In her latest op-ed for the New York Times, feminist commentator Jill Filipovic contends that the slew of sexual-misconduct allegations against leading journalists proves that media sexism — rather than crippling unpopularity and a coinciding populist wave — cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election. As evidence, she points out that several disgraced male journalists asked the candidate pointed questions and interrupted her last year.
Not only is this explanation for Clinton’s loss a poor one, but by comparing sexual misconduct to entirely normal journalistic conduct, Filipovic downplays the seriousness of the former.
Filipovic is absolutely right to criticize what she terms the “deep cultural rot that has corroded nearly all of our institutions.” She is right, too, to avoid suggesting that this rot is a partisan phenomenon or that it stems from right-wing anti-woman sentiment; to my knowledge, Filipovic has declined to play favorites and condemn conservative figures such as Roy Moore for their sexual misdeeds while excusing perpetrators on the left such as John Conyers and Al Franken. And she compellingly details how the sexual objectification of women creeps into workplaces and changes the way men treat their female colleagues — even when such treatment falls short of harassment or assault.
But Filipovic makes a serious error when she extrapolates this argument to the extreme, deploying it as yet another excuse for Clinton’s loss.
The weakness of Filipovic’s case is revealed by her dubious examples of sexist journalism. She tells us, for example, that Lauer “peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending questions hyper-focused on her emails.” Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose, meanwhile, were guilty of setting “much of the televised political discourse of the race,” the implication being that their sexism somehow seeped into the way everyone viewed Mrs. Clinton.
After the election, Filipovic adds, Rose escalated his supposed offenses, “talking down to [Clinton], interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy.” And Halperin dared to “paint her as ruthless and corrupt.” For his part, Glenn Thrush at the New York Times had the gall to cover Clinton’s 2008 campaign “and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.”
The most generous way to interpret Filipovic’s argument is that because men with a history of manipulating or mistreating women obviously don’t respect the opposite sex, such an attitude must affect their professional work, too. Fair enough.
But Filipovic evidently believes that it is problematic to question women in any way, and in any context. As a result, she is willing to characterize any criticism of any woman — even one who puts herself in the public spotlight — as outright sexism.
In keeping with her past commentary on the topic, Filipovic overlooks actual problems with Clinton’s personality and political record that clearly contributed to her loss. Filipovic doesn’t even bother to consider the reality that many people other than Rose found Clinton to be “untrustworthy”– including plenty of Democratic voters, who backed socialist Bernie Sanders in surprisingly large numbers. Plenty more agreed with Halperin that Clinton is, or at least comes across as, “ruthless and corrupt.”
For Filipovic, if Americans believed these awful things of Clinton, it must be because sexist media men lied to them.
But for Filipovic, if Americans believed these awful things of the former secretary of state, it must be because sexist media men lied to them, not because Clinton actually behaved in a way that merited these critiques. After all, Clinton was, in Filipovic’s words, “one of the best-qualified candidates for the presidency in American history.”
All of this is, of course, done in service of the ever-present progressive agenda: taking every possible chance to absolve Hillary Clinton of any blame in her loss to a reality-show host with no political experience. Sadly, this latest attempt to vindicate Clinton ends up minimizing the very real suffering that many women experienced at the hands of these journalists when they weren’t just doing their jobs covering the 2016 campaign.
It would be a sad irony if, in the hopeless pursuit of exonerating Clinton, Jill Filipovic damaged the very movement her piece purports to defend.