How will the news media treat Biden’s VP choice?

By Tom Jones
Poynter Institute

No surprise: Joe Biden has picked Kamala Harris to be his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.
Sadly, what also won’t be a surprise is what the reaction likely will be to Harris’ selection. That’s something I predicted in an earlier column when I wrote, “Whoever it is, assuming it is a woman, the candidate is going to face attacks that a man would not.”
The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin made the same prediction following last Tuesday’s news:
“The media will engage in a mad rush to define, dissect, inspect and criticize Harris — likely not for her views or her record, but for her likability, her ‘team player’ quotient, her compatibility with Biden, her physical appearance, her seriousness or lack thereof, and on and on.
“They will comment on her clothes, her smile and her hair. The intense vetting process is normal and expected, especially regarding her votes on positions; however, we can expect a whole different level and type of personal character assassination. Even at a climactic moment for the political inclusion of African-American women, we will likely find it difficult to quash the tired double standards and just plain dumb commentary that women have put up with for years.”
Like what?
Like her “likeability” or how she dresses or how she speaks. Like whether you would want to have her over to the house for dinner or hang out with her at a party as if that’s a reason why she would or would not make a good vice president.
That doesn’t mean Harris shouldn’t be scrutinized and even criticized. Her record as a senator should be examined. Her record as a prosecutor should be examined. Her past comments about Biden are completely fair game. Even whether she would make a competent president is open for conversation.
But there will be moments when Harris will face attacks that only women face. They might come from Donald Trump and his campaign. They might come from places like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. They might come from conservative columnists who are looking to damage her and the Democratic ticket.
What happens when that happens?
As Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote, “Reporters, news executives and others in the news media should be on red alert. It’s going to be a perilous tightrope walk to cover this inevitable ugliness without making it much, much worse. How do you examine without amplifying?”
As I wrote, you do your best to stick to just the topics that matter. But there will be times when the media will have no choice but to address misogynistic and sexist comments, and they need to do so by putting them in context and pointing out why such attacks should not be a factor.
That didn’t happen when Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016 and it didn’t happen when Sarah Palin was John McCain’s VP pick in 2008. Palin’s role as a mother was a major point of discussion, even though parenthood is rarely discussed when talking about men.
And there’s another element. Harris is not just a woman, she’s a person of color. As Sullivan wrote, “Now add racial prejudice, and things get even worse, especially given President Trump’s well-documented history of attacking women of color. Like, the congresswomen of ‘The Squad,’ whom last summer he told to ‘go back’ to their countries of origin (though three of the four were born in the United States). His particular antipathy for black female reporters, such as PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, is another tell.”
This is a critical time for the media. The attacks on Harris will come. Some will be fair. Some will not. How the media handles the ones that are not will determine just how far we’ve all come.
What were some of the reactions to Biden’s pick of Harris?
Here’s more from the Post’s Rubin. She wrote, “The irony is that the woman considered ‘too risky’ for the presidency is actually the safe choice for VP. She comes with no surprises. She is versed in foreign policy. She is not running for office for the first time.
“Perhaps now, Democrats and Republicans alike will understand that raw political talent, brains and, yes, ambition are what you look for in national leaders.”
Writing for Fox News, contributor and former acting chair of the Democratic party Donna Brazile said, “Former Vice President Joe Biden’s selection Tuesday of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as his vice presidential running mate leads me to say to my sisters and brothers: Let’s shout to the heavens! Hurrah and Praise the Lord! Our time has finally come — as Democrats, as women, and as African-Americans.”
But also writing for Fox News, media columnist Howard Kurtz wrote, “In cold political terms, what does she bring to the ticket beyond being a telegenic presence? Biden was already going to win California. Certainly, there will be more excitement in the black community. She will be more tightly scripted than she was as a White House contender. Perhaps, since Biden is leading in the polls, he was looking for someone who was steady enough that she simply wouldn’t hurt his chances.”
And, finally, who else had advice for Harris? Someone who has been there: Sarah Palin.

Author: Rachel Howell

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