NAME IT. CHANGE IT. POST-ELECTION REPORT

Name It. Change It. was founded to identify and publicize sexist media coverage of women candidates and political leaders. Because women only make up 17% of Congress, and groundbreaking research from Lake Research Associates shows that sexist media coverage results in a drastic decrease in voter confidence of women candidates, Name It. Change It. was launched to hold media outlets accountable for their role in our government’s gender disparity. Due to the direct impact sexist coverage has on voters, we don’t take these incidents lightly. This report outlines the sexism directed at women candidates and political leaders identified in radio, television, print, and online outlets in the 2010 midterm elections, as well as the broader context in which these incidents occurred.

We’ve tracked mild to severe incidents of sexist media coverage and commentary on women candidates and leaders generated by media outlets, as well as incidents covered and amplified by media outlets. Below are some of the key instances of sexist media coverage that set the tone for coverage of women’s races, and we’ve included sexist coverage of female political leaders, like Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, who are not current candidates for public office but whose coverage contributes to the overall media environment in which women run.

SEXIST COVERAGE GENERATED BY MEDIA:

  • Huffington Post devoted over a dozen posts to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s hairstyle, several just days before the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

  • The Boston Herald wrote an article in which fashion consultants insulted Massachusetts Green-Rainbow Party gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein’s appearance repeatedly.

  • SpikeTV.com posted an article ranking feminist advocates, including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, on their appearance, called “The Top Seven Cutest Feminists.”

  • WRKO AM Radio in Boston endorsed Karen E. Polito, a Republican Massachusetts candidate for governor for her “banging little body” and her “tight little butt.”

  • CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman cracked this joke in a segment on the “Top 10 Reasons Why Democrats are in Trouble:” “Nancy Pelosi found drunk and naked in a hotel room with Charlie Sheen,” sexualizing Pelosi and making light of a real-life sexually violent incident.

  • Revealing old photographs of Democratic Virginia Congressional Candidate Krystal Ball (at private holiday party) were leaked by a blogger at Virginia Virtucon, and the photos rapidly spread, making national headlines.

  • Vogue Magazine pressed New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on the exact number of pounds she’d lost in a profile about her candidacy, noting she should “no doubt remain attractive to her husband of nine years, who is two years younger than she.” 

  • Gossip site Gawker ran a paid article by a misogynist "anonymous" man, detailing a sexually explicit one-night-stand with Republican Delaware Senate Candidate Christine O’Donnell.

  • Rush Limbaugh played “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead” as Nancy Pelosi stepped down as Speaker of the House the day after elections.

  • MSNBC’s Chris Matthews characterized Republican Delaware Senate Candidate O’Donnell as the “irresistibly cute” and “attractive as hell” candidate whose “claim to fame is ‘I don’t know nuthin.’”

  • Vanity Fair targeted Sarah Palin not for her policies in a cover article titled “Sarah Palin: The Sound and the Fury,” but for her temperament and role as mother and wife in order to question her leadership.

Because media coverage of candidates does not occur in a bubble and some instances of sexism fell outside the purview of the Name It. Change It. campaign, they are important to discuss because they contribute to the larger media landscape for women running for public office. Examples of such trends are candidate–to-candidate sexist commentary, as well as sexist campaign ads, because they affected the media discourse around female candidates. While we did not take action on sexist advertisements or candidate-to-candidate sexist commentary, Name It. Change It. encourages media to make sure the playing field is level for all candidates, by highlighting sexist language when it occurs.

SEXIST INCIDENTS COVERED BY MEDIA:

  • Politico questioned the ad released by John Dennis that portrayed his opponent, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, as a witch.

  • A blogger for The Huffington Post cited sexism in an ad released by the Let Freedom Ring PAC that portrayed Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski as a “crybaby” and a “princess.”

  • The blogs Feministing and Care2 both cried foul when North Carolina State Senate candidate Wesley Meredith released an ad associating his opponent, Margaret Dickson, with prostitution. The ad portrays a woman putting on mascara, applying lipstick, adorning herself with jewelry, and gazing at her reflection in the mirror, while a voice asks, “Who does she really care about?”

  • Reporter Kristin Carlson of CNN affiliate WCAX, confronted Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino about calling Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “Schumer’s little girl,” a reference to her relationship with New York’s senior Senator. When asked if his remarks were sexist, he walked off the live interview.

  • In a story about how sexism hurts female candidate, USA Today highlighted a tweet sent by Alaska’s Tea Party Senate candidate that accused his opponent, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, of being in the “the world’s oldest profession.”

  • Numerous media outlets, including The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Chronicle, called out the sexist implication of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown’s campaign, whose staffer called his Republican opponent Meg Whitman as a “whore,” an incident that was captured on a voicemail recording.

CONCLUSION:

The Name It. Change It. Campaign made history in two major areas. First, for the first time ever, media outlets were held accountable for coverage that made a sexist campaign environment even more hostile to women by perpetuating a sexist media landscape. Together, the Name It. Change It. campaign and our supporters responded to over 20 sexist incidents from major outlets and sent over 4,000 letters to offending outlets.

Secondly, the research released has changed how women candidates and their campaign managers can proactively respond to sexist and toxic media attacks. Now we know that ignoring sexist attacks doesn’t neutralize harm to voter confidence, but directly addressing sexist attacks helps regain lost ground.

This is just the beginning. The Name It. Change It. campaign will continue to monitor and hold outlets accountable through the 2012 elections. Stay tuned!

Published by NICI Staff on 11/04/2010

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