Is it a stretch to believe that a news personality’s treatment of a powerful, accomplished woman would reflect his tendency to abuse and demean his female co-workers?
In September 2016 I, like a lot of other Americans, was shocked and unsettled by Matt Lauer’s contrasting treatment of then-candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at an NBC presidential forum. After a series of rigorous policy questions, snappy interjections, and an inordinate block of time devoted to grilling Clinton about her e-mails, Lauer seemed to treat her opponent with kid gloves. He let Trump regurgitate the lie that he was against the War in Iraq (he wasn’t), but silenced Clinton with an abrupt “As briefly as you can,” as she was describing an intricate plan. Wow, I thought, did Matt Lauer really just ‘Shut up, woman’ the only cogent candidate on the stage?
Fast-forward to over a year later, and Matt Lauer is fired from NBC amid allegations of “inappropriate sexual conduct.” The accusations include exposing himself to employees, gifting them sex toys, and pressing a door-lock button under his desk so that no one could enter or leave the room. In his wake, he leaves a trail of questionable incidents and situations that his departure illuminates in new ways. Lauer’s strained relationship with Ann Curry was speculated to be the reason for her leaving NBC in 2013. His interview with Anne Hathaway following an accidental up-skirt paparazzi photo opened with, “Seen a lot of you lately,” and went on to ask if the actress had “learned any lessons,” as if she were somehow to blame. And during a conversation with actor Corey Feldman on his intent to expose those who molested him as a child, Lauer appeared to chastise Feldman for talking to him instead of “talking to the police right now.”
If Matt Lauer’s NBC career was marked with red flags of condescension and victim-blaming, than his treatment of Hillary Clinton last fall was a skyrocketing red flare. Hillary Clinton was no ordinary interviewee – she was the first woman to receive the presidential nomination from a major U.S. political party, poised to become the leader of the free world, so threatening to white male mediocrity that our country turned and elected a petulant narcissist. Is it a stretch to believe that a news personality’s treatment of a powerful, accomplished woman would reflect his tendency to abuse and demean his female co-workers?
This is not to say that all sexual harassers dislike Hillary Clinton. Harvey Weinstein was a longtime friend of Clinton’s who donated generously to her campaign, and as we’ve seen in the cases of other liberal figures like Al Franken, Charlie Rose, and yes, Bill Clinton, bad sexual behavior knows no party affiliation. Guardian writer Jessa Crispin recently illuminated the left’s problem of those “who self-identify as feminists…doing it mostly to get laid,” hiding behind egalitarian public personas while abusing women in private.
But while this behavior exists and is to be condemned on the left, it is cultivated and proudly displayed on the right. The GOP’s platform has reached new heights in robbing women of their personhood, from attempts to stifle college campus rape victims to legislation banning abortion and defunding women’s health care providers. It is the party of Roy Moore, supported in the Alabama Senate race despite glaring evidence that he molested young girls. As Bill Maher succinctly put it, “We arrest our alleged rapists; they elect them.”
And of course, not everyone who takes umbrage with Hillary Clinton mistreats women in their personal lives. I strongly supported Clinton during last year’s election, but was willing to have honest conversations with friends who disagreed with her policies or methods. What I refused to entertain were comments from the “Lock Her Up” crowd, who practically seethed at the mention of her name. There is reasonable dislike of a politician, and then there is fuming hatred that borders on violence. I was disgusted and more than a little scared to see the latter coming from a few family members and friends, but quickly realized that what they all had in common was a misogynistic worldview. I could not name a single person who had voiced an extreme loathing of Hillary Clinton that did not also resent women having power and success, did not dismiss women’s issues, and/or did not have a history of abuse.
On the same day that Matt Lauer was fired, producer Teddy Davis was released from his position at CNN following three allegations of sexual misconduct. Davis, on October 10, tweeted from his personal account that Clinton’s former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle “says it is ‘disappointing’ Hillary ‘hasn’t come out and condemned Harvey Weinstein.’” Lauer and Davis have joined Politico reporter Glenn Thrush, suspended last week after multiple women accused him of “unwanted groping and kissing.” Thrush, who frequently teamed up with infamous purveyor of false equivalence Maggie Haberman, wrote of Clinton’s “white-hot anger” and “pessimistic resignation (with a dash of self-pity).” He criticized her for “bor[ing] the media to death with her detailed, numbers-heavy responses” and characterized her interactions with the press as a “toxic relationship.”
“Over and over, men insinuated that women’s analysis of [Hillary Clinton’s] candidacy were ‘biased,’ or ‘subjective,’ or ‘opinion,’’ TIME correspondent Charlotte Alter tweeted after the Lauer allegations broke. “When women wrote about Hillary, it was a ‘feminist take.’ When men wrote about Hillary, it was ‘the truth.’” Dominant cultural groups reap the benefits of being viewed as the objective authority, as Sarah Lerner found last October. She analyzed the media’s general insistence that Clinton and Trump were both disliked equally and found this to be false for most demographic groups. The only group that this was true for? White people. A major media issue? “The lack of diversity in newsrooms.”
See how this works?
The flip side is that when the media is predominantly controlled by one group, and more and more members of this group are found to be serial harassers, the reliability and neutrality of their coverage erodes. Gradually, a space is cleared for questioning, for the emergence of other narratives. Slowly, we begin to trust those we were taught to hate and dismiss for the protection of their victimizers.
Chelsea Cristene is a communications associate and English professor based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, and MamaMia, and runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen. Find her on Twitter.
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