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'Boston Herald' vs. Elizabeth Warren: Will Sexism Win? | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

'Boston Herald' vs. Elizabeth Warren: Will Sexism Win?

Can Elizabeth Warren win her Senate contest in Massachusetts despite the daily, often sexist, all-out hammering from the state’s second largest paper—and one favored by many of the swing voters she needs to attract? It’s no surprise that the staunchly conservative and Republican Boston Herald is backing GOP incumbent Scott Brown, but it’s the way it’s doing it that is raising hackles. Will it carry the day, or produce a backlash? It certainly matters, as the latest polls continue to show a dead heat, with Warren at best up a point or two.

The prime offender has been longtime columnist Howie Carr, who by one count has referred to Warren as “Granny” at least sixteen times since this past February. His new column today, in fact, puts it right in the headline: “Keeping up with Granny Ain’t Easy.” After several paragraphs of scorn (including the standard she-wants-to-destroy-capitalism) he calls her Lieawatha and “the fake Indian.”

Okay, it’s just one columnist; surely this doesn’t cross over to the news pages? Alas, this past Tuesday, the Herald printed a front page carrying a huge photo of Warren (see left), IDing her only as “Liz” and, yes, “Granny.” David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix quickly tweeted, “Not a Quote. Not a Howie column. Just the Herald calling her granny.” Actually “Liz” is pretty tame, since she often gets “Lizzie.”

Apparently Carr felt he was so clever early on likening Warren to “Granny Clampett” of Beverly Hillbillies fame that he has kept it up to this day.

“Name It. Change It”—a nonpartisan project of WCF Foundation, Women’s Media Center and Political Parity—weighed in this week, “Since her debut in the political arena, Elizabeth Warren has been a lightning rod for media attention from both supporters and oppenents. However, there comes a time when it is vital to draw distinctions between the legitimate commentary she receives based on her politics and the repeated attacks launched against her because of her age and gender.…

“Again and again, Name It. Change It. has noted that The Boston Herald is engaging in a one way rhetorically sexist battle against the Democratic nominee for the Massachusetts senate seat. No other mainstream media outlet has shown Warren such disrespect as a woman running for office.” Well, I suppose that’s a relief (so far).

“While Carr has dedicated many of his vitriolic columns to Warren, the demeaning and sexist rebranding of Elizabeth Warren as ‘Liz’ or ‘Lizzie’ in the headlines of other Herald reporters and columnists such as Hilary Chabot, Michael Graham, Kimberly Atkins, and Jennifer C. Braceras, continues unabated and unremarked by any other media observers. What began as one man’s crusade against Warren has become the collective action for a large part of the paper’s editorial staff.”

The newspaper at least prints this letter to the editor today from a woman in Somerville: “With a front-page portrait of Elizabeth Warren and what appears to be an epithet, ‘Granny,’ you make it clear that you are not interested in the facts of her track record as an economist and consumer advocate. Her desire to prevent another banking industry hosing of the middle class should appeal to your readership. Instead, you treat her campaign purely from a simplistic and misogynistic point of view.”

(For a look at some historical background: my book Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady probes what Helen Gahagan Douglas faced in her famous race for the US Senate in 1950 versus Richard Nixon. And here’s my recent piece about it. )

But sexism, indeed, might work in Warren’s favor, given the usual breakdown of voters in the state, meaning more than half are women. Far more effective will be constructing a class divide, which the Herald works even harder at (it styles itself the voice of the blue-collar communities, and indeed does have some impact there).

And so we have another columnist, Michael Graham, writing two weeks ago, that Scott Brown represents “the real, typical, everyday Massachusetts…. Warren, on the other hand, is one of the least ‘Massachusetts’ people in public life. She represents the Cape Cod/Cambridge/Amherst stereotype of Massachusetts that people in L.A. and New York City project. They envision Massachusetts as a state full of Prius-driving, thin-skinned, far-left academics who spend their spare time supporting the Occupy movement and knitting ‘Peace Now’ flags out of fair-trade hemp.”

The headline for a Jennifer C. Braceras op-ed this week reads: “Warren’s stock should be falling: Leftist posturing exceeds Obama’s.” Columnist Joe Battenfeld’s attack yesterday was topped with: “Elizabeth Warren’s silly campaign tactics.” On July 17, Battenfeld charged, “The Harvard Law professor says she’s running on behalf of the ‘hammered’ middle class but she’s also clearly the darling of the privileged rich and famous.” Today’s Herald editorial even accuses Warren of “China envy.”

Also, note the Bloomberg Businessweek cover at left, and recall that Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week suddenly endorsed Scott Brown—claiming, with no credibility, that it was only because Brown had just taken a brave stand (for a GOPer) in backing some new gun laws. We all know what “know-it-all” (bottom left of cover) is code for. Woman, get back to your kitchen!

Greg Mitchell has written more than a dozen including three on very influential American political campaigns: Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady, The Campaign of the Century and Why Obama Won. He also blogs daily at Pressing Issues.

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