Pro-abortion-rights group is all in for Biden but warns about 'gender stereotypes' in VP coverage

Former Vice President Joe Biden. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)Former Vice President Joe Biden. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Former Vice President Joe Biden. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

The head of NARAL Pro-Choice America told Yahoo News on Monday that the organization is “pulling out all the stops” to keep President Trump from being reelected, allocating $32 million to elect his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, this November.

“We’ve got activists on the ground as well as communications to voters through a variety of means about the stakes of this election and absolutely the [Supreme] Court is a part of it,” Ilyse Hogue told Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast in an interview. “We’re running the largest independent expenditure that we have in the history of the organization because we could not be taking this election more seriously.”

Hogue also said NARAL was taking an active role in combating what she described as sexist stereotypes in coverage of Biden’s vice presidential selection process. She said it has joined a coalition of prominent political advocacy groups for women organized around the slogan “We Have Her Back.” The campaign has been warning media companies not to use sexist tropes when covering the female vice presidential nominees.

“I, like everyone, expected 2016 to be coverage of credentials and not attacks that were grounded in gender stereotypes, and we saw the opposite and it was called out,” Hogue said. “We should actually celebrate having a woman on the ticket not just for social progress, but because we know women make the difference in these elections. And yet we have to guard against the kind of right-wing narrative that too often seeps into the mainstream media and depresses that enthusiasm.”

Last week Hogue and a group of other prominent female leaders sent a letter to newspapers, television networks and other news media detailing their objections to how Biden’s vice presidential search process has been covered. Biden has committed to picking a woman as his running mate.

The group listed examples of past failures in covering women in politics, including framing a woman’s election chances by judging “likability,” and covering a woman’s “looks, weight, tone of voice, attractiveness, and hair.” The letter finished by calling on the media not just to pay attention to these stereotypes, but to “actively work to be anti-racist and anti-sexist in your coverage.”

Recent news coverage has included embarrassing missteps. Sen. Kamala Harris had been the subject of articles covering rumors that she is “too ambitious” to be trusted; another article questioned whether she’d shown enough “remorse” after attacking Biden in a debate. Susan Rice, the former national security adviser, was the subject of a sarcastic Dana Milbank column condemning her alleged use of profanity. Hogue says media gender bias has become a norm across party lines even if the right wing has particularly excelled at whipping it up.

“What we have seen and actually documented, again for decades, is the right wing has a particular grasp on how to foment some really deep stuff we have about race and gender as well as craft narrative that’s really smart about how they manipulate emotion,” Hogue said. “There is not quite the level of scrutiny and checks and balances that we’d like to see in the mainstream media actually having enough self-awareness not just to carry those narratives full-bore.”

Hogue added that she worried “the media can get caught up in carrying tropes unconsciously.” She said reporters should err on the side of offering too much context when describing gender bias perpetuated by other news figures. “Robust conversation” is important, she said.

Asked about former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd’s role as an adviser to Biden on his running mate selection, Hogue said that bias is a bipartisan problem. (Dodd reportedly has called Harris “too ambitious.”)

“Nobody’s immune from it,” Hogue said. “This was a Democratic ex-senator and adviser to Biden who carried forward that trope. But I do think there is an opportunity for the media to say, this [reference to ambition] has historically been used in a way that has attacked women in a way that is not the same as it has been used to attack men.”

Hogue, although a Democrat, also found examples of unfair gender bias in the coverage of a female vice presidential nominee from an earlier era: Sarah Palin.

“I am no Palin fan, nobody could ever accuse me of being a Palin fan,” Hogue said. “She used her own knowledge about race and misogyny to prop up the right wing within the GOP. And at the same time I do think she was held to a different standard than Trump. … Some of the tropes that were used against Palin — even by Democrats — they were gendered. And I don’t think we advance the conversation about gender equity unless we apply it unilaterally.”

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