Rethinking the 2016 Election Through the Lens of #MeToo

Donald Trump has continuously complained that the media does not like him, but it seems like Hillary Clinton faced a much larger problem: the media simply does not like women. After the emergence of the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment allegations against  prominent men in political journalism began to surface. Journalists such as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Mark Halperin all made significant contributions to the coverage of the the 2016 Presidential election; after which they have all been accused of serial sexual harassment.

As host of one of the Trump/Clinton forums, Matt Lauer had one of the most significant and direct effects on the election. Not only did he interrupt and correct Clinton’s answer about, “the most important characteristic a Commander in Chief can have,” to which she answered “steadiness,” but he used the answer that he offered to bring up her email scandal in a seemingly tangential fashion. Exactly, Lauer said,

"The word judgment has been used a lot around you, Secretary Clinton, over the last year and a half, and in particular concerning your use of your personal email and server to communicate while you were Secretary of State. You've said it's a mistake. You said you made not the best choice. You were communicating on highly sensitive topics. Why wasn't it more than a mistake? Why wasn't it disqualifying, if you want to be Commander in Chief?"

Lauer was not in the wrong to bring up Hillary’s email scandal. The scandal was heavily covered in the election coverage and laid the foundation for the widespread distrust of HRC. Nevertheless, he posed the question within the parameters of the scandal, and asked four follow up questions about it. In her book, What Happened, Clinton herself writes, “Lauer had turned what should have been a serious discussion into a pointless ambush.” As the leader of the forum, it was Lauer’s responsibility to bring up issues pertinent to public interest, but Hillary’s scandals still got far more attention, and Trump’s shaky position on the Iraq war was seldom focused upon. This bias was so obvious to the audience that 'Is Matt Lauer a Trump supporter' was the most Googled question after the program aired.

Charlie Rose had a similar interaction with Hillary during the election campaign. In a “CBS This Morning” interview in July 2016, Rose repeatedly bombarded Clinton with questions about the scandal and her trustworthiness. In asking her if she found herself careless, “sloppy”, and twice demanding if the scandal meant she cannot be trusted, Rose was grappling with the radical concept that a woman can be trusted.

Jeffrey McCall, professor of media studies at DePauw University, responded to this phenomenon in saying that,

“The news media is supposed to be a surrogate for the public, and most Americans don't like the thought that our surrogates are living in and endorsing workplace environments in which sexual harassment now seems to be too common...It is difficult for the news media to parade around as haughty overseers of right and wrong in broader contexts of society when they clearly have in-house confusion about first principles of decency.”

While McCall’s response acknowledges the difficulty for viewers and readers to cope with this unraveling issue, he grossly underestimates the gravity of this problem; this is not a simple loss of “decency”. Media is the median between politics and the American public, and the presence of perpetrators of sexual violence within its most prominent forms threatens all women. Serial sexual harassment is a product of blatant sexism. When the men who portrayed one of the biggest victories for women in America, seeing a woman as the presidential nominee for a major American party, continuously commit sexual misconduct, one cannot expect these journalists to report without this subconscious influence. Men who have the power and audacity to vehemently abuse women should never have influence over the portrayal of women’s words, lives, or political standings.

The issue of misogyny in political journalism is an issue of accurately representing women's voices: not only does this discrimination exist within the internal affairs of a newsroom and prohibit women from successfully and comfortably performing their journalistic duties, but it disallows women covered by the media to be viewed in absence of this misogynistic lens. Perhaps this is not what fueled the Trump phenomenon. It was not simply a distaste for Hillary that led to his rampant support. However, the misogyny inherent in journalism and the men it holds so prominent undoubtedly perpetuated the distrust in HRC.