Tags: Ben Carson | Hillary Clinton | Jeb Bush | Mike Huckabee | Mitt Romney | appearance

WaPo: Candidate's Appearance Important, Fair Game for Coverage

Tuesday, 28 April 2015 02:24 PM

"Saturday Night Live" comedian Cecily Strong, with her right hand raised, had reporters at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on Saturday swear to not comment on Hillary Clinton's appearance in their coverage of the campaign season, because "that is not journalism."

Wrong, according to Chris Cillizza, White House correspondent, who argues in an opinion piece for The Washington Post's political blog "The Fix" that a candidate's appearance is important, indeed, and therefore, fair game for journalistic coverage.

Strong told the assembled correspondents and politicians, "I want all the media to put their hands up and swear something this election season. 'I solemnly swear not to talk about Hillary's appearance because that is not journalism.'"

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Cillizza writes, "Commentary and coverage over the years about Hillary's changing hairstyles, her penchant for pantsuits and other assorted appearance ephemera are the direct result of Clinton being a woman. A man running for president would never be subjected to similar treatment."

However, he adds, "We know how a candidate looks and sounds is part of the overall equation for how voters decide whether to vote for him and her.

"Given that, the right thing to do is to properly contextualize coverage of any candidate's appearance. It should neither be 90 percent of the coverage nor 0 percent. How we look matters in ways measurable and not.

"A journalist's job is to understand how voters make up their minds, not pass moral judgment on whether they are doing it 'right.'"

Cillizzi cites the 1960 debate between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, when Kennedy appeared calm and confident, while Nixon appeared "sickly and sweaty" in an era when 88 percent of American homes had television, as a key factor in Nixon losing the election.

Likewise, Cillizzi says, Ronald Reagan, looking "tanned, rested and ready," and Bill Clinton and Al Gore, appearing youthful and telegenic, had the inside edge on winning their elections, based on appearances alone.

More recently, he mentions the appealing appearances of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., as critical to their political success, and recent news about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's weight loss, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's use of the Paleo diet and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's weight fluctuations.

An MIT study found that "people often judge unfamiliar individuals based on their appearance, inferring personality traits such as competence, intelligence, honesty and trustworthiness from facial features alone."

Cellizzi writes, "The idea that appearance, the appearance of competence as opposed to pure attractiveness, doesn't matter just isn't borne out in life. If looks lead to snap judgments, or at least first impressions, in, literally, every other aspect of life, it seems counterintuitive that the appearance of a candidate wouldn't matter in politics.

"That's especially true in the modern era of politics in which two things are true: (1) Television is king, and (2) voters are less and less engaged in the actual policy platforms of the candidates."

Strong, obviously a Clinton supporter, did get in some on-target zingers, though. For example, Variety notes, she wisecracked, "Our relationship with Israel will be great in the next administration, just as soon as Israel makes a generous donation to the Clinton Foundation."

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"Saturday Night Live" comedian Cecily Strong had reporters at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner on Saturday swear to not comment on Hillary Clinton's appearance in their coverage of the campaign season, because "that is not journalism."
appearance, candidate, coverage, Hillary Clinton
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 02:24 PM
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