Sexist campaign coverage can't be fixed if media won't admit to 2016 fiasco

Democratic women are rewriting campaign history, with six women now running for the White House. The surge of female candidates for the highest office hopefully marks a turning point for what’s considered the campaign norm. But this election revolution is unfolding in a strange vacuum, because there still hasn’t been an open and honest media discussion about how the political press mistreated Hillary Clinton when she ran in 2016, and in 2008. We simply can’t have an honest debate about sexism on the campaign trail if the media won’t acknowledge its collectively awful past.

Last month, the New York Times published a long piece about the many women running for president and examined the effects of the sexism in our culture on the candidates. Incredibly, the Times article completely ignored the role of the media when it comes to sexist tropes and double standards—and specifically the sexist media tropes Clinton had to endure, thanks in part to news outlets such as the New York Times. The article noted that Clinton “detractors” often portrayed her as shrill, aloof, and unlikeable. But the article never conceded to readers that a lot of those “detractors” worked for the Times.

The Times’ political editor, Patrick Healy, then took to Twitter to delve deeper into the issue of the media and sexist coverage, quickly announcing that the Times had essentially been blameless in its coverage of Clinton. “I’m proud of our 2016 coverage and our team,” he wrote. “I don’t think we applied double standards to Clinton.”

And this is the circle that the Times simply cannot square as it unveils its 2020 coverage: It’s trying to be more transparent while at same time categorically refusing to admit to mistakes in its 2016 Clinton coverage.

There’s little doubt that there’s been a top-down edict at the Times that staffers are not to apologize for 2016, let alone acknowledge the errors of their ways in covering that campaign. The newsroom has been remarkably unified in almost cult-like defensiveness of its 2016 coverage, especially when it comes to Clinton. Why? Because admitting that the paper engaged in deeply sexist behavior would damage the brand that the Times likes to market of being a fair, open-minded, and forward-thinking enterprise.  

Back in 2016, the Times was none of those things, at least not when it came to the first woman nominee. And the Times wasn’t alone.

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