ongoing might of historic male narratives, which make heroic roles the preserve of men.

Joseph Campbell, the scholar of mythology, has claimed that women could not make The Hero’s Journey because they were the objects, not the protagonists, of a quest.

Mythological females are often figures of dread. There’s the Medusa, whose glance could turn a man to stone; the sirens, who lured Odysseus to his death; Pandora, who released all the misery of the world when she opened the box that bears her name, and Eve, who of course got men kicked out of paradise.

In that light, let’s look at the anointment of Obama by Ted Kennedy. Passing the torch to a new generation–as many journalists called it–is an ancient, heroic male narrative.

“We happy few, we band of brothers,” –to quote Shakespeare’s Henry V– pointedly does not mention sisters.

The Kennedy endorsement was a love-feast unlike any I can remember since reporters fell in love with another Kennedy, JFK.

Heroic Torch for Guys Only

Journalists seemed to take without a grain of salt the idea that the torch had been passed directly from JFK to Obama; from one young man to another, and no anti-heroic women in between, thank you.

All this is not to disparage Obama, whose charisma, oratory, intelligence, message of hope and appeal to young voters are a real plus for Democrats.

But so, too, are Hillary’s resonance with lower-income voters and women.

She may be prose while he’s poetry, but where are the voices saying that her command of the issues and her long experience as an advocate for children fit today’s needs like a glove?

Any admiration I sense for her among opinion journalists is grudging at best and, at worst, she’s seen as a combination of Lucrezia Borgia and Lady Macbeth; power-mad, shrill and calculating. And, of course, there’s that “cackle.”

On the CNN-Time blog, The Page, critic Mark Halperin noted that Kennedy endorsement was important because:

  • “He has a huge following among working-class, traditional Democrats, one of Obama’s weaknesses.

  • He has a huge following among union households, another of Obama’s weaknesses.

  • He has a huge following among older Democrats, yet another of Obama’s weaknesses.

  • He has a huge following with Hispanics, a big deal in California and other Super Tuesday states, and one of Obama’s weaknesses.

Note the key word here? Weaknesses. They are also Hillary’s strengths, but that fact was little noted in the orgy of TV coverage. (And I watched hour after hour of it.)

Of course, the Obama narrative has elements the media love. He’s a fresh face, he’s calling for an end to the divisive politics we all loathe, he’s young in a culture where youth rules. To many he embodies redemption for America’s racist past. He would indeed turn a very different American face to the world.

But the first female president would also be a huge departure from our past and that’s been downplayed by a media run by men.

Boston University Journalism professor Caryl Rivers is the author of “Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women.”

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