It turns out that former 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign was right: She was doomed by media sexists. Two new scholarly studies that blow the whistle on the industry's lopsided reliance on male reporters find that the media first belittled her effort against Barack Obama, then jumped the gun to push her out of the race earlier than any other recent strong primary challenger.
Among the key findings is that sexism, more than ideology, drove the media's anti-Clinton theme. The biggest offender: MSNBC's liberal and popular host Chris Matthews. "He treated HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] worse than all other newspeople," says one study from University of Utah researchers and published in the prestigious Political Research Quarterly. A related study from the same school found that sexism played a role in the media's push to get Clinton out of the 2008 Democratic primaries even though she was a strong challenger who vowed to stay in until the convention in Denver.
While examples of sexism were shrugged off at the time, the new study of media sex bias charges that the press used many tricks to swipe at Clinton, the initial front-runner. Some included nasty name-calling. Others were more subtle, like referring to her simply as "Hillary." Some 8 percent of the time, the leading 127 newspeople studied by the scholars called her "Hillary." It was "Barack" just 2 percent of the time. And it wasn't because she marketed her campaign as "Hillary," they add.
The study notes that when men use their first name in their campaign, reporters still refer to them by their last names: Rudy Giuliani was "Giuliani," and Lamar Alexander was "Alexander." Here again, Matthews was tops, calling the candidate "Hillary" twice as often as his nearest TV news competitor, Fox's Sean Hannity, did. [Michele Bachmann's Nuttiness Is No Reason for Sexism.]
The authors say sexism in the media is so bad—men in the survey outnumbered women 60 percent to 40 percent—that owners should start hiring and promoting more women.
Clinton didn't fare any better in the second study, also published in Political Research Quarterly. It found that the media, often using unnamed sources, went overboard very early in the primaries to suggest that Clinton quit the race.
The "exit talk" was far worse than any other recent primary challenger has faced, including Ronald Reagan in 1976, Edward Kennedy in 1980, and Gary Hart in 1984. "Some might suggest sexism was at work," say the authors, who add that reporters having more leeway to speak their own opinions was also to blame.