Bachmann's Candidacy Brings Gender News Coverage to Fore

Tuesday, 28 Jun 2011 10:24 AM

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Rep. Michele Bachmann’s official entry into the Republican presidential race officially made gender an issue, too. And any reporter or blogger who comments that Bachmann seems to favor tailored suits and often sports a a pearl necklace or a scarf had better note what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and her other male GOP rivals are wearing to the dance, as well.

Michele Bachmann, gender, RepublicanIf anything, Bachmann’s opponents may hold back a bit in criticizing her to avoid a female voter backlash that whacked Barack Obama in the New Hampshire primary in 2008, observes The Caucus political blog in The New York Times.

The issue reared its head even before Bachmann launched her campaign officially Monday in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, after “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked her Sunday whether she’s a “flake.”

Wallace apologized to his viewers and to Bachmann in a video follow-up after viewers criticized him, and reiterated his mea culpa in a phone call to Bachmann, who accepted the personal apology.

But that didn’t stop Wallace’s Fox News colleague Greta Van Susteren from posing this question on her blog: “Is this how Chris Wallace would ask the same question of a man?”

Expect Bachmann to dare journalists and bloggers to cover her the same way they would a man, just as Hillary Clinton did, The Caucus noted, adding: “And she will put before voters the ultimate question they ducked in 2008: Are they ready for a female president?”

The blog quotes Anne Kornblut, a Washington Post reporter and author of “Notes from the Cracked Ceiling,” as saying in an update to that tome: “Heading into the 2012 campaign, the question remained: Did any woman stand a chance of winning either party’s nomination for president? Or going even further?”

Political strategists told The Caucus that Bachmann’s rivals will have to tread lightly, discovering ways to disagree without gender digs.

“They need to respect her gender but ignore it,” The Caucus quotes Kellyanne Conway, a pollster for Republican candidates and conservative causes, as saying. “What happens is in unguarded moments, if you are rolling your eyes or are chuckling when a woman says something, it’s often taken as you are chuckling at their intelligence.

“There are pitfalls because gender in politics is still such a novelty,” Conway said. “It’s a deft balance.”

Not unlike the old quip that former U.S. Ambassador and U.S. Rep. Faith Whittlesey popularized as a senior staff adviser to President Ronald Reagan: "Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels."


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