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The Invisible Majority – Women & the Media
Provided by the Women's Media Center

In Boy Versus Girl, It's Hillary 1, Media 0
By Carol Jenkins

The real loser in last Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate was not Hillary Clinton. It was the news media, once again confusing its role of delivering information with playing in some ultimate reality game show called "Build’em Up, Tear’em Down." As far as the media was concerned, as "inevitable" as Clinton was on Monday, she was just as doomed on Tuesday.

At the end of what the mainstream media screamed was "Hillary's Worst Week Yet!" a poll released by Newsweek indicated that her numbers are still rock solid with Democratic voters: Clinton steady at 44; Obama 24 (-1): Edwards 12 (-2). The jury is still out on what Tim Russert and Brian Williams, the moderators of the now infamous debate, may have gained from the spectacle. I do think the other candidates have grounds for complaint—all eyes, and most questions were for Hillary.

It was perhaps the most instructive week of the presidential campaign so far. More vividly than ever before, it is clear that hardly anyone knows how to handle the first-ever woman frontrunner, including the media and that candidate's "handlers." What should have been a fairly simple "piling on" the leader of the pack became a boys versus girls schoolyard brawl—her nervous team seeming to portray the guys ganging up on “Hill.” The "final straw," said some media pundits, was Hillary's appearance the same week at her alma mater, offering up that her all-girl school education had helped her in her fight against the all-boy, old boy network.

I must say I find the reaction of outrage from some quarters to that statement mystifying. It is hard to argue against the evidence of one woman in the field of more than 15 presidential candidates paired with a never-ending slate of male moderators the networks have put forward. In more than 20 debates, including some online, only six women have participated compared to more than 30 men. Only Judy Woodruff has moderated solo, on PBS. Even though we expect Katie Couric and Bob Schieffer to anchor a debate on CBS in December, how can we not think of what we’re witnessing as anything but the traditional all-boys club? But the important message here is that our exclusionary media is as much on display as our deficient political process. I still want to know: Where is the slate of newswomen who consistently get to ask the big, important questions. Don't tell me there aren't any.

I was asked a couple of questions this week on national television: Does Hillary get to play it both ways with the gender card? The answer is "no." The correct way forward, for her staff to remember, is that the more she's grilled, the better. We all want to know if she can take it, because, goodness knows, we don't want a crybaby president. By the way, I'd like to know if the other candidates can take it as well—time to rough them up, too and weed out all the crybabies in the bunch.

The second question was if it was fair that Hillary was at an all girls' college this week. A clip of Hillary's "I'm your girl!" quip got a lot of play. My answer to that is that the other candidates, Democratic and Republican, had better start singing that tune as well. The women's vote will likely determine the outcome of the 2008 election. It's not clear yet that all the candidates understand that simple probability in the boy versus girl equation.

A writer, producer, and Emmy award-winning former television anchor and correspondent, Carol Jenkins knows first-hand the importance and ongoing challenges faced by women in the media. Well-known for her tenure with WNBC-TV in New York, Jenkins now serves as president of the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 2005 to make women visible and powerful in the media.



The Women's Media Center was founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem to make women more visible and powerful in the media. The WMC places female voices into the media, offers media training, and publishes original reports and commentaries as well as links to women columnists and bloggers, news organizations, and journalism sources on its Web site, www.womensmediacenter.com.

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