Gender Dynamics

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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Hillary Clinton can't catch a break. At least if you listen to her husband.

After the Democratic presidential debate on October 30, you might have noticed the criticism she received.

Jamison Foser, writing on the Media Matters for America website, says the "pundit class convinced themselves that Clinton had turned in the worst debate performance in years.'

It was "terrible," the New York Post said, while Time magazine's Mark Halperin declared it "disastrous' and a "failure," and Clinton herself "shrill' and "hot tempered.'

The Politico's Roger Simon said Clinton had a really bad night, and that she was "largely emotionless and detached.'

But some of those same commentators were positive about Clinton's performance while the debate unfolded, and only later described it as a train wreck. For instance, Foser says, Rick Klein wrote on his blog for at 9:33 p.m. that Clinton "is strong, concise and sharp tonight. She is finding ways to contrast herself with the Bush administration even while defending herself.'

After mulling it over later, Klein seemed to change his mind on ABC's The Note. So did others. "The pundits fed off each other and whipped themselves into a frenzy,' Foser writes, "and the reviews became increasingly harsh.'

"If the media's rush to declare Clinton's performance a disaster sounds familiar, it's because there are striking similarities to the last debate performance to be so universally and harshly condemned by the media,' Foser says, referring to Al Gore's in 2000.

"Then, as now, the real story of the debate was ignored by the media,' Foser says. George W. Bush's "misstatements' were "shoved aside in favor of relentless media criticism of Gore's mannerisms.'

Bill Clinton has been coming to his wife's defense: "Those boys have been getting tough on her lately,' he said. And he compared the attacks on his wife to the "Swift boating' of John Kerry.

In today's New York Times, Patrick Healy says the campaign's "gender dynamic' has come into sharp relief since the Oct. 30 debate. "Some allies of Mrs. Clinton pointed out that the men were going after the woman. Mrs. Clinton at one point referred to the presidency as an ‘all-boys club.' '

The Republican National Committee, as well as the campaigns of John Edwards and Barack Obama, Healy says, argue that the Clintons are keeping a "boys vs. girl' story line alive to stoke sympathy for Mrs. Clinton.

Healy quotes a spokesman for Edwards as saying, "With all due respect, there's nothing really tough about answering questions: John Edwards does it every day.'

Susan Faludi, writing on, notes that Barack Obama, on NBC's Today show, accused Hillary of playing "don't pick on me.'

In The New York Times, Maureen Dowd wrote that Hillary was trying to show "she can break, just like a little girl… If she could become a senator by playing the victim after Monica, surely she can become president by playing the victim now.'

Faludi, a former colleague of mine at The Times, quotes Mort Kondracke on FOX News as saying: "I think it is very unattractive for a general election candidate, who wants to be the Commander in Chief of the free world, to be saying ‘They're ganging up on me!' '

These indictments were conjured from the slimmest of evidence, says Faludi, who wrote the bestselling book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.

After the debate, Clinton told a crowd of more than 1,000 young women at Wellesley, her alma mater, that "this all-women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys' club of presidential politics… So let's roll up our sleeves and get to work together. We're ready to shatter that highest glass ceiling.'

What about that, Faludi asks, was so frail?

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan