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Question: When does “Wife” trump “Senator”?

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

June 21st, 2007

Answer: in major headlines about former President Bill Clinton’s efforts to help his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), secure the Democratic presidential nomination for the 2008 White House bid.

Witness the following, from print, broadcast and online outlets - some are very recent, some older:

“Bill Clinton steps into spotlight in wife’s campaign” - CNN

“Bill Clinton heading to state key to wife’s campaign” - USA Today

“Bill helps fill wife’s campaign coffers” - Newsday

“Clinton’s Iowa Visit May Serve Wife’s Aims” - Washington Post

“Former president to campaign with wife” - 06/18/2007 - Miami Herald

“Bill Clinton takes bigger role in wife’s campaign” - Yahoo! News (note: this is what’s listed in Yahoo’s roster of today’s featured news headlines; the shorter “Bill Clinton takes bigger campaign role” appears on the story itself)

Many of these headlines ran over Associated Press wire stories, so were repeated in numerous outlets.

OK, first, let me take care of this: Yes, of course, I know that HRC is Bill’s wife. And that Bill, as a former president, is an extremely newsworthy individual. But Hillary Rodham Clinton is:

A. an elected politician in her own right

B. the Democratic frontrunner, and

C. entitled to be referenced as a freaking noun (ie, Senator, politician, frontrunner, Democrat - take your pick) and not simply in terms of her relationship to a powerful man, or at least via her own name… and since media feel no qualms about referring to her by the overly familiar first-name-only, it’s not like “Hillary” has too many characters for headline copyfitters.

I mean, seriously, folks… If Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s husband was a successful senator with a huge campaign war chest, major media buzz and a supposed near-lock on an ‘08 nomination — or if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were married to a man in such a position — would we be seeing dozens of news headlines mentioning only Pelosi’s or Rice’s name, not his? In a media climate that still tends to consider female politicians’ hairstyle, fashion and accessory preferences to be just as newsworthy as their legislative records (or more!), it’s not all that likely that we’d see stories titled “Nancy helps husband on campaign trail” or “Condi to stump for her hubby.”

Ironically, Fox News’s headline writers got it right, using her own name rather than simply referencing her as “Bill’s wife”:

“Bill Clinton to Join Hillary on Campaign Trail in Iowa”

Editors, headline writers and bloggers, please take note: if you wouldn’t use certain language when covering male politicians, don’t use it when covering female politicians. And when reporting about women in political leadership, refer to them by their own names, not just in relation to their husbands. Seriously — this should be so simple…

* * *
Calling all readers: If you see examples of sexist double standards in media coverage of female politicians — whether Democratic, Republican or independent — send those stories (articles, broadcast transcripts, media workers’ blog posts, etc.) to Women In Media & News by emailing info[at]wimnonline[dot]org, or via this form.

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