Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why do the "Culture Makers" Want to Sugarcoat the Holocaust?

I read this post by Professor Ken Waltzer (one of the people whose research helped bring to light the fraudulent nature of Apples over the Fence, Director of Jewish Studies, Michigan State University, on Deborah Lipstadt's blog:

Waltzer: "This memoir was at the far end of implausibility, yet until yesterday, no one connected with packaging, promoting, and disseminating it asked question about or investigated it. Some actively resisted such investigation and tried to shut mine down."

"The idea of a prisoner autonomously going to the fence daily, every day, in a Nazi concentration camp and meeting a young girl at the guarded, electrified fence who was allegedly hiding under false identity with her family in the nearby village and who threw him food beggars the imagination. . . .

"So Herman and Roma overreached and actually demeaned their own Holocaust stories -- Herman forgot his brothers who kept him alive in the camps, Roma forgot her own remarkable and sad family story hiding not in Schlieben but elsewhere more than 200 miles away."

"But where were the culture makers on this one? What kind of questions did Penguin Berkley Press bring to bear regarding a memoir about a love story set in a concentration camp? What kind of strategy did Harris Salomon embrace to elevate a candy coated Holocaust love story to bring Holocaust education to Middle America? This was not Holocaust education but miseducation. Holocaust experience is not heartwarming, it is heart rending. All this shows something about the broad unwillingness in our culture to confront the difficult knowledge of the Holocaust. All the more important then to have real memoirs that tell of real experience in the camps. "

Deborah Lipstadt on Apples over the Fence

Deborah E. Lipstadt, Dorot professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University, just published an eloquent commentary on on the danger of the most recent fabricated Holocaust memoir, Apples over the Fence. Lipstadt wrote "History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving." She was the target of a British libel lawsuit by Irving, a Holocaust revisionist, or someone who denies the truth of the Holocaust. Lipstadt won the case in April 2000.

I found the film producer's words to her quite appalling: "The producer who acquired movie rights tried to intimidate those of us who raised questions. He wrote to me saying, "'I have traveled all over Eastern Europe for several years in preparation for what will be a major feature film. I may be more of a Holocaust expert than you, even though, I have no title nor university affiliation. What I do know for sure is before I make any statements I know the facts. You simply do not know those facts, and that Deborah, is the greatest sin to the memory of all those perished so long ago.'"

She argues: "The events of the Holocaust are horrible in and of themselves. They do not need to be aggrandized or exaggerated to be made to sound any worse than they were. They also do not need to be rendered as joyful love stories that make us feel good about what happened. Both are insults to the survivors and inimical to the pursuit of historical truth. The optimum way of teaching about the Holocaust and presenting its history is, to quote Detective Joe Friday from the old TV show, "Dragnet," "just the facts, just the facts."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Holocaust 'Memoir' Canceled

A few weeks ago I wrote about the flood of Holocaust movies out right now, and how these movies aren't really about the suffering of Jews during the Shoah, how they are trying to tell stories of hope and optimism or teach people to be tolerant without really conveying truths about the Holocaust.

Now there's news that an upcoming book, "Angel at the Fence," about the Holocaust, pitched as a memoir, is going to be canceled because the central part of the love story, that a woman tossed apples over a concentration camp fence to the author, and then the author met this woman ten years later in Coney Island and married her, is fabricated. The movie, however, will still be made.

The author said in a statement released through his publisher: “Why did I do that and write the story with the girl and the apple, because I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people. I brought good feelings to a lot of people and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world.”

What's disturbing about this is that at a time when there are very few remaining Holocaust survivors to tell their stories, a survivors felt compelled to fictionalize his true account of what happened to him in the camps. And why should a Holcaust victim feel compelled to "bring happiness to people"? How will people learn about the horrors of the Holocaust and the cruelty and nihilism that people are capable of if the only stories being published and produced into film are schmaltzy, kitschy stories about love, tolerance and hope?

Note that if the author had from the start pitched his story as one of fiction, not memoir, he would not have had to retract anything...Yet the book probably would have had far less appeal to the publishers.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Frank Rich Spot on On Blagojevich

I loved Frank Rich's Sunday column. His take echoes mine (in my previous post), in that I'm sympathetic to Blagojevich. I feel sorry for the poor schnook. I was trying to get at that in my post, that he is an easy scapegoat, an easy unsophisticated target for Fitzgerald because of his profanity-laced Soprano-like language, which comes from the culture he grew up in.

Rich writes: "Blagojevich’s alleged crimes pale next to the larger scandals of Washington and Wall Street. Yet those who promoted and condoned the twin national catastrophes of reckless war in Iraq and reckless gambling in our markets have largely escaped the accountability that now seems to await the Chicago punk nabbed by the United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald."

"Our next president, like his predecessor, is promising 'a new era of responsibility and accountability.' We must hope he means it. Meanwhile, we have the governor he leaves behind in Illinois to serve as our national whipping boy, the one betrayer of the public trust who could actually end up paying for his behavior. The surveillance tapes of Blagojevich are so fabulous it seems a tragedy we don’t have similar audio records of the bigger fish who have wrecked the country. But in these hard times we’ll take what we can get."

Rich recounts a long list of figures who have betrayed the public trust, President Bush who lied about WMD, and economic advisers like Robert Rubin who gets away with making a "phone call to a former colleague in the Treasury Department to float the idea of asking credit-rating agencies to delay downgrading Enron’s debt." As Rich writes of Rubin and Phil Gramm, "both captains of finance remain unapologetic, unaccountable and still at their banks, which have each lost more than 70 percent of their shareholders’ value this year and have collectively announced more than 90,000 layoffs so far."

These are people responsible for the layoffs of thousands, for millions in shareholder losses, for the loss of lives in the war due to fabrication of WMDs, for are going to walk away scot-free. Rubin is someone who knows how to get away with bending the law while earning millions of dollars in a way that poor Blagojevich never knew how to do. Rubin knows the proper thing to say. Just as Trump, as Rich writes, knows how to avoid repaying a 40-million construction loan on his obscene tower in Chicago by copping to an "act of God."

Friday, December 12, 2008

On Blagojevich's "Character Being Destiny" as Huffington put it

I have to heartily disagree with Arianna Huffington's post from yesterday, that Blagojevich's "Character is Destiny."

Huffington writes:

"Blagojevich's serial sleaziness wasn't about alleviating what the governor called his family's 'financial stress.' Indeed, to understand what it was about, we must turn to literature and philosophy -- the only way to get a handle on this political Tony Soprano, a Big Machine capo with a little boy's haircut. As my compatriot Heraclitus put it so succinctly 2,500 years ago: 'Character is destiny.' Look at Blagojevich's life and his checkered tenure as Governor, and the amorality that led him to hang a For Sale sign on the Illinois statehouse door seems to have been part of his character for a very long time: he was a 78-page criminal indictment waiting to happen. He married into a politically powerful Chicago family, a union that helped take him from a nobody prosecutor trying traffic court cases ("Running a red light is fucking golden. You think I'm gonna let you off for fucking nothing? I'm not gonna do it.") to the governor's mansion in little more than a decade. Soon after taking office, he began delivering favors to those willing to fill his campaign coffers. As Shakespeare had Cassius lay it out for Brutus: "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

After having just read Malcolm Gladwell's excellent new book The Outliers, I would argue that one's "Cultural Background is One's Destiny". (Where does "character" come from anyway, but from how one was raised)?

Gladwell's argument in the book is that it is very difficult to overcome one's cultural legacy, that cultural legacies have "deep roots and long lives": "They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them."

In one chapter, Gladwell explains that Appalachia was so violent in the late 19th and early 20th century "because of where the original inhabitants of the region came from,;" these regions were settled mainly by immigrants "from one of the world's most ferocious cultures of honor: from the lowlands of Scotland, the northern counties of England, and Ulster in Northern Ireland.

In another chapter, Gladwell shows how Chris Langan, a man with an incredibly high IQ never met with "success," because he didn't learn from his family how to negotiate, how to communicate, with authority, unlike another man, Robert Oppenheimer, who also was gifted with high intelligence, raised in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan, who attended a private school in NY, who therefore learned how to "negotiate [his] way out of a tight spot." Therefore, Oppenheimer was able to get away with trying to poison his tutor in college, he could talk his way out of things, and into things, into the position of scientific director of the Manhattan Project, while Langan couldn't even get his college professors to allow him to move his classes to the afternoon, and ended up dropping out of college.

Gladwell argues that Oppenheimer, because of the way he was brought up, with a father who had "made his way up in the business world," and who was sent to the private "Ethical Culture School," had developed the life skill of being able to get "the rest of the world to see things his way." In contrast, when Gladwell asked Langan if he would accept a job at Harvard University (he is trying to write a thesis on theoretical physics on his own) he answered: "When you accept a paycheck from these people, it is going to come down to what you want to do and what you feel is right versus what the man says you can do to reeive another paycheck."

As Gladwell writes, "What? One of the main reasons college professors accept a lower paycheck than they could get in private industry is that university life gives them the freedom to do what they want to do and what they feel is right. Langan has Harvard backwards."

Because of Langan's cultural background, his family, how he grew up, he doesn't get how institutions work, he doesn't know how to speak to people in authority properly, how to get what he wants using the right language.

This reminds me an awful lot of Blagojevich. "Quid pro quo" is not at all foreign to politics. If Blagojevich hadn't been so crude about it on those tapes, so blunt, so "low-class," it wouldn't strike us as so offensive. Blagojevich is a man who didn't get along with a lot of others in politics. He wasn't able to get people to see things his way as Oppenheimer was. In September, an ethics bill he tried to pass in the Illinois House was rejected 113 to 3.

Blagojevich's father was an immigrant from Serbia. Through his own intelligence and hard work, Blagojevich himself went to the respectable college of Northwestern and then on to law school. But as the tapes show, his language is one inevitably peppered with the "f-word." He's laughingly being compared to Tony Soprano, another man who obviously was heir to the powerful force of his ethnicity and culture. Both are men who didn't get a chance to learn from their parents how to speak the right language of those in authority, a language of restraint, to get what they want legally.

Blagojevich legally had power over who he selected to fill Obama's senate seat. If he had used different language (and of course, if he didn't directly baldly ask for campaign contributions in exchange for the seat), if he had implied instead of stated things directly, if he had borrowed the language of a more upper-crust, upper-class, Puritan, Ivy-League way of speaking, this wouldn't be a scandal.

Book Review in the Forward

Based upon my last blog posting, I will be reviewing Jonathan Littell's book, The Kindly Ones, not yet published in English, in the spring books issue of The Forward.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

On Recent Trends in 'Holocaust' Film and Literature

Last Sunday, A.O. Scott wrote a perceptive piece in the New York Times arguing that the recent flood of American/Hollywood films set in the Holocaust treats the Holocaust as just a backdrop. He writes, "For American audiences a Holocaust movie is now more or less equivalent to a western or a combat picture...-part of a genre that has less to do with history than with the perceived expectations of moviegoers. This may be the only, or at least the most widely available, way of keeping the past alive in memory, but it is also a kind of forgetting."

For a week before I read his article, I was puzzling over several recent trends in films and novels set in the Holocaust. A.O. Scott focuses on films, he doesn't mention similar trends in fiction. A very popular book right now with book clubs is The Book Thief, a story set during World War II, which largely tells the story of a young non-Jewish German girl, Liesel. I hated this book, although many people absolutely love it. When I saw the coming attractions for "A Boy in Striped Pajamas," which shares similar traits and motifs with The Book Thief, I realized why I found The Book Thief so repugnant.

There is a cloying sweetness and sentimentality to The Book Thief, which is told from the voice of Death itself--a conceit that I found unnecessary and too "cute," just as the very conceit of "A Boy in Striped Pajamas" is too cute by far--that a German boy would think that he just moved next door to a farm, not a concentration camp, and that the morose boy sitting by the barbed-wire fence is wearing pajamas not concentration camp garb. Why this insistence on turning Holocaust stories into fables?

The title of the novel on which the movie is based is actually, "A Boy in Striped Pajamas: A Fable." The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a fable "as a fictitious narrative or statement," "a legendary story of supernatural happenings" or "a narration intended to enforce a useful truth; especially : one in which animals speak and act like human beings." So the very use of "fable" in the title of the book, "A Boy in Striped Pajamas," implies somehow that its story is one of fiction, moreover, that it is using the Holocaust backdrop not to tell a story about what happened in the Holocaust, to testify, but to make a point about some other "truth."

Both "A Boy in Striped Pajamas" and "Book Thief" make as their protagonists a non-Jewish child. So the viewer is made to empathize with the plight of a non-Jew during the Holocaust. There is nothing implicitly wrong with this--non-Jews certainly suffered during the Holocaust. We see how Liesel, the little girl in The Book Thief, is forced to live in poverty and with foster parents, and Bruno, the boy protagonist in "A Boy in Striped Pajamas" loses his innocence along with his life in the last few minutes of the film. But the implication of all these recent works told from the perspective of a non-Jew is that enough has been told of the Holocaust experience of the Jews, that all that is old hat, same old-same old, and that it's time for new stories, new slants on experiences during the Holocaust, to be told.

That's why we have reviews of the recent movie "The Counterfeiters," that start like this (this one is from the Daily Nebraskan): "Whenever a Holocaust movie comes to mind, it's usually the same horrendous, hopeless, desperate, atrocious, pure evil images that flash through my brain...The story of the Holocaust has been told countless times throug the medium of television, film and print; 'Shindler's List' aside, it's usually the same story of desolation and hopelessness from within the camp. 'The Counterfeiters,' however, is one of those intriguing, unconventional true stories that shows there are still more tales to be told about this heinous period of history."

You can almost taste the boredom in the reviewer's voice when he refer to the "same-old" Holocaust movie, the same-old "story of desolation and hopelessness". Audiences want something different. That's why "The Counterfeiters," an Austrian movie that focuses on a group of Jews given the task of counterfeiting German money, and therefore provided with soft bed, bountiful food and a ping pong table in the camp, won the Oscar in 2008 for "Best Foreign Language Film." The movie never shows a single visual of what suffering was like in the concentration camp for millions of Jews, it just focuses on this small group of Jews given special treatment. The assumption is that audiences are educated about the Holocaust, that they don't need to see what actually happened in the Holocaust to six million Jews, that they know enough about the horrors of the Holocaust that they can move on and now watch this movie about the privileged experience of a handful of skilled Jews picked to counterfeit money. But is that really the case? This movie was made in Austria--shouldn't Austrian moviegoers confront images of what it was like for Jews being beaten and gassed and tortured?

What's even more disturbing about this is now we are at a time when there are hardly any survivors of the Holocaust still living. So we have moved beyond the first wave of Holocaust literature, of works by Eli Wiesel and Primo Levi, both survivors, who wrote about their experiences and other Jews', depicting graphically the harrowing suffering of Jews not with a Schindler's List note of optimism but of nihilism, or of Art Spiegelman's Maus, creatively portraying the horrors of the Holocaust in cartoon form. The next wave of Holocaust depictions can be seen as represented by "Schindler's List", a Hollywood film not made by a survivor but a Jew who didn't shy away from graphic depictions of Jewish tragedy and suffering. Yet Spielberg made sure the film had some kind of sunny Hollywood ending, showing actual survivors of Schindler's list marching past his grave.

But this trend in recent fiction in film marks a third wave, a postmodern one, with stories written by non-Jews that make us empathize with non-Jewish German suffering during the Holocaust. The novel Those Who Save Us, by Jenna Blum, tells the story of a German woman who saved herself during the war by sleeping with a Nazi officer. (O.K., Blum's bio says she is of German and Jewish descent, but still, the novel focuses on the plight of a German non-Jewish woman.) The reader is made to see how this woman suffers, and has to compromise herself to survive--this is not a sentimental book, not in the vein of The Book Thief.

The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink, translated from German in 1998 and an Oprah Book Club pick in Feb. 1999, soon-to-be-released in time for Christmas, depicts the love affair between a young German boy and a German woman he learns was an SS officer. Again, the writer makes the reader empathize with the plight of this German woman who surely would have had a better life had she had not been illiterate and chosen to be an SS officer, but very little wordage if any is spent on depicting the plight of Jews. Indeed, there is one passage in which the narrator, the German man, thinks to himself, "When I think today about those years, I realize how little direct observation there actually was, how few photographs that made life and murder in the camps real."

Similarly, in The Dark Room,, non-Jewish British writer Rachel Seiffert writes three tales about the plight of non-Jews during World War II:
These are are "harrowing" stories, as Publishers Weekly put it, not sentimentalized like "Boy in Striped Pajamas" but similar in that they focus on the suffering of non-Jews: the middle story shows the "flight of a family of five bewildered children, led by Lore, the oldest girl, as they make their way after the Allied victory from Bavaria to their grandmother's house in Hamburg. Dependent on the charity of a fellow refugee (Tomas, a survivor of Buchenwald), the children are always on the verge of starving. After Tomas leads them to safety, Lore's gradual awareness of the Holocaust ages her beyond her years," and in the last story, set in the 1990s, "a young German teacher named Micha digs into the hidden history of his dead grandfather's wartime activity, travels to Belarus to discover the truth of Opa's SS-Waffen deeds and must grapple with the new, terrifying information he unearths."

There's nothing at all wrong with exploring the non-Jewish German experience during World War II, and telling stories about those who served in the SS. But why is there so much recent literature in this vein and not literature or film continuing to realistically depict the story of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust? Why are young Jewish writers not writing about Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, except in a magical realist way (a la Jonathan Safran Foer)?

As I said, the disturbing implication is that that particular story of Jewish suffering has already been told and that it is time to move on.

The problem is, that people today are not sitting and watching the movie "Shoah" or the miniseries "The Holocaust" or reading Wiesel or Primo Levi. Audiences today are seeing the schlock "The Boy in Striped Pajamas," or reading the magical realist "Book Thief," neither of which depicts what actually happened to Jews in the Holocaust. By giving such weight to the suffering of non-Jews in the Holocaust, the implication is that everyone suffered in the Holocaust, not Jews in particular, and this is a misleading and terribly troubling impression to give.

The danger of this is that the particularity of the Holocaust, how Jews in particular suffered, will be blurred by the weight of these works.

As Walter Reich, former director of the Holocaust Museum in D.C., said in a speech in 2005 about the dangers of distortion, trivialization and politicization in the recent "revived landscape of Holocaust memory", there is a central difference between the death of a Jew and a non-Jew during Nazi Germany: "The difference was that the first death was part of a ferocious, total, systematic and industrialized program of genocide, the most ferocious that has ever occurred, and the latter death was part of the savage brutality of Nazi Germany. It was the totality and intent of the first process that made it unique, and that the world must understand, in order to understand the nature and possibilities of murderous racism and genocide. The second process, alas, the world has seen all too much of...The difference isn't in the death; it's in the context and intent of that death. If one erases the difference by merging the deaths under the single rubric of 'Holocaust,' one erases our ability to understand the peculiarly evil nature of the mass extermination of an entire people."

Reich talks about President Carter's executive order creating the Holocaust museum, in which he insisted on referring to the "eleven million victims of the Holocaust, six million of which were Jews."

Reich explains how the eleven million figure was a figment created by Simon Weisenthal to get non-Jews to sympathize with the tragedy suffered by Jews, and says the effect of "this official conflation of historical tragedies" by President Carter's edict is "to rob us of a discrete event from which the whole world has much to learn."

What Reich worried about in 2005 has come true in recent portrayals of the Holocaust. In fact, the director of "The Boy in Striped Pajamas," Mark Herman, says in an interview in Entertainment News Wire (Nov. 6. 2008) that the film "is not specifically about Nazis." And the film's producer, David Heyman, says that while it is a "Holocaust story set in 1940s Germany, for me it is timeless." He then refers to contemporary horrors such as Rwanda, Darfur and Somalia. Reich spoke about how the word "Holocaust" has increasingly been appropriated by a "wide variety of groups to crystallize their sense of their victimization," thereby resulting in a "dilution of the term's meaning and specificity." So the director and producer of "Boy in Striped Pajamas" see their film as a fable about racism and prejudice in general, not as a depiction of what happened in particular, uniquely, and horrifically, in the Holocaust, to Jews. These are not films or novels about the Holocaust at all, but works that are using the backdrop of the Holocaust to tell a story about something general: human failing, racism, moral culpability.

While it's a free world, and art can and should be used to tell a multitude of stories and to express a multitude of meanings, in stripping away the particularity of the Holocaust, of what happened uniquely to the Jews in Nazi Germany, this rise in so-called Holocaust depictions only manages to distort and blur our collective memory.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What if Martha Stewart had had "Sex in D.C." like Spitzer?

Legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney Sunny Hostin has an interesting guest commentary on the CNN web site: "Why did the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the very same office that zealously went after Martha Stewart for lying to some of its prosecutors, give [Eliot Spitzer] a complete pass, a proverbial get-out-of-jail free card?"

She explains that Spitzer was likely guilty of the Mann Act, "which makes it a federal criminal offense to knowingly transport any individual, male or female, across state lines for the purpose of prostitution or sexual activity" so why isn't he being prosecuted?

A question of my own: Why is this typically male kind of transgression, being a customer to a prostitute, treated so lightly by the federal government, while high-profile prostitutes, are not? Think Hedy Weiss.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

With Sarah Palin, "Marie Antoinette Syndrome" rears its head again

With the verbal attacks in the last weeks from McCain's campaign aides, calling Palin a "diva" and focusing on her alleged excessive wardrobe requests, that old-standby, the "Marie Antoinette" archetype, again rears its beautiful head.

Palin is retroactively being depicted by McCain's underlings as a woman with excessive, rapacious desires to spend money on adorning herself, to drain the financial and actual power of the man who "loves" her, in this case, McCain.

It's a traditional way of attempting to make a powerful woman become the fall-girl or scapegoat for a man's mistakes--mistakes of his own that lead to his heady loss of status, to his fall from a position of great power.

I wrote the following on my blog in July 2007, about a different application of the "Marie Antoinette" archetype, and this blog posting became an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune:

"This week Christopher Hitchens writes in Slate about the outcome of the Conrad Black trial. Of course, he spends more ink on Barbara Amiel, Black's wife, than on Black himself:"

Hitchens: "Lady Black, the former glamour-puss Barbara Amiel, turns out to be one of these women who are insatiable. Insatiable in the Imelda Marcos way, I mean. Never mind the mammoth tab for her birthday dinner in New York, where it's at least arguable that business was discussed. Never mind the extra wings that had to be built onto her homes just to accommodate the ball gowns and shoes. What about the time she was on a Concorde that stubbornly remained on the tarmac at London airport? Irked at the delay, she telephoned the chairman of British Airways, Lord King, to demand action and—failing to get crisp service from him—announced that she would never fly the airline again. This, in turn, meant the acquisition by Hollinger Securities of a private jet for her. And this, in turn, meant the installation of an extra lavatory on the aforesaid private jet, at a cost of half a million dollars, so that Lady Black wouldn't have to be inconvenienced by the crew members coming down the fuselage to use the existing one."

Hitchens continues, "It's that last touch that promotes her into the ranks once described by the novelist Joyce Cary: the people who utter what he called "tumbrel remarks." A tumbrel remark, as you may have guessed, is the sort of observation made by the uncontrollably rich that is likely to unleash class warfare. Marie Antoinette's advice on cake is the original. Barbara Bush, on the upgraded accommodations for Katrina refugees in the Houston Astrodome, is a good recent example. Lady Diana Cooper, when approached by a ragged man who said he hadn't eaten for three days, upbraided him roundly and said: "But my dear man, you must try. If necessary, you must force yourself." You get the picture? "You are good enough to fly me, but not good enough to use my loo" is well up in this class. On another celebrated occasion, wishing to consult one of two women who worked for her husband and had similar names, she had one of them summoned to her home and, on discovering that she'd made a mistake, trilled peevishly: "No, you're the wrong one. I want the other one." I want, I want …"

[Back to my blog excerpt]: "Note that all of Hitchen's examples of people making "tumbrel" remarks are women: Marie Antoinette, Barbara Bush; Lady Diana. Why is that when powerful women have huge desires and demands, women in positions of power and wealth that are able to satisfy those gigantic desires, they are then hated and reviled. And they are often blamed for the downfall of a man that loves them. Is it some aversion to female desire?? Some instinct to keep a limit on it? There is no male equivalent: the wealthy, powerful man who has outrageous material desires is not as offensive to the average psyche: Donald Trump, or any other powerful CEO."

So all this focus on Palin's lavish wardrobe spree falls into a historical pattern of painting powerful women as Marie Antoinette-figures, women wasting a powerful man's money, in this case McCain's, or the entire Republican Party's. It's a way of depleting prominent women of power that has a long history.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gender (and Class) Bias in Media's Blasting of Palin's Wardrobe Costs

The typical article or news story in the last week covering the scoop that the Republican campaign spent $150,000 on outfitting her and her family condemns the expenditures as hypocrisy. Here she is pitching herself "as as an average American working mother," stated a CNN piece yesterday, for example, "But how many typical moms get $150,000 worth of merchandise from stylish stores and have strangers pay for it?"

Actually, what no one has mentioned, is that the very fact that Palin truly does come from the middle class, and not the wealthy, upper class, means that she needed some major clothing purchases so that she could look respectable in the harsh spotlight of the media. Though Hillary Clinton's wardrobe was constantly scrutinized, we never were privy to how much her purchases cost, because she probably bought the clothes herself. Similary, Cindy McCain's lavish wardrobe is purchased with her own plush funds. The only reason we know how much Palin's new duds cost is because Palin couldn't afford the clothes on her own personal budget. Palin was suddenly called onto the national stage, to travel to different states, in varying climates, and under the scrutinizing media glare--so a new wardrobe was called for. If she were a wealthy woman, she could have just gone on a personal shopping spree. So, in effect, her lack of personal wealth is a handicap here. As is her gender, which has been remarked upon by others: it's much easier for a male candidate to just purchase a few suits and vary the look with a few different shirts and ties and call it a day.

What's also interesting in all this condemnation of the money spent on Palin's clothes, is how little flak Obama has received for how much the Democratic campaign has spent on his rallies. The money spent on his external image, while not on the clothes he wears on his body, is part of a large effort to create a persuasive presidential image--the same reason Palin's new clothes were purchased.

Remember the backdrop of Obama's speech in Denver's Invesco field in August? As the LA Times architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne wrote right after the speech, "Not content with a basic combination of video screens and slogans, Obama's campaign produced a full-on neoclassical temple facade: four imposing Doric columns and 10 sizable pilasters, all connected by a frieze and arranged in a gently curving arc. From the center of this colonnaded contraption extended a long peninsular walkway, lined with blue carpeting and capped by a circular stage and wedding-cake steps."

The Obama campaign spent much moolah on constructing this neoclassical backdrop in order to project certain imagery. As the LA Times Hawthorne wrote, "Obama clearly wanted to forge a link to the 1960 Kennedy appearance, which conveniently enough took place inside a neoclassical stadium. Even more obvious was the way the four big columns -- two on either side of the stage, framing a pair of video screens -- and the frieze suggested the imposing facade of Henry Bacon's Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech 45 years to the day before Obama's address. Nearly as impossible to miss were the set's visual connections to the White House." So the columns were strategically created and placed in order to lend a neoclassical grandeur to Obama's appearance, and to connect him in viewers' minds with the leadership of Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

So just as thousands were spent on creating a certain respectable look for Palin, even more was spent on creating the "right look" for Obama to deliver this speech, to look "presidential." But Palin's wardrobe purchases were condemned much more harshly than were Obama's purchases of the columns, and the extra security required to have him deliver his speech in an outdoor stadium.

Similarly, the Chicago Tribune reported on Friday that the "City of Chicago is planning for more than 70,000 people to mob an Election Night rally in Grant Park for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, an event that will involve police and firefighters working overtime, blocked streets and at least $2 million in extra costs. The Obama campaign has vowed to foot the bill..." The Tribune reported that Mayor Daley said "he would prefer to see the event held at an indoor venue the (already booked) United Center and lamented it would cost $2 million to pull off the Grant Park event.

But the Obama campaign prefers outdoor events, it seems, despite the high extra costs. I didn't see mention of this extra $2 million expenditure, a figure far greater than the $150,000 wardrobe expense, in the national media.

It's all, to an extent, simulacra, isn't it? Political stagecraft of one kind or another.

Both candidates, by necessity, are required to consciously create a certain external image. By virtue of how women are judged more harshly on their appearance, Palin's purchases were of clothes, Obama's were of Greek columns and fireworks and extra security so he can have outdoor rallies that strike an historic, celebratory note, a note that he heralds a new politics.

The unequal response of the media and pundits, the quick universal condemnation of the $150,000 wardrobe charges is reflective of our intrinsic societal gender bias--how we are more prepared to give larger leeway to a male candidate to spend money on manufacturing a presidential image.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm Struck by Gibson's "Hubris"

I'm just listening to the taped interview of Gibson's questioning of Palin last night. I couldn't believe how he dared to ask Palin whether her decision to run for VP was due to "hubris." He would never ask a male candiate this question. His entire manner towards her was condescending; his serious, unsmiling face, looking at her beyond his little spectacles, was entirely sexist in the way he acts adversarial towards her. No doubt if he were questioning Obama or another man about these same issues, he would crack at least a little smile and not strike such a superior pose.

Slate's Jack Safer argues that Gibson showed a better foreign policy understanding than Palin. But isn't it a lot easier to read prepared questions than to answer them impromptu?

Here is the exact excerpt from the interview:

He asks her twice whether she thought she was experienced enough to be VP. She answers twice, and then he asks a third time:

Gibson: "You didn’t say to yourself, am I experienced enough, am I ready?"

Palin: "I didn’t hesitate. . ."

Gibson interrupts: “Doesn’t that take some hubris?”

Gibson would never have asked this of a male VP candidate. Doesn't Obama show hubris? Doesn't any one who dares to run for the highest political office have to have an excess of confidence? Hubris is such a negative word, and Obama, with all of his incredible cockiness, has never had this word ascribed to him.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Paglia and I think alike: both find Palin a "Frontierwoman"

I wrote last week that Palin has resurrected the old archetype of the "Frontierswoman."

In a well-written Salon article posted today, Paglia argues the same thing, among other interesting points:

"The gun-toting Sarah Palin is like Annie Oakley, a brash ambassador from America's pioneer past. She immediately reminded me of the frontier women of the Western states, which first granted women the right to vote after the Civil War -- long before the federal amendment guaranteeing universal woman suffrage was passed in 1919. Frontier women faced the same harsh challenges and had to tackle the same chores as men did -- which is why men could regard them as equals, unlike the genteel, corseted ladies of the Eastern seaboard, which fought granting women the vote right to the bitter end."

Among her other thought-provoking points: "Conservative though she may be, I felt that Palin represented an explosion of a brand new style of muscular American feminism. At her startling debut on that day, she was combining male and female qualities in ways that I have never seen before. And she was somehow able to seem simultaneously reassuringly traditional and gung-ho futurist. In terms of redefining the persona for female authority and leadership, Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is "Mother Blame" Behind Palin Criticism?"

It's striking that many women are criticizing Sarah Palin for being a "bad mother" by virtue of her decision to run for Vice President. Some of my women friends don't like Palin because they think that somehow she is putting her own needs ahead of that of her children. They say she shouldn't be pursuing the job of VP with a special-needs child at home, or because she should not be putting the spotlight on her pregnant 17-year=old daughter, or just that the needs of her five children are just too great for her to be in such a high-profile, demanding job.

This criticism of Palin for "bad mothering" by other women explains the recent CNN poll which shows that Palin is more popular with men than women.

I just read a post of mine from July 30, 2007, and it's relevant to how Palin is unfairly being maligned by many as a "bad mother," at the same time that her maternality is a major part of her image and appeal to others:

Here's what I wrote in July 2007: " what do we make of today's New York Times article about the stellar Chelsea Clinton who is always poised, always in control, always setting a good example: a complete opposite to the generational example set by Lohan, Hilton et al. No where in the front page news story is there any praise for Hillary Clinton for being an excellent mother. Here is a young woman who has turned out remarkably well given the unusual and public upbringing she has had. . ."

"Another recent New York Times article "Sometimes a Mother Can Do No Right," focused on how it's Lindsay Lohan's mother, a single mother of four, who is targeted as the cause of Lindsay's bad behavior, same in the case of Britney Spears."

"In that [New York Times] article, Susan J. Douglas, author of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, said, 'We have a long history in this culture of mother blame. Media images of the 'bad mother' serve to police all mothers,' said Professor Douglas. 'We still have a virgin-whore binary in American pop culture, and this governs motherhood as well,' Professor Douglas said."

“'It’s supposed to be a mother’s job to train her daughter into how to domesticate her various desires,' [Douglas] said. 'If we see a young woman who hasn’t done that, the mother has failed her tutorial.'”

That media image of the "bad mother" that Professor Douglas talks about is what was behind this week's US Magazine cover, with its "Scandal and Lies" headline writ-large under a photo of a beaming Palin holding her infant son Trig.

It's this "virgin-whote" binary that explains why Palin clutched baby Trig to her chest after finishing her convention speech. It's an attempt, a successful one, of trying to appear more like the maternal Virgin Mary than the mother who allowed her daughter to have premarital sex.

As I wrote in July 2007 on my blog, "We're not going to see . . a detailed comparison or examination of the candidates' children, because the media does not judge a male politician by his children in the same way that it judges a woman. The media does not care to examine how the child turns out in order to infer whether the male politician was a good father or not, because as a society we have lower standards for how responsible a father is for a child's day-to-day care. So it's merely enough that the man has 2.5 children and a loyal wife at his side; their mere existence is proof that he is a good enough father, it doesn't matter whether that child has turned into a productive, independent, functioning adult."

But women are prepared to attack Palin for how they perceive her as a mother, for her decision to pursue the VP position while having a special-needs baby, and a 17-year-old daughter who is pregnant--two criticisms I have heard vocalized by many of my women friends. Women are willing to attack Palin on the grounds of her mothering in a way that they have never judged a male politician. We have different standards for what we expect of our leaders as mothers and as fathers, and we, as women, are our own worst critics.

On the Sexual Fecundity of Sarah Palin. . .

I just read an interesting post by blogger Will Wilkinson (whose blog is The Fly Bottle). Click here for the entire post.

He writes, "Palin exudes sexual confidence and maternal authority, which in a relatively conservative culture like ours is the most recognizable and viscerally comprehensible form of female power. It makes a lot of men uncomfortable, but that’s because it’s the kind of female power they are most often subject to, and most often fail to successfully resist. . . .I feel that Hillary’s struggle to connect as a strong leadership-worthy woman was part of an attempt to forge a sense of feminine authority not founded on maternality and female sexual power. That she almost succeeded in this is astounding, and I think hugely to her credit."

I found this point interesting, and I agree. Hillary's power didn't arise out of her sexuality or her maternality--that's why she seemed so threatening to men and women. As a culture, we have a history of deeming middle-aged women (past the age of fecundity) who have wealth and power to be "witches," manipulative, shrewish, dangerous. Think Martha Stewart, Leona Helmsley, the Salem witch trials.

Palin, on the other hand, is liked by men more than women (see yesterday's CNN poll). Women find Palin more threatening than men do, although many women do find her appealing, more "warm" than Hillary Clinton.

Wilkinson continues on his blog, "But we all know that politics is a primate sport. We’re used to marveling over the fact that the taller man usually wins, that a commanding, alpha-male jock toughness is de rigeur for successful presidential candidates. Palin’s gut appeal drives home the perhaps inevitable but nevertheless regrettable fact that female political success is at some level going to be grounded in primate appeal, too." Does he mean to say that part of Palin's image if a pose? That she postioning herself as uber-mom because that is the way to achieve "primate appeal," to get men to instinctively like her because of her maternal and sexual appeal?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Palin as Frontierwoman--shows McCain's choice was actually savvy one

The media is abuzz with discussions about what women think of Sarah Palin, how ironically, liberal women are decrying her decision to leave her special-needs child at home while she pursues her high-powered job and conservative women are supporting her decision to be a career woman at the same time as a mother.

All this discussion brings to the fore the point that we, as a society, just don't know what we want in a woman politician, in a woman leader. We aren't comfortable with women in power, and we aren't sure what would make us comfortable. Until now, most woman politicians who have run for high office have done so only after they have finished raising their children, after they are no longer in their child-bearing years: Ferraro, Pelosi, Hillary Clinton. In a way, this desexualizes them somewhat, makes their position of power less threatening, to men and women alike. Perhaps this is one reason McCain's pick of Palin, who just recently gave birth to her fifth child, and still is in her sexual prime, is such a lightning rod for our views on what are acceptable roles of behavior for mothers. Here is a woman who looks both maternal and soft, and yet strong and powerful at the same time, a frontierswoman, with the imagery of her hunting caribou and wolves and carving up a moose. She is forcing us to confront how we try to confine powerful women into certain limited archetypes: witch; Marie Antoinette-type leading a powerful man astray (here, too, she doesn't fall into type--her husband seems far less powerful, the stay-at-home dad to her Superwoman).

When you think about the imagery that Palin projects, that of a powerful frontierswoman, an independent, free thinker, a woman who gives birth and three days later gets back in the 'saddle', you realize that McCain's choice wasn't as crazy as the media is painting it to be. And that contrary to public wisdom, his choice isn't necessarily an attempt to reach out to disaffected women voters who wanted Hillary Clinton to be their candidate, but to reach out to the white working class voters that preferred Clinton to Obama, gender aside.

The imagery that Palin projects as a fighter is going to appeal to this group. In a May 8, 2008 editorial in the New York Times, Susan Faludi wrote about how Hillary Clinton had recently changed her image from the archetype of the "prissy hall monitor" upbraiding her fellow male candidates, an unpopular figure with men, who acts morally superior to them, to a more popular "fighter" archetype.

She wrote that "[t]he specter of the prissy hall monitor is, in part, the legacy of the great female reformers of Victorian America. . . they were regarded by men. . .as reluctant trespassers in the public sphere who had left the domestic circle only to fulfill their duty as the morally superior sex, housekeepers scouring away a nation’s vice."

This archetype of woman as rule-regulator is repellent in the national imagination.

Faludi wrote, "In that visceral subbasement of the national imagination — the one that underlies all the blood-and-guts sports imagery our culture holds so dear — the laurels go to the slugger who ignores the censors, the outrider who navigates the frontier without a chaperone. Deep in the American grain, particularly in the grain of white male working-class voters, [this fighter archetype] is the more trusted archetype."

Palin, the goddess of Alaska, captures this imagery perfectly. She'll capture the imagination of many white male working-class voters, those that Hillary Clinton had in her camp.

Ironically, in selecting Palin, McCain might not have been thinking of trying to bring Clinton's female supporters to his side, as it's widely thought, but those disaffected white male working-class men that aren't loyally in Obama's camp, and who will find Palin's frontierswoman imagery appealing.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Now The New York Times calls attention to media sexism

On the front page of The New York Times this morning is an article on the recent criticism of the sexism in the media coverage of Hillary Clinton during her campaign.

Why is this suddenly a new story only now that she lost the nomination bid and such a criticism has lost all its punch, all of its immediacy, its effect?

I've been tracking the media's sexism since last year. It was last July that the Washington Post ran the "cleavage" story, and back in June Maureen Dowd started dipping her pen in her own self-hating anti-feminist screed: Dowd wrote in June 2007, "And like Tony, Hillary is so power-hungry that she can justify any thuggish means to get the prize." Come on, does any one doubt that any presidential candidate is not "power-hungry"? It's only a problem, for both female and male commentators/columnists, obviously, when that candidate is a woman seeking power, hungrily.

What no-one has mentioned is how the media, from the get-go, prevented Hillary Clinton from capitalizing on the historic nature of her candidacy by focusing on how she was a woman candidate. As soon as she tried to do that, in a speech announcing her candidacy at the historically significant locale of Wellesley, the media was down her throat saying she was "raising the gender card." But at the very same time, Obama was being praised by media commentators for being "post-race", for transcending race. In reality, he was alluding to his race at every chance he got, but he got away with seeming to rise above his race by not mentioning it directly and just alluding to his run being "historic" and referencing slavery and Martin Luther King.

Friday, June 6, 2008

On Todd Purdham's Hatchet Job on Bill Clinton

The recent issue of Vanity Fair features a negative piece on Bill Clinton. First of all, the very fact that Purdham has written this piece as if negative commentary on Bill Clinton sheds light on Hillary Clinton's worth as a presidential candidate reflects the misogyny inherent in the piece and in the media at large.

Why is only Hillary Clinton's spouse delved into with such bilious detail? Only she has been judged as if a word or statement by her husband is ipso facto a word or statement by her, as in that debate in which Obama mentioned a statement Bill Clinton had made in order to criticize Hillary.

Here's a telling quote from the piece, after Purdham questions why Bill Clinton hasn't detailed the names of all the people who have donated to his foundation:

"Clinton is under no legal obligation to disclose such donors—or, for that matter, to disclose much of anything about his personal financial dealings. No one knows the details of the earnings—almost certainly many millions of dollars—that the first President Bush has made from his investment in the Carlyle Group, for example. Gerald Ford quietly raked in big director’s fees from companies such as American Express, and Ronald Reagan briefly scandalized late-80s Washington by taking $2 million for a single speaking trip to Japan. But their wives never ran for president."

That's the justification Purdham offers for giving Bill Clinton harsher treatment, putting his financial dealings under the microscope in a way that President Bush never has been.

Of course their wives never ran for President. Hillary Clinton is the first female presidential candidate! That doesn't explain why Bush and Ford and Reagan were not inspected under the microscope by the media in the way that this piece is excorciating Bill Clinton.

Great Op-Ed by Judith Warner on Misogynistic Treatment of Hillary Clinton

In this well-written piece, Warner compares the fluffy froth of "Sex and the City" with its characters all dressed up in frilly outfits, with the serious pantsuits of Hillary Clinton, and argues t.hat the earnestness of Hillary Clinton is not acceptable in this misogynistic post-feminist age.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How the Media Frames a Candidate

I'm reading an interesting book right now, which sheds light on the fading battle between Clinton and Obama. In The Press Effect, Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories that Shape the Political World, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Professor of Communication and the Walter H. Annenberg Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, writes about how the press first comes up with a frame for covering a candidate, and then fits all facts into that frame. She writes, "Reporters covering the campaign create simple frames, based on one or two characteristics of personality, and channel their coverage through those frames."

So in the 2000 campaign, the press reduced Gore's flaw to "trustworthiness", "while Bush's was reduced to lack of knowledge, translated ultimately as inexperience."

Jamieson writes that, fortunate for Bush, inexperience can be remedied by experience, or by selecting a cabinet or vice president with experience. On the other hand, a lack of trust is much more difficult to overcome. Jamieson writes, "Once the untrustworthy lens was locked in, any move on Gore's part could be interpreted as a cynical attempt to hide his true self."

It's kind of strange how these same two frames reappeared in this campaign between the two Democratic contenders, with even Hillary Clinton herself touting her experience, and her detractors and critics throwing the damning critique of "sleazy" or "untrustworthy" onto her. (This "untrustworthy" label has also cropped up a bit in reference to Obama, but only on the part of voters, not so much on the part of media commentators, whereas the press has applied the "untrustworthy" label to Clinton.)

Knowing how it is so difficult to re-frame how the press portrays a candidate, and how it's so hard to remove the stigma of untrustworthiness, Hillary Clinton would have been fared better if she had not herself made the metric one of experience versus inexperience. Unfortunately for her, from the beginning the media has criticized her for allegedly not showing her true self. Perhaps that's why back in New Hampshire she declared that she had "found my voice." She was trying to shake that "untrustworthy" label much as Gore tried to. But once the press nails a candidate as untrustworthy, and fits all subsequent statements into that "frame," it's impossible to remove.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Is Political Charisma Gendered Male?

In today's New Republic, as excerpted by the Columbia Journalism Review, TNR senior editor Michelle Cottle, and Amanda Fortini, a New Republic contributor who recently wrote about Clinton and feminism for New York magazine, discuss Clinton's historic run:

COTTLE: The thing that I worry about is that Clinton had certain advantages because of her celebrity that helped her to overcome certain other things—the charisma issue in particular. There are charismatic women, but when you’re talking about “presidential charisma,” or projecting both strength and warmth, overwhelmingly the people who tend to possess this are men…

FORTINI: Even if we had a female candidate who had this ineffable, intangible charisma, I think it would be perceived very differently than it would be in a man. When you think about the kind of ease with which Barack Obama conducts himself, I don’t know if it would be received as well if he were a woman. The “I want to have a beer with him” factor that we look for in our male candidates—I don’t think we necessarily want that from a woman. I don’t think we know what we want from our female candidates, frankly.

It's interesting that both Cottle and Fortini use the word "charisma".

Recently, a professor of history and women's studies suggested to me that I write a piece "on how charisma is gendered male – unless you are, maybe, mother Teresa. All these attractive men – Kennedy, Clinton (Bill), Obama, are “charismatic, “ -- which means that people want to follow them anywhere. It’s ok for women to fall in love with a male candidate, but it is not ok for men to fall in love with a female one."

She mentioned that Max Weber wrote about charisma, and that none of his examples of political charisma were female.

So why is charisma, and political charisma in particular, gendered male? Is this surmountable for a female presidential candidate? What would female political charisma look like?

Julia Keller on Hillary Clinton and Death Imagery

An article that Julia Keller published in the Chicago Tribune last week, "Devil in a Pantsuit or the demonization of Hillary Clinton," really resonated with me.

She write about the death imagery that repeatedly crops up in political commentators' references to Hillary Clinton, and puts it in the context of novels and films that similarly feature tropes and imagery of a monstrous woman. Keller sees behind this imagery a "notion of a powerful, driven, influential woman as a hideous threat—a threat that can be curtailed only with her death."

I find it fascinating how these old archetypes continue to reappear in cultural portraits of powerful women. There's the archetype of the "witch," which I wrote about once in Bust Magazine (I compared the prosecution of Martha Stewart to the Salem witch trials, finding similar imagery in both). There's the "Marie Antoinette" archetype, which I wrote about in a Chicago Tribune piece. Both are images of women who are wielding too much power. I hadn't thought about death imagery. What are some other old archetypes that are still with us today, still in our subconscious and seeping out into our media and other cultural texts?

Washington Post's Ruth Marcus on Why Fewer Women than Men Run for Political Office

Marcus writes in an interesting op-ed in the Washinton Post today that women impose their own glass ceilings. She cites a study that shows that far fewer women than men feel they are qualified to run for political office. She doesn't address why this is so: why do we impose limits on ourselves and our qualifications, why are women less "cocky" than men?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Clinton's Mentioning "Assassination" isn't Racist at all

Now the headline popping up on Drudge and elsewhere on the blogosphere is that "Hillary Clinton is raising the assassination issue," but really, when you watch the video, that's not what Clinton is doing, far from it, in fact. Actually, she's calmly saying that it is "curious" that the media and Obama's camp has been urging her to drop out of the race since Iowa, when historically, that hasn't been the case. She cites her husband's 1992 campaign, saying that he only wrapped it up in California in June, and then she says, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June, during his campaign. She's not suggesting that Obama is going to be assassinated, which is the implication of the headlines on the blogosphere, but she's citing examples of presidential campaigns that extended into June, without any criticism for tearing apart the party, as Hillary Clinton is being accused of, for continuing her candidacy.

But she's already apologizing....Here's a case where race had nothing to do with her statement, but race is read into her words, a context or is supplied that was not intended. This is an example of how, throughout the campaign for presidency, Hillary Clinton has been prevented from mentioning anything about gender, about the historic nature of her run for presidency, without being attacked for raising the gender card, and at the same time, she is often accused of raising the race card when she hasn't actually done so.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chelsea should have been more front and center in Clinton's campaign

I just re-read a January 10, 2008 draft of an op-ed I published in the Tribune about unfair media portrayals of Hillary Clinton. At the end of my draft, I made a prediction that my editor removed because he said that I wasn't in the prediction business. He was right, I'm not--but I have to say, my prediction was right (read these two paragraphs that were not in my published piece.) And, I have to say, I think if Hillary Clinton had relied on Chelsea more from the beginning, and framed her own image as a "mama bear," as a maternal figure, she would have been portrayed more positively in the press.

Here are the two paragraphs from my original draft:

"Hillary's challenge in the days ahead is going to be how to reach out to those postfeminist twenty and early thirtysomething women who haven't yet suffered much because of their gender. A prediction: the Clinton campaign will feature Chelsea more front and center, and allow her finally to talk to the press. We'll see a lot less of Bill, a lot more of Chelsea. We saw a glimpse of this at the end of Hillary's victory speech Tuesday night: she hugged Chelsea, then Bill, and then Chelsea again, and they gazed lovingly at each other: the shot of mother and daughter gazing lovingly and proudly at each other made the Drudge Report. (Usually the victory speech image is of husband and wife.) Many young women will see themselves in Chelsea in a way they never will in Hillary."

"Bill Clinton (with Gore by his side) could use his sex appeal as a way to attract young female voters in 1993. I remember Naomi Wolf on the Yale campus screaming that "These men are babes!" to the cheers of the co-eds. The “Obama Girl” YouTube video only strengthened Obama's appeal. Hillary can't capitalize on her sex appeal as a strategy. (When she innocently showed an inch of cleavage a female Washington Post reporter jumped all over her.) But maybe she can run on her maternal appeal."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Barack calls reporter "sweetie"

Chicago Tribune's John Kass has a humorous column on Barack calling a female reporter, "sweetie," and not answering her question; there's also a link to the video.

Barack's official response is that he has a "bad habit" of "calling people sweetie." But, really, it's not "people" that get called this diminutive, only women. It's OK to call children "sweetie," but not for a presidential candidate to say that to a reporter asking a question. In this case, the reporter seems to yell out her question while Obama is doing a photo-op at a factory. She's disturbing the peace by asking her question, by putting him on the spot. So Obama's using this dimunitive is a macho way of not answering a question, or quieting a woman.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hillary Clinton Creates New Archetype for Powerful Women: the Fighter

Susan Faludi wrote an interesting op-ed on Hillary Clinton in the New York Times, May 9th.

She writes about how Clinton has remade her image from the typical female archetype of "hall monitor" who admonishes everyone to abide by the rules, to one of a "fighter" who is in the trenches--an archetype that is typically male, and one that's more appealing to white male voters.

Faludi writes that "[t]he specter of the prissy hall monitor is, in part, the legacy of the great female reformers of Victorian America. . . they were regarded by men. . .as reluctant trespassers in the public sphere who had left the domestic circle only to fulfill their duty as the morally superior sex, housekeepers scouring away a nation’s vice."

This archetype of woman as rule-regulator is repellent in the national imagination, she writes. "In that visceral subbasement of the national imagination — the one that underlies all the blood-and-guts sports imagery our culture holds so dear — the laurels go to the slugger who ignores the censors, the outrider who navigates the frontier without a chaperone."

Of this fighter image, Faludi writes, "Deep in the American grain, particularly in the grain of white male working-class voters, that is the more trusted archetype. Whether Senator Clinton’s pugilism has elevated the current race for the nomination is debatable. But the strategy has certainly remade the political world for future female politicians, who may now cast off the assumption that when the going gets tough, the tough girl will resort to unilateral rectitude. When a woman does ascend through the glass ceiling into the White House, it will be, in part, because of the race of 2008, when Hillary Clinton broke through the glass floor and got down with the boys."

I find it fascinating how women are held to certain standard archetypes, and how these are confining for women. I wrote about the Marie Antoinette archetype several months ago for the Chicago Tribune, and how this archetype of the spoiled rich woman who abuses her inferiors and controls her husband is applied to powerful women. There's also the archetype of the witch, which is also applied to strong women who are in charge of the purse strings: I wrote an article comparing the prosecution of the Martha Stewart trial to the Salem witch trials-the same tropes and themes and symbols arose in both. Faludi's point is interesting that Hillary Clinton has now hewed to a new archetype--the fighter--a traditionally male archetype. Perhaps Clinton has created a new archetype for powerful women, one that opens up new possibilities, new acceptable ways of behaving and being portrayed.

Monday, May 12, 2008

My op-ed in yesterday's Tribune

Here's a link to my article from yesterday's (Sunday's) paper.

Katha Pollitt op-ed in today's Tribune

Pollitt has a well-written op-ed in today's Tribune about how anti-feminism is on the rise.

This would explain the increase in penis references, both verbal and visual, in recent Hollywood comedies. These movies are all made for men, for the "male gaze." Not to say that the male nudity is homosexual at all, but it's all about appeasing male anxieties at seeing themselves naked onscreen, and it's also about asserting the power of the penis.

In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," the Rachel character says to Jason Segel's character, "I can see your vagina from here," when he is being cowardly. There's a scene in "Baby Mama," in which Tina Fey's character and her new boyfriend acknowledge that for a man, being called a "dick," is a compliment, it means a man is strong and demanding.

As Pollitt mentions, Manohla Dargis wrote a great piece in the New York Times on May 4th, called "Is there a Real Woman in this Multiplex" on how movies are being made now solely with men in mind.

Why is anti-feminism on the rise?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Perhaps Availability of Porn on Internet also Explains Rise in Male Nudity in Movies

Another point I didn't have room to include in my article, was one made by Professor Linda Williams of Berkeley:

She said to me, "The elephant in the room in all of this is that audiences today have all seen pornography-they’ve seen a lot of genitals whether on the Internet or dvd or vhs or whatever-it’s not like it’s unseen, it is just that it is-now that pornography is consumed in a quasiprivate way--the more social situation of the movie theater is still something that can make audiences uncomfortable if they see the things that they [usually] see in a more private context."

Taking her point in a different direction, perhaps director-producer Judd Apatow realizes that he can't avoid displaying visual imagery of the penis on the big screen when audiences today are so accustomed to seeing a wide range of images of penises on the small screen of the computer or television, due to the "pornification" of our culture--so it's ripe time to break this last taboo.

As Linda Williams also pointed out to me in an email after seeing Forgetting Sarah Marshall: "Our hero gets beaten up to retrieve the photos of the new girlfriend flashing her breasts. The film does not linger on those breasts. That is old news in a mainstream American movie. But it does linger on the penis at the beginning as a kind of terra incognita, as if to ask, can this be part of our romantic comedy as visible organ and not just as a word? The answer seems to be yes. This is not to say that the double standard is over, only that a certain hurdle has been leaped."

Regarding that moment in which the hero of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Peter Bretter (Jason Segel), steals the photo of his girlfriend Rachel (Mila Kunis) revealing her breasts from the bathroom wall of a bar, I think this scene, like the movie, upholds the standard virgin/whore dichotomy. Rachel (Kunis) couldn't stay the romantic heroine of the movie, and still win our hearts, without being restored to seeming chaste (hence Peter has to remove the photo at the risk of his bodily harm)and not like a slutty "Girl Gone Wild." Rachel's character is a free spirit, but not so sexually free. Peter is allowed to have a string of one-night-stands after his girlfriend breaks up with him and we, the audience, still like him. But for us to still like Rachel, her chastity, or the illusion of it, has to be restored.

In the same way, male actors are allowed more latitude in their physical appearance. Segel is doughy, a little fleshy; Kunis and Kristen Bell are toned and sleek.

From "Melodramatic" Penis to "Casual Penis"

Professor Peter Lehman coined the term "melodramatic" penis (see my previous post) for displays of the penis in movies of the early 90s. I'd argue that these recent movies which I write about in my Tribune piece tomorrow(Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanomo Bay, Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox story, etc.) marks a shift to the revelation of the "casual" penis.

Why this shift?

Lehman on the "Melodramatic" Penis in 90s Movies

Professor Peter Lehman has written about what he coined the "melodramatic" penis in movies and theater of the 1990s. This is from my interview with him:

"I have traced the history in my book Running Scared- of male frontal nudity—I think what has happened it has maybe come more caught up, more related with the cultural preoccupation with the penis and its presumed importance with definining male sexuality and defining male sexual performance. We live in a more intense body culture than we did then. There is more discourse about the penis and male sexuality [now] than then-bringing this to a different level of prominence and attention—it means something different-different types of bodies—different patterns of nudity. The context in which nudity is shown is different: Starting in 1993 with the Bobbitt case there were a couple of films [featuring] what I called the melodramatic penis, showing the penis became common not just in movies but in other artworks in relation to highly melodramatic situations. The Crying Game shows a penis in the context of an extremely melodramatic moment where the male character finds out woman he is abbut to sleep with is a man. M. Butterfly—[the play] is around the same time. In the theater—there is full frontal male nudity for the audience-a shockingly melodramatic moment-. . . .[Lehman also mentioned the revelation of the penis in Boogie Nights as "melodramatic."]

"These [works] cluster around the same time in the 90s. What is going on in this moment of time is that we are now fascinated with showing the penis to intensive melodrama. I argue there had been a polarity in place before the early 90s-either the penis was the butt of jokes as in [what I described to him in the movie] Harold and Kumar where small penises are made fun of but seldom saw or a presentation of the penis as a large impressive spectacle of which porn was the leading component—this idea of an impressive display that was supposed to mark masculinity—and what I wanted to argue was that films were an attempt to break away from that binary," says Lehman.

Basically, the "melodramatic" penis was when these films in the 90s only showed penises in the most "extraordinary situations", says Lehman.

Adolescent View of Women's Bodies also in Baby Mama

The male adolescent view that I mention in my Tribune piece (this Sunday's paper) also pervades Baby Mama.

There's the scene in which Amy Poehler's character talks to her new buddy, the doorman, about her menstrual cycle and fertility, saying how she was spotting, and thought it was her period, but she must have been ovulating, and that's how she got her period--she was kind of funny in her riff, but then he responded in the typical adolescent male way as the men in the Apatow movies do: oh, stop talking, that's too much information and disgusting.

Two More Penis Scenes in Baby Mama-and what this all means

There are two more "penis" moments in Baby Mama that stuck in my mind:

One, when Tina Fey's character is with her new boyfriend, the fruitshake-making guy, and he points out the graphic of a banana in the window of the shop and asks her if it looks like a penis. Stupid scene in my opinion--unnecessary and sophmoric. Again, it's what Peter Lehman is talking about...

Two, when Tina Fey's character orders a meal from a takeout stand and makes a lot of requests for how she would like her food done. She apologizes to the new boyfriend for being so demanding and controlling and he says, "That's not fair, if you were a man, people would call you a 'dick.' And Fey says something to the effect of, "Aww, no one has ever called me a 'dick' before."

This second joke was commenting on something interesting in society--how if women act too strong they are called names, but this is seen as a strength in men.

But the larger point is that author Peter Lehman is right, "there has been an increased emphasis and centrality on the penis in our culture," e.g. all these increased references, visually and verbal, to penises in recent movies.

As Lehman says, he and his co-author Susan Hunt think this is part of an increase in emphasis on the "body" in our culture, i.e. dieting, physical fitness, an obsession with youthfulness, "an intensification of a particular body culture which devalues the mind, and overvalues the body."

Baby Mama fits into my Penis Analysis, too

I wanted to include some analysis of the new movie, Baby Mama, in the Tribune piece, but there wasn't room.

So here it is:

Surprisingly for a film that is supposed to be about the women's perspective, a "women's" film, there was a lot of emphasis on penises in Baby Mama. While there was no male nudity per se, there were three scenes where penises are mentioned.

In one, Steve Martin's character, Tina Fey's new-agey boss, says, "What's the secret to success? A big penis!" It's supposed to be funny, but it really wasn't, so it stuck in my mind. In a film about a 37-year-old woman who has been focusing on her career and reached a level of success in her career so that she has started fairly late to try to have a baby, it's strange to emphasize the worth of a big penis. Well, maybe it isn't so strange. The film was written by a man, and the anxiety, which I talk about in my Tribune article, about men getting displaced by women, about feeling not needed in today's society due to women's advances into areas of the workforce where men have always dominated, runs through Baby Mama.

Tina Fey's character turns to surrogacy during the film, in one scene, wielding a silver phallic object with sperm inside of it, carefully through the streets of Philadelphia. There's this male anxiety about becoming unnecessary in the act of procreation. But men need not fear, suggests this movie: only the old-fashioned act of intercourse leads to conception in the movie, twice over (I don't want to spoil the plot for you, even though it's quite predictable.)

So, just like the movies I discuss in the Tribune piece, this movie is all about quashing or appeasing male anxieties, even though this one, ostensibly, is supposed to be a "chick flick."

Baby Mama
would have been a better film if it were written by a woman and more from a woman's true perspective.

My Male Nudity Article in Sunday's Chicago Tribune

My last blog entry turned into an opinion piece in tomorrow's (Sunday's) Chicago Tribune on the front page of the Perspective section. Let me know what you think. There was a lot that I couldn't include in the piece because of length limitations, including a great deal of interesting insights from the two professors I quote, Peter Lehman, the director of the center for film, media and popular culture at Arizona State University, and Linda Williams, professor of film studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Peter Lehman has a new book coming out with the working title The Body Guy in the Movies, His Culture, His Sexuality, Your Life , co-authored with Susan Hunt, who teaches at Santa Monica College; the book will be published by Rutgers University Press. Linda Williams has a new book Screening Sex, The Long Adolescence of American Movies, coming out this September or October with Duke University Press.

I wish I could have included more of their insights in this piece, so I will post to the blog more direct quotes from my interviews with them.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Male Nudity vs. Female Nudity in New Movies

The male frontal nudity in Forgetting Sarah Marshall was much heralded in the media before it's release in theatres this past Friday. Every review mentions at the start how the main actor, Jason Segal, is nude at the beginning of the film when his girlfriend unexpectedly breaks up with him as he comes out of the shower. A few reviewers also mentions that Segal is also totally naked for a moment at the end of the film.

Only one reviewer, steadfast Roger Ebert, mentions how incredibly brief these nude scenes are:

Roger Ebert writes, "Between his brief nude scene at the very beginning (a humiliating, emotionally naked break-up and breakdown), and his even briefer final one (a welcome reunion of sorts), he discovers quite a lot about himself through his genitalia."

The flashes to Segal's penis are so split-secondly quick that a viewer doesn't really get a good glimpse of his private parts.

It's no surprise so many of the reviews focus on the nudity. It's rare that a male actor shows frontal nudity in a film, especially the main actor in a film.

In contrast, a few days later I saw "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanomo Gay". No review had mentioned the frontal female nudity that appears in the film. There is one scene, when Harold and Kumar arrive at an old friend's house who is having a "bottom less party" as opposed to a "topless" one, in which a woman greets them at the door wearing no panties. The camera gives a slow shot of her vagina, with its pubes closely trimmed into a landing strip, for a long, slow shot, as if to make sure everyone gets a full, long, look.

Then we proceed to see at least twenty women with their vulvas on full view, a slow pan of the camera to show one after the other.

When we see the fast glimpse of Segal's penis, it's a moment of laughter: the audience guffawed and yelped, even when we just see his backside as he hugs his ex in an effort to get close to her and "feel her body" when she has just broken up with him. His naked body invokes laughter, humor.

I don't remember anyone laughing during "Harold and Kumar" as one women after another showed her private parts to the camera, again, in a much slower, languid pace than the brief shot of Segal's privates. The camera moves so slowly in this scene that there was no way you could miss these vaginas (actually, vulvas) in all their glory, whereas Segal's penis is seen so briefly that one doesn't come away with any memory of what it actually looked like. Ironically, no movie review mentions the female nudity in the film. And, of course, all these women were beautiful, tight-bodied and tan, unlike the fleshy, doughy Segal.

The parallel would not exist: a naked female body in Segal's fleshy state onscreen would invoke disgust, not such empathy or humor.

These naked female bodies in Harold and Kumar did not invoke laughter, even though they were part of the big joke of "the bottomless party." Their bodies were too sexualized, too perfect, too stylized. The only moment of laughter (though also tinged with some disgust) was when Harold and Kumar's friend, the host of the bottomless party, shows his penis, a slip of a thing buried in an excessive mountain of pubic hair--a sight gag. Again, the penis--a source for humor, silliness. The naked female body--a source for sexual arousal and objectification of the female body, but not for humor or empathy.

The naked male body can be used to make the audience laugh, to find humor in it. But the naked female body is always too sexualized to be funny. And it's so common to feature female nudity that it doesn't make the press, whereas the brief nudity of Segal is mentioned again and again as if it's revolutionary for a male actor to reveal himself physically. It is a new thing--but note how it's oddly not a new thing for female actors (Kramer vs. Kramer anyone?)--again Meryl Streep's full frontal nudity was a moment of awkwardness and discomfort, not laugh out loud humor-- and how scared we are to give the audience a good, long look at male nudity without making it a thing to be laughed at.

Wait till Forgetting Sarah Marshall comes out on DVD--there will be a lot of use of the pause button.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lou Dobbs Calls Attention to Media Bias against Clinton

On March 31, Lou Dobbs was a rare voice in the media, calling attention to media bias against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Obama on his Lou Dobbs Tonight show. Here is a link to more video of the show:

Dobbs mentions a Non-Partisan Center for Media and Public Affairs study that found that since last December, 83 percent of reporting on Obama by the media has been positive, only 53 percent positive for Hillary Clinton, and he called attention, along with Howard Kurtz from the Washington Post, to how the national media is unfairly making the main story how Hillary Clinton is ruining the party by staying in the race (trumpeting the words of Sen. Leahy and Sen. Dodd and Governor Richardson, in other words, Obama supporters), even though it's a close race, and how this preventing her from speaking out on the issues.

As Kurtz said, news coverage is making the main story whether Hillary Clinton is ruining the party by staying in the race. It's amazing how the media outlets copy one another, all echoing the same story, in the same way that all the media outlets parrotted each other in covering the "sniper" story. The New York Times op-ed this week by two women who staff members of Hillary Clinton's and on that March 1996 tour to Bosnia with her, which supported Hillary Clinton's claim that there was sniper fire in the area, was not picked up by any national TV or Internet media, unlike all the negative coverage of Clinton in columns such as Maureen Dowd or David Brooks from the same paper. (From the op-ed, "These facts explain why many of us, including the first lady, believed that the conditions on the ground were precarious. We were worried about sniper fire and were prepared to rush off the tarmac when we landed.")

Kudos to Dobbs and Kurtz for calling attention to media bias and how the media twists and shapes public perception.

What's unanswered is what is behind this wholesale media bias? Why only a few lone voices in the media that call attention to this bias? There must be something deep in the Jungian psychology of the media to explain the slanted negative coverage of Hillary Clinton, and gender must be at the heart of it.

Below is the entire transcript of the show:



White House Proposes Wall Street Overhaul; Interview With Joseph Stiglitz

Aired March 31, 2008 - 19:00 ET

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: "Good evening, everybody.

The media bias against Senator Clinton appears to be worsening tonight. Newspapers and other media across the country are giving an increasing voice to those calling for Senator Clinton to drop out of this race. Many of those pleas are originating with Obama supporters, but some of the calls are coming from columnists whose remarks are picked up by not only other newspapers, but television and the Internet as well.

Those voices in favor of Senator Obama say Senator Clinton should end her campaign for quote "the good of the party." And that a long campaign would quote "tear the party apart and ensure a Republican victory in November", but when it comes to the largest audiences the three nightly broadcast newscasts, the bias is seemingly most pronounced.

The nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs has found that since last December, 83 percent of the reporting on Senator Obama was positive. Only 53 percent of the reporting on Senator Clinton was positive. Joining me now are Lanny Davis, former special counsel to former President Bill Clinton and adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign, and Howard Kurtz, media critic for "The Washington Post" and host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and Jim Zogby, a super delegate for none other than Senator Barack Obama. Good to have you with us. Howard, let me turn to you, first. I mean this is straight forward objective quantifiable research saying point blank the national media has blown it on this campaign.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES: Well those figures are a little dated though, because I think the coverage was starting to be a little more even until the last 10 days when you had this drum beat, as you just described, of columnists, commentators and about 700 cable news segments saying why is Hillary Clinton still in this race. She can't possibly win. I think that should be up to the voters to decide and I think that by making this topic (A) in the race, it means that her message can't get through on the economy or...


DOBBS: But, how many of these reports originating in national mainstream media have referred in headlines and subtitles and cut lines to the call for Senator Clinton's withdrawal without noting that those calls for withdrawal are originating exclusively and without exception with supporters of Senator Obama.

KURTZ: Well, some of the stories have made that clear apparently, for example, calling on her to bow out. But look at my newspaper, "The Washington Post", on Saturday front page headline, Clinton resist calls to drop out; Sunday front page headline, Clinton vows to stay in the race until convention, although that was an interview initiated by the senator saying that she is not getting out, but we won't let her talk about anything else.

DOBBS: Well and Howard Kurtz that is one of the reasons you are here is because you are a honest journalist and tough enough to say it straight up about your own news organization and I commend you for that. I know others do as well.

Let's turn to you, if I may, Lanny Davis, what is the Clinton campaign's response to this? You have watched this go on literally for months now, and there was a "Saturday Night Live", and the senator's reference during the debate to may we get you another pillow, Senator Obama, but this has got to be incredibly frustrating and you have got to do incredibly better.

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL TO BILL CLINTON: Well, let me just make two points, first of all the night before the New Hampshire primary most of the same pundits for saying she was gone because she was going to lose New Hampshire, after the South Carolina caucuses she was going to lose Super Tuesday and then a "Newsweek" columnist actually said she should drop out before Ohio and Texas. She continues to surprise everybody, because she is tough and she fights and she's not going to let them bully her out of this race.

The second point, very quickly, Lou, is the double standard. We had this tremendous media frenzy, because I believe she made an honest mistake where news reporters at the time described and this is from the "Charleston Gazette" at the time in Bosnia that there were snipers protecting the first lady in a combat zone. She made an honest mistake when she said she was fired upon and we had two days or three days of media frenzy.

Now in the last three days we had Barack Obama on the front page of "The Post" yesterday where he misrepresented his father coming over to America through the use of Kennedy money. We have him taking credit for an immigration bill which he actually according to Senator Dodd had very little to do with. We have him saying that he didn't know that Rezko was involved in wrongdoing...

DOBBS: Not to participate...

DAVIS: ... where is the media on...

DOBBS: Not to participate on the bias, Lanny. I think we get the point.

DAVIS: Double standard is my point.

DOBBS: Let me turn to Jim Zogby. At what point -- you certainly are the beneficiary of this imbalanced coverage if I can put it that way, how are you -- how is the campaign going to react to what is almost certainly going to be a I think probably an adjustment?

JAMES ZOGBY, SUPER DELEGATE SUPPORTING OBAMA: I'm not the beneficiary and I'm not going to go through talking points like Lanny did here. Let me make a point though. This game of politics always involves the ability to deal with media and to get your message through and control media and the Clinton people are not doing a good job.

They've tried. Lord knows they have tried. They tried with the Bosnia story. They blew it. They tried with the dream team story to demean and diminish the Obama campaign and they blew it there, too. They have tried to control the message and it has not worked frankly because it has not worked.

The calls for Senator Clinton to leave the race are based on that fact that numerically she simply cannot win and therefore all she can do is do what she is doing, which is try to beat up and draw some blood from...

DOBBS: Whoa, whoa, whoa...

ZOGBY: ... the front-runner...

DOBBS: Whoa, whoa, whoa...

ZOGBY: ... and make his candidacy in November...


DOBBS: Numerically you say she can't win.

ZOGBY: Right.

DOBBS: That is in point of fact with certain assumptions made true. ZOGBY: Right.

DOBBS: If you don't make those assumptions, it is not true.

ZOGBY: Well I know, but the assumptions...


ZOGBY: The assumptions they tried to make is she tried to go to Michigan and do a little bit of I think incitement of Michigan voters. It was really not a fair thing to do.


ZOGBY: The fact is that the party rules have been very clear she keeps trying to change...


DOBBS: ... away from those talking points, Jim. Now if I may.

ZOGBY: Yeah.

DOBBS: The point is that neither will Senator Obama have the number of delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.

ZOGBY: But the simple fact here...

DOBBS: But...

ZOGBY: ... is that being about 170 up in pledged delegates and the polling with the super delegates, I think it's pretty clear the direction this is going in and that is all the columnists are saying is that if you cannot win this...


ZOGBY: ... and the only way you can win it is to have a 1968 moment at the convention, then is it in the good of the Democratic Party that you go forward with this? That is the issue that's out there right now.


ZOGBY: But I don't think you can make the case...


ZOGBY: ... that it is not...

DOBBS: Jim, may I say this before I turn...

ZOGBY: Sure.

DOBBS: ... to Lanny Davis that I want to first of all applaud your campaign as Senator Obama for having the best, the best, the best interest of the party at heart in that altruistic motivation is I think persuasive to many. Lanny Davis?

DAVIS: Well, first of all, I went through a series of facts that can't be disputed about misstatements by Senator Obama which I assume were honest mistakes. The media jumped to the word lie when Senator Clinton made an honest mistake. I say there is a double standard and secondly, Jim, with all due respect, you changed what you said. You said she can't win from you are relying on assumptions.

The fact is if she wins the way she surprised in Ohio and Texas, she won Ohio big. We have to win Ohio to win the White House. If she wins Pennsylvania, most of the rest of the primaries and comes in that convention...


DAVIS: ... ahead of John McCain in the polls, then that convention is going to nominate her over Barack Obama, because we are not a suicide party.


DOBBS: OK, I'd like to turn now to Howard Kurtz. As we were watching these -- both Lanny and Jim duel a bit around the talking points and the positions of their campaign and understandably so, what is most troubling is, as you point out and acknowledge, the number of national news organizations, electronic as well as print, we should be absolutely clear, that have really taken on this idea that 10 more states should not vote, that it is perfectly rational that neither Michigan nor Florida should be enfranchised with the vote.

I mean, millions of Democratic voters have been disenfranchised as if there is no party preference whatsoever on the parties of the members of the DNC making these judgments. I mean, the national media is really messing this up a bit, don't you think?

KURTZ: Well, I don't have any problem, Lou, with journalists saying that it's an uphill struggle for Senator Clinton...


KURTZ: ... the delegate math works against her, but when you get into these scenarios, I'm reminding of the fact that many of these same geniuses in the press said last summer that John McCain was dead, he was toast, he was finished and it seems to me he came back and he is the Republican nominee, so there obviously is some chance that Senator Clinton could win this nomination and we ought not in this business say that she ought to get out or suggest that it's hopeless until the voters have spoken.

DOBBS: As an Independent, with no vested interest whatsoever in the Democratic or the Republican side here, I don't recall a race in which we have seen quite the transparent favoritism that we have seen in this campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Lou, I don't think you can't say that. Look, I remember... DOBBS: Well, I was actually asking Howard Kurtz...


DOBBS: ... who is something of an expert on this sort of thing...


DOBBS: ... he can dismiss me if he wishes.

KURTZ: Well, it is certainly true that most of the liberal columnists are for Senator Obama and against Senator Clinton, but you know they are in the commentary business, that's OK.

DOBBS: Sure.

KURTZ: But when that -- when you marry that to news coverage that seems to make the only operative question right now, not who is going to win Pennsylvania or Indiana, but whether or not Hillary Clinton is hurting the party and being selfish by staying in the race, the effect is one that looks like we are not being entirely fair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could I just -- maybe Jim and I will agree on this. What the news coverage should do is report issues and what Lou you try to do on your program is the candidates debating issues. The personal character attacks by the Obama campaign against Hillary Clinton, the whole stampede to call her a liar rather than an honest mistake is diverting the American people's attention from the issues and that is why she won Ohio, it's why she's going to win Pennsylvania and all of the battleground states that you have to win as a Democrat, because she is right on the issues.

DOBBS: Jim Zogby, you get the last word.

ZOGBY: Well, again, Lanny, I think that that's fine from your point of view. The fact is that you guys have tried to do it all along and it simply hasn't succeeded. The nastiness of this campaign has been one I think that is difficult for all Democrats to deal with, which is why I think there are increasing calls that it just be over.

It is not disenfranchising people. What it is saying to Democrats is do we really need to continue to draw blood and beat up our candidates before November...

DOBBS: So it's a position of the Obama campaign...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... should we not have a different campaign.

DOBBS: It's the position of the Obama campaign that you should simply foreclose...


DOBBS: Ten primaries...


DOBBS: ... and the voters in those states...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all. Not at all.

DOBBS: ... and disenfranchise the voters...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what some Democrats are saying.



DOBBS: And disenfranchise the voters in Michigan and Florida.


DOBBS: Is that the position?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is not the position of the campaign and Senator Obama himself said she ought to stay in if she wants to stay in. I'm saying this is what others have said, Senator Leahy has said and others have said...

DOBBS: And Senator Dodd and Senator Durbin...


DOBBS: ... and former Governor Bill Richardson...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I would say...

DOBBS: ... or Governor Bill Richardson...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... that the cases of Michigan and Florida need to be dealt with quite separately. They broke party rules. Frankly look I have a huge...

DOBBS: Jim, I've got to break...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... constituency in Michigan. I don't want them disenfranchised, but this was not done right and Michigan unfortunately has to come up with a better way to do it than what they have done so far.

DOBBS: Jim Zogby, thank you very much.


DOBBS: Howard Kurtz, thank you very much, sir. Lanny Davis, thank you, sir.


DOBBS: And we want to hear from you on this question. Do you believe there is a media bias against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Barack Obama? We'd love to hear from you. Yes or no. We'll be bringing that -- those results at the end of the broadcast..."