The women running for president are qualified, talented, charismatic, hardworking - and nearly invisible. If it t feels like more of the male candidates and expected candidates are getting all the coverage, it's because they are. Tracking of media mentions of candidates by Five Thirty Eight showed that mentions of male candidates have been consistently higher than women, even as Kamala Harris's fundraising and polling numbers are nearly on par with her male rivals.
But perhaps even more importantly, much of the media women candidates are getting is unflattering. A recent study by Storybench, a media watchdog out of Northeastern University, found that women candidates have indeed received disproportionately negative coverage.
The words used to describe their campaigns routinely emphasize scandal and discord. It's just the kind of media bias that contributed to the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016. One would hope we'd have learned something since then.
There are many reasons that media coverage has skewed toward the male candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden are long-standing fixtures in Democratic politics with vast name recognition nationwide, so it's not surprising they would garner extensive press, especially with Biden leading in the polls before even declaring his candidacy. But what of Mayor Pete? He's obviously talented and exciting, given his youth and identity as the only gay man running. In that case, and in the overall tone and tenor of coverage thus far, it's impossible to ignore the reality of gender bias in coverage of the candidates.Many of us who watch these things closely are already shaking our heads. As Jill Filipovic tweeted, "if you think a 37-year-old whose sole political experience is mayor of South Bend is better qualified than a female senator who is a political visionary and has put forward a slew of detailed and thoughtful policies, you may have a sexism problem." Amen.
Yes, the gender bias in media persists today. Why? Why isn't it better now that that we're in a post #MeToo world and the 2016 election bias was called out so intensely? The answer is simple: because the media remains, even now, the domain of men.
The Women's Media Center reports that "male journalists continue to report most news, especially for wires and TV prime-time evening broadcasts." The dominance of men in news and media remains entrenched. Of course, many men in power would reject the notion that they are biased. After all, since #MeToo, there has unquestionably been an increase in the number of women in media and news.
The firings of high-profile men has triggered a reckoning about misogyny and has opened many doors for seriously talented women to take their rightful place at the tables of influence and impact. And many of those women have already used their literal and figurative microphones to highlight the bias in coverage, and have written important stories and made powerful points on air about how we should do better.
But even with the addition of more visible women in media, it's impossible to ignore the bias that continues to persist. Until we have greater diversity in news, it's hard to see how any of the women running stand a chance.
I have seen it up close and personal. Since 2015, I have appeared on a wide range of news shows and I have seen this type of behavior first-hand. I have been berated on and off air, I have seen men at the table with me literally yawn while I was talking and, of course, I have heard endless stories from women journalists and producers - including my dear friend Gretchen Carlson - explain the kind of harassment they faced just doing their jobs every day. Bias in media remains sadly the norm, not the exception.This lack of diversity in media has vast impact. Political coverage continues to reinforces the old tropes that men with charisma have potential or are rising stars, even where they lack experience, while women with experience are nagging, radical, or worse, not worth talking about.
The fact is, the coverage of the presidential candidates is already seriously skewed and the impact of that skewed coverage is vast. For the women running, the coverage gap poses a serious problem. Dem candidates need large numbers of donors to meet the debate threshold set by the DNC. How do they get to those numbers if not through media? The ground game in a country as large as ours only gets you so far this early on. With such uneven coverage and the boy wonder narrative persisting, it's worth asking, can't we do better?
The good news given this depressing backdrop, is that there is a solution. The power and ubiquity of media to shape public opinion, the fates of future elected officials and the stories that Americans hear, means it has never been a more urgent time for media to take the diversity challenge seriously.
A simple solution: every network should commit now to ensuring 50/50 male/female representation on every show. And while they are at it, networks and newsrooms should commit to a more serious effort to recruit, advance and promote more women and people of color on air and in the senior producer ranks. Major newspapers, who have been, to their credit, increasing the number of women editors, should commit to ensuring at least 50 percent of op-eds published are written by women. They should make a serious effort to call for and actively solicit voices that are underrepresented, especially women of color who have been left on the sidelines of public discourse for so long.
It has never been a more urgent moment. It has never been a better time.
Lauren Leader is the co-founder and CEO of All In Together, a non-partisan women's political leadership organization. She is also the author of "Crossing the Thinnest Line, Why Increasing Diversity from the Office to the Oscars Makes America Stronger." April 16, 2019. The Hill.
Voices4America Post Script. Sexism rampant, racism rampant. This hurts our quest to find the best candidate to beat Trump. Who does your media put on or write about. Complain! Find alternate sources. Share what you see about candidates who are female & candidates of color with your network. #BlueWave2020
Below are links to articles about Americans attitudes toward women as candidates for president.
This is a new and comprehensive study from Georgetown