Dana is right, of course, that there was a considerable amount of sexism inherent in characterizations of Clinton’s debate performance on Saturday. (“Medusa look,” ugh.) This presents Democratic primary voters with a dilemma, for reasons that Matt’s point should make clear:
Getting good press is part of being an effective candidate and part of being an effective president. Will Obama continue to get this kind of worshipful coverage in the general election campaign? Probably not, especially if he has to run against Saint John of Arizona. But will he get better coverage than Clinton or Edwards would? Almost certainly. And I don’t think it makes sense to let resentment be the governing consideration here.
I’m a little ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I agree that since any major Dem would be vastly preferable to any major GOP candidate, it would be irresponsible to just ignore the fact that Obama is likely to receive much more favorable coverage than Clinton or Edwards. On the other hand, it’s important to be careful not to fall into a “blame the victim” trap here. While maybe some of the problems that Gore and Hillary Clinton have had with the media may be failures of management, I suspect most of the problem is caused by the fact that a lot of elite media figures don’t like them and there’s nothing they can do about it. (In Gore’s case, the evidence is pretty clear.) And in Clinton’s case, where some of the bad coverage reflects grossly sexist assumptions, there’s the additional risk that placing too much weight on media coverage will make this sexism become a self-sustaining dynamic that excludes women from political office.
For me, the dilemma is resolvable because while I would be extremely reluctant to let the prospect of unfavorable media coverage dissuade me from supporting a candidate I thought was clearly superior on the merits, I don’t think that Clinton has made this case. (YMMV.) But even if Clinton isn’t your first choice, it’s still important to be vigilant about sexist smears of her in the media — whatever its effect on the primary it’s unacceptable.