Saturday, August 30, 2008

Let's talk about Sarah, and how the media are talking about Sarah

If McCain's decision to make Sarah Palin his running mate was an effort to attract HRC supporters, it strikes me as a ham-handed effort to do so if ever there was one.

Here's some analysis from over at the Feminist Law Prof. Blog. And here's some early analysis from the NYT. Needless to say, her stance on abortion alone is sufficient to alienate many who preferred Hillary for the Democratic nomination. Feminists have long known that just getting any woman elected to office does not advance the cause of women. Witness Margaret Thatcher, among others.

What I'm focused on right now, though, is some of the media coverage of her selection. I saw this by Timothy Egan in the NYT last night, headlined "Ms. Alaska." It was among the top-10 most emailed stories within a few hours of being posted to the website, and it still is. Here's an excerpt:

Palin eloped with her husband, Todd, a commercial fisherman, who later won the 2,000-mile Iron Dog snow machine (as snowmobiles are called in Alaska) race. * * * She’s a self-described “hockey mom,” which means something in Minnesota and Colorado, two battleground states.

As a University of Idaho graduate, a television sports reporter, a beauty queen who was Miss Wasilla and competed for Miss Alaska, Palin brings a bit of the “Legally Blonde” aspect to the race -– you underestimate her at your peril, as opponents found in Alaska, and in the movie.

I am familiar with the argument that all's fair when it comes to media coverage of national politics (witness what happened to Hillary), and I am big fan of Egan, but some of his comments overstep a line. He pokes fun at the names of Palin's children, for example. Would we do that to a male candidate? At least he notes that we underestimate her at our peril, which gives her credit for something (common sense? charisma?) and I'm moderately relieved that he or his editors didn't go with the headline, "Miss Alaska."

Gail Collins' column, McCain's Baked Alaska, is currently the most-emailed story on the NYT website. Here's an excerpt, with Collins' tongue firmly in cheek:

McCain does not believe in pandering to identity politics. He was looking for someone who was well prepared to fight against international Islamic extremism, the transcendent issue of our time. And in the end he decided that in good conscience, he was not going to settle for anyone who had not been commander of a state national guard for at least a year and a half.

Thank heavens that Collins is at least focused on ridiculing McCain, not Palin. Also note that she observes that Palin's credentials are not so different than those of Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor who was taken quite seriously as a possible running mate. Hmmmm.

The headline in today's print edition of the New York Times reads: "Alaskan is McCain's Choice; First Woman on G.O.P. Ticket." A subhead then reads: "A surprise pick" followed by "First-term governor, social conservative and Mother of 5." Now I think it would be fine if all headlines about vice presidential selections mentioned in the biographical material whether the person has children, but they don't. So, why is Palin's status as "mother of 5" in this front-page NYT headline?

1 comment:

Jen said...

I agree, let's stick to the issues. I think you can fairly critique her without dropping the "legally blonde" comment. I'm not sure it's fair to use the beauty queen thing against her. Granted, it may be a glimpse at her values, but men don't face the same pressure to compete in such contests.

However, I wonder how much the McCain Pallin camp has a say in how the headlines read. It may work in their favor to highlight Pallin's personal biography - I don't think social conversatives would be ready to vote for a woman who wasn't a Mom. Her decision to have five children, including one with down syndrome, also lends support to her "pro-life" credentials.