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For women, this political season has been a big improvement over prior years.
- An accomplished woman in hot contention for the Democratic presidential nomination;
- A dynamic female governor as the Republican vice presidential nominee;
- An African American man at the top of the winning slate supportive of women's concerns;
- More women among political correspondents and analysts;
- Brilliant, illuminating parody courtesy of "Saturday Night Live" comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
All good. The bad:
- Media reporting and punditry that can't seem to get out of second gear when it comes to discussing female candidates and the priorities of women in the electorate.
- Media employment for women is still in low gear, too. Even with more female journalists and bloggers closely following the campaigns, not nearly enough of their work is on display in the most prominent journalistic venues and Internet sites.
And the ugly:
- Caustic, callous and downright gross commentary from misogynistic talk radio hosts about female candidates and women in general. They set the bar so low, so often, that some mainstream television news hosts felt comfortable adopting a "lite" version of sexist comments about female candidates and their supporters.
- Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's talk show "Hardball," made no end of cutting comments about Sen. Hillary Clinton during her run for the Democratic presidential nomination. He compared her to a "strip-teaser saying she's flattered by the attention," called her an "uppity woman" and said that a strong speech delivered by a woman can "grate on some men when they listen to it, (like) fingers on a blackboard."
Vicious Talk Show Hosts
But that's kid stuff compared with what Media Matters for America found. In an analysis released Nov. 13, the media watchdog group confirmed that right-wing talk show hosts are especially vicious toward women.
Chris Baker, host of a morning drive show on Minneapolis' KTLK-FM, called Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin a "smoking-hot chick" who "shoulda had a little cleavage going" when she gave her acceptance speech at the convention.
Discussing John McCain's acceptance speech, Baker called the Code Pink protesters who briefly interrupted the address "another bunch that ought to have all their tubes tied. All right? I can't stand these Code Pink broads."
Lee Rodgers, whose morning drive-time talk program airs on San Francisco's KSFO-AM, said, "You look at many -- perhaps most -- of the women who are professed leaders of the feminist movement in this country and they're a bunch of hags ... They couldn't get laid in a men's prison, let's be honest about it." He also ascribed Democrats' appeal to women this way: "A lot of women in this country who get knocked up and they don't have a husband. In effect, the government becomes Daddy in terms of paying the bills ... that accounts for a large part of that vote."
Cincinnati-based talk show host Bill Cunningham made almost the identical remark on his show less than two weeks later.
I won't repeat more of these contemptible comments here. You get the picture.
Attacks That Go Unchallenged
What is appalling is how these attacks go largely unchallenged, even by people who should know better.
Cunningham was recruited to warm up the crowd at a McCain rally, urging the crowd to reject "Barack Hussein Obama," repeating the now president-elect's full name over and over to imply that McCain's opponent wasn't an authentic American. McCain later apologized for the incident. But Cunningham's prominence signalled the McCain campaign's accommodation -- at least -- of his broadly repugnant views.
Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly journal of news, research and commentary about women and media.