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The Sisters are Steamed

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 20, 2008 9:06 AM

Women are pretty ticked off these days.

That's the clear message emerging from the latest round of media post-mortems on Hillary Clinton's losing candidacy, which journalists now frame as a fait accompli. (And maybe there's something to that, with Politico reporting that "Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager and confidante, Patti Solis Doyle, and Senator Barack Obama's top advisor have informally discussed the former Clintonite's going to work for the Obama campaign in the general election." Et tu, Patti?)

Numerous women -- journalists themselves and those interviewed by journalists -- believe the former first lady has gotten a raw deal, especially from the media. It's no accident that Hillary's positive ad in Oregon takes a swipe at Tim Russert, Chris Matthews and George Stephanopoulos--all men, last time I checked, and one of them her former White House colleague.

On an emotional level, it's easy to understand why many female voters feel they're been robbed. For the first time in their lifetimes, they could see one of their own occupying the Oval Office. And, in the space of a few weeks, that dream began to evaporate.

Had the contest gone the other way, certainly many African American voters would have felt they had been deprived of a historic chance to elect the first black president.

But there is a certain degree of identity politics in this narrative, one that the media haven't been shy about pushing this season. Should all women vote for Hillary because she's a woman, and assume that men who oppose her are sexist (and women who back Obama are traitors)? Should all African Americans support Obama because of his race and assume that whites who vote against him are racist? Doesn't that reduce both candidates to one-dimensional symbols and ignore the substance of what they have to say or how they would govern?

Somewhere in Hillary's inevitability phase, the trailblazing nature of her effort got lost. She became the establishment candidate, the return-to-the-'90s candidate, and the wow factor--which has always surrounded Obama--simply faded. (There are 16 female senators; Obama is the only black member of the Senate, and only the third African American since Reconstruction to serve in that body. But still, all of the 43 presidents have been--what's the word?--men.)

Look, I don't have any problem with women and blacks supporting their own, just as generations of Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Hispanics and Jews have tended to do. It's why Michael Dukakis was able to raise a lot of money from Greeks and Mitt Romney from Mormons. But there has to be more involved in picking a president. Or does there?

The NYT frames it this way:

"Mrs. Clinton's all-but-certain defeat brings with it a reckoning about what her run represents for women: a historic if incomplete triumph or a depressing reminder of why few pursue high political office in the first place.

"The answers have immediate political implications. If many of Mrs. Clinton's legions of female supporters believe she was undone even in part by gender discrimination, how eagerly will they embrace Senator Barack Obama, the man who beat her?"

The WP is on the same page:

"A Democratic race that a couple of months ago was celebrated as a march toward history -- the chance to nominate the nation's first woman or African American as a major-party candidate -- threatens to leave lingering bitterness, especially among Clinton supporters, whose candidate is running out of ways to win.

"Some women, like [Kathleen] Cowley, complain that Clinton has been disrespected and mistreated by the media and the political establishment. Many see Obama as equally condescending, dismissing Clinton's foreign policy role as first lady, pulling out her chair for her at debates and suggesting offhand during one debate that she was 'likable enough.'

" 'The sexist crap that comes out of people's mouths is really scary to me,' said Amilyn Lanning, 38, a Zionsville, Pa., voter who supported Clinton in last month's primary. 'There's a lot of the b-word being thrown about, even in jest by comedians. There's a lot of comments made about her pantsuits, and the way she dresses. There's a viciousness.' "

At HuffPost, Nina Burleigh has had enough:

"Whenever I start to think about the competing victimhood claims between blacks and women, I think about those guys. The fact is, for all the 'glass ceiling' and sexual harassment crap I endured, those guys started off a long ways behind where I was. Like others (including Erica Jong, under attack on this page right now for referring to Obama as a boy) I think Obama looks boyish. And by that I mean young - not 'bwah!' With his infectious grin and stick-out ears, he looks like a kid, and that's a good thing and a bad thing.

"Like many women, I feel the visceral draw to vote for a female. The nasty sexist crap Clinton has had to endure only makes me want to support her, even though I don't even like her, and I don't think she's a good leader. She doesn't have that warm, follow-me, sun-god quality that leaders in a democracy must have. In politics personality does matter, and it doesn't matter how many disastrous frat boys we elect, that'll never change . . . Calling female reporters 'sweetie' is not -- ahem -- a step in the right direction."

Columnist Marie Cocco is looking forward to the campaign's end:

"I will not miss seeing advertisements for T-shirts that bear the slogan 'Bros before Hos.' The shirts depict Barack Obama (the Bro) and Hillary Clinton (the Ho) and they are widely sold on the Internet.

"I will not miss walking past airport concessions selling the Hillary Nutcracker, a device in which a pantsuit-clad Clinton doll opens her legs to reveal stainless steel thighs that, well, bust nuts. I won't miss television and newspaper stories that make light of the novelty item.

"I won't miss episodes like the one in which the liberal radio personality Randi Rhodes called Clinton a 'big [expletive] whore' . . .

"I won't miss Citizens United Not Timid (no acronym, please), an anti-Clinton group founded by Republican guru Roger Stone . . .

"I won't miss political commentators (including National Public Radio political editor Ken Rudin and Andrew Sullivan, the columnist and blogger) who compare Clinton to the Glenn Close character in the movie 'Fatal Attraction.' . . . The airwaves will at last be free of comments that liken Clinton to a 'she-devil' (Chris Matthews on MSNBC, who helpfully supplied an on-screen mockup of Clinton sprouting horns). Or those who offer that she's 'looking like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court' (Mike Barnicle, also on MSNBC)."

But there'll be another woman making a strong White House run, right? Not according to this Times Week in Review piece: "Asked to name a potential first woman as president, though, even the shrewdest political strategists said they couldn't think of anyone."

The media, meanwhile, are largely adopting the Obama outlook about today's contests in Kentucky and Oregon:

"By day's end," says the L.A. Times, "Obama expects to have locked up a majority of the pledged delegates to the party's national convention. Though not assuring Obama of the nomination in August, the achievement would signal that victory is near in his hard-fought battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton."

But one person isn't buying that, says the Boston Globe:

"Clinton, who ushered in her historic campaign 16 months ago on the slogan, 'I'm in it to win it,' insisted yesterday she was not planning on going anywhere until all the votes were counted in every state and territory. 'This is nowhere near over,' the senator from New York said at a rally in Kentucky."

Of course, it's been apparent for weeks that Obama would finish ahead in pledged delegates, so making a semi-declaration of victory is an interesting maneuver on his part.

Another hot issue is Obama, on "GMA," telling critics to lay off his wife, Michelle, after a Tennessee GOP Web ad that challenges her first-time-I'm proud-of-my-country remark. (Here's the video.) Uh-uh, says Hot Air's Ed Morrissey:

"If Obama doesn't want his wife to receive criticism, then he shouldn't use her as a surrogate on the campaign trail. Whatever she says on the stump at campaign events is fair game for criticism, just as it has been with Bill Clinton. Obama's camp has unloaded on the former President for statements he made about Hillary's loss in South Carolina and several other incidents in which they believe Bill [Clinton] played the race card to explain Obama's success. Bill's not running for anything this year, but he has made himself a public figure in this primary race, and his statements are also legitimate targets for attack.

"The whininess factor has become a real problem for Obama. Presumably, we'd like a President who doesn't play a perpetual victim on the national stage. What happens when he has to tangle with Congress over policy, or more to the point, when he has to represent America on the world stage? If he can't deal with legitimate political criticism now, what will we get for a response when Obama runs the federal government?"

I do think that campaign-trail statements by Michelle Obama are fair game, since she's in the arena.

The White House launched a campaign against NBC News yesterday over the handling of a presidential interview granted to chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel. This prompted a sternly worded letter from President Bush's counselor Ed Gillespie:

"NBC's selective editing of the President's response is clearly intended to give viewers the impression that he agreed with Engel's characterization of his remarks when he explicitly challenged it. Furthermore, omitted the references to al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas and ignored the clarifying point in the President's follow-up response that U.S. policy is to require Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment program before coming to the table, not that 'negotiating with Iran is pointless' and amounts to 'appeasement.'

"This deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline is utterly misleading and irresponsible and I hereby request in the interest of fairness and accuracy that the network air the President's responses to both initial questions in full on the two programs that used the excerpts."

NBC News President Steve Capus responded thusly:

"We appreciated President Bush's decision to do the interview with NBC News, and believe Mr. Engel's reporting accurately reflects the discussion with the President.

"Let me assure you, there was no effort to be 'deceptive,' as you suggest. Furthermore, the notion this was, 'deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline,' is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

"In fact, the entire interview was posted Sunday on our website, MSNBC.com, thus allowing everyone to draw their own conclusions about it, the subject matter and our editing. In addition, the entire section in dispute has already aired, unedited, on NBC's Today program and in edited form on other NBC News broadcasts. Editing is a part of journalism."

Remember Vito Fossella, the congressman with the love child? He's been hanging tough, but not for long, says the New York Post:

"Staten Island Rep. Vito Fossella has decided not to seek re-election in the wake of his DWI bust and revelations about his long-term extramarital affair with a woman who bore his child, sources told The Post."

I'm sure his chances would have been great. He could have campaigned with both families and reached more voters!

Plenty of bloggers weighing in on my piece yesterday about how Bill O'Reilly has escalated his feud with Keith Olbermann to attack Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of NBC parent General Electric, and how Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, Jeff Zucker, Steve Capus and Immelt have all had talks about a possible cease-fire. Some pointed out that while Fox disputes the notion that Ailes suggested he would could call in the Murdoch-owned New York Post for backup artillery, Page Six just happened to run a grab-bag negative item on him yesterday. Mostly, though, liberals and conservatives are choosing up sides depending on which cable commentator they like.

Blogger Gary Fouse isn't a Keith fan:

"This is clearly a man with issues. Aside from Bush, almost every night, Olbermann engages in attacks against Bill O'Reilly and Fox News. How [unseemly] and unprofessional is that? What is it that O'Reilly did to you in the past, Mr Olbermann? There is clearly bad blood between the two. Why it has to be dragged onto the airwaves is beyond me."

Firedog's Attaturk challenges O'Reilly charge that Immelt and GE are responsible for U.S. deaths in Iraq (because they did business in Iran before a phaseout that is about to end):

"Yeah, because the Bush administration and its enabler, Bill O'Reilly, have absolutely no responsibility of any kind for deaths in Iraq. Heck, Bush even promised Pat Robertson there would be no casualties. And we all know, Bush is never wrong . . . in Bizarro World.

"But O'Reilly's usual level of disconnect is being exceeded in this case because he has the thinnest skin in the world."

Jossip focuses on the liberal blogger who took a video camera to O'Reilly's Long Island home (and was criticized by Olbermann):

"The most worthwhile takeaway from the O'Reilly/News Corp. vs Olbermann/GE feud story isn't the whiny phone calls from Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch to Jeff Zucker and Jeff Immelt complaining about Keith's attacks on Fox News, or the whiny phone calls from Steve Capus to Ailes complaining about O'Reilly's attacks on NBC News correspondent Richard Engel.

"It's that News Corp. wanted an lefty blog's Bill O'Reilly 'ambush video' to be off limits for Olbermann, even though O'Reilly's own use of ambush video cameras drive some of the show's highest ratings and YouTube views."

Radio Equalizer objects to the notion that the New York Post shouldn't weigh in on these matters:

"Does this mean criticism of MSNBC should be off-limits at the Post? Prohibiting discussion of topics based on corporate edicts would be just as alarming as solid evidence the paper is being used as a weapon against an enemy. In the end, Murdoch conspiracy theorists are going to believe what they want and Olbermann's ratings will remain in the tank, despite the support his media friends provide nearly every day."

I'm out of space (virtually speaking), but you may want to check out my report on how the McCain camp pushes back against negative media reports--using words like "scurrilous," "shameful" and "smear job."

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