But when outrage spills from the Twittersphere into columns or blogs at the New York Times or The Washington Post, I just can’t help myself. I have to respond! And since today’s tweet-rage was featured in a column where I write my own posts, I thought it merited mention if for no other reason than to drive traffic between two Washington Post articles. Who says I’m not a company man?
Last night while watching election returns, I live-tweeted my reaction to the results. After first tweeting about Hillary Clinton’s remarkable night, I noticed that the conquering hero was looking a bit dour for a candidate who was reveling in a clean sweep that all but locked up the Democratic nomination. I then tweeted that Clinton should smile because she was having such a great night.
After getting off the air this morning, I did a quick check of Twitter to find out that my seven-word tweet was the greatest offense committed against womankind since misogynists like Henry VIII and Bobby Riggs roamed the earth. It seems that my brief tweet succinctly summed up 10,000 years of sexism in 30 symbols because I dared to suggest that a political candidate act joyful while delivering a celebratory speech to the American people.
This reaction from a small but hardy band of tweeters was curious considering my long history of praising Clinton as the toughest player on the political scene, and even commenting after 2008 that if I had time, I would write a book about Clinton’s presidential campaign called “True Grit.”
I observed Clinton first as a political opponent on Capitol Hill and later as a news host. I know firsthand that the former secretary of state has endured far more in her four decades of public service than a tweet that critiqued her style as a political orator. As Clinton told me in an interview this month, she is not a natural politician and finds campaigning to be vexing at times. Last night seemed to be one of those times despite the fact that Clinton took a big step toward winning the Democratic nomination and being elected the 45th president of the United States.
If you are thinking at this point in my post that I am working my way toward a mea culpa, you couldn’t be more wrong. I’ll quote Pete Townshend on the topic of my tweet and declare that “I’ve no need to be forgiven.”
At least on this one topic.
My co-host and I get paid well by NBC to offer critiques of all candidates regardless of their sex, race or political party. We often communicate without a filter, but that approach has put us in the position of standing alone in the media (save Mark Halperin) predicting both the rise of Donald Trump and the coming collapse of Marco Rubio. Like those two counterintuitive political reads, our unvarnished commentary often ruffles feathers while often hitting the mark.
If I owe anyone an apology this campaign cycle, it’s probably Rubio for being as tough as I was in calling out the media and the Republican establishment for being so wrong about what I always considered to be a vacuous campaign. The Rubio campaign team was rightly defensive that I repeatedly said that the candidate looked like little more than a glorified SGA president and had as much substance as a bag of cotton candy.
My read was that when Rubio spoke, I could hear the echoes of a thousand focus groups. Tough stuff, but apparently Republican voters agreed with me.
But Rubio hasn’t been alone in our tough critiques of candidates. We asked of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, “Is this what Germany looked like in 1933?” Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Bernie Sanders and a slew of other candidates got raked over the grill for their political style and substance.
Today, on the same day that tweeters were outraged that I suggested Clinton should have looked like she was enjoying her winning night, Mika Brzezinski mocked Republican male Ted Cruz for being a “cartoon character” that “oozed insincerity” and probably didn’t mean a thing that he said. It was a much harsher assessment of Cruz’s speaking style than Clinton’s, but providing that kind of tough take is what we get paid to do — even when we are wrong. But we strive to get it right and treat every candidate fairly.
Which leads to the Washington Post article that tried to summarize my tweet controversy earlier tonight. Jena McGregor wrote earlier today that women were not amused by my “tired” advice for Clinton, and to prove her point, McGregor helpfully posted pictures of women extending their middle fingers toward the camera in honor of yours truly. McGregor also noted that Clinton did smile at the beginning of her speech and smiled more than Trump after his big night.
The implication in the column (and in the scores of tweets sent my direction throughout the day) was that I was somehow holding Clinton to a different standard than Trump. That assumption, the tweets and the extended middle fingers pointed my way were all off-target. The transcripts from earlier today show that Willie Geist and I both hit Trump much harder than Clinton for not acting like a candidate who enjoyed a successful night at the polls.
JS: It was a huge night for Donald Trump. We’ve been laughing all year at candidates who lost primaries but acted like they had won in their speeches. But last night we saw Donald Trump who had a massive night talking like he lost and attacking the press. Will someone tell the man to stop looking at the polls? When he’s winning, they don’t matter!WG: It is amazing that no slight is too small, with him going after someone who he was watching on TV after he cleaned up last night.JS: He had a massive night last night and yet he was complaining about what the press was saying and then pointing to an Economist poll! – if you win at the ballot box you don’t have to point about an Economist poll!
Later, Willie pushed Trump on his sour mood, even in victory:
Congratulations on last night. I was struck watching you come up on stage as you had just cleaned up in four out of the five states. And the first thing you started talking about was that you had been slighted by a pundit. Why do you get caught up in all of that? Why do you worry about what Fox News says? You should be basking in your victory, and you’re worried about the minutiae of cable punditry. Why do you care?
Trump’s response is not important for the purposes of my gender-sensitive post. But to those suggesting that critiquing a woman in the same way that one would critique a man is unfair, I can only say that there are no microaggressions when you are running for the highest office in the land.
Women face longer odds, greater obstacles and more cultural barriers to the White House than do women in any other Western country. Yet a political analyst’s job is not to comment on what should be, but rather what is. For any candidate who is running for president of the United States, pasting a smile on your face while giving a victory speech is probably the safest political play when the whole world is watching you. The “Morning Joe” crew has said it about Donald Trump, we have said it about Bernie Sanders and we will say it again about Hillary Clinton if the occasion rises.
No man should say “smile” to a woman walking down the street. I understand that and would never say such a thing. But Clinton is not a pedestrian on her way to work. She is the most experienced politician on the national stage today who wants to be the next president of the United States. Critiquing anyone’s political skills who seeks that office is always fair game. Whether your name is Donald, Ted or Hillary.