ANALYSIS: Media Coverage of Amy Coney Barrett Flagrantly Violates Anti-Sexism Guidelines

October 13, 2020

Days before Joe Biden chose Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) to be his historic running mate in 2020, a coalition of liberal anti-sexism experts, including former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, distributed media guidelines for reporting on female candidates.

The media seemed more than willing to abide by the expert recommendations, which advised against reporting on certain topics, such as a female candidate's "ambition," "likability," and whether she is "qualified" for the job. "Reporting, even as asides in a story, on a woman’s looks, weight, tone of voice, attractiveness and hair is sexist news coverage unless the same analysis is applied to every candidate," the experts warned.

Alas, the media quickly ran afoul of the guidelines as soon as Kamala Harris made a series of "iconic" footwear choices. The professional journalists assigned to cover the VP candidate objectively proceeded to wet themselves with glee upon seeing Harris disembark from private jets wearing Chuck Taylor All-Stars or Timberland boots, aka "Timbs." For the record, this same "analysis" was not applied to Vice President Mike Pence.

The media has continued to ignore expert recommendations for anti-sexist reporting in its coverage of Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearing. The Daily Beast, for example, engaged in sexist reporting on Barrett's choice of clothing on Monday, publishing an article that would never have been written about a male nominee.

"The justice picked a very nice outfit for her first confirmation hearing," the Daily Beast's Alaina Demopoulos wrote, sexistly. "Too bad it was curated for such an ugly, rotten process."

The Washington Post published an article on Barrett's large (and very diverse) family that even the paper's left-wing columnist Jennifer Rubin denounced as "grotesquely sexist." The Post's Robin Givhan violated numerous anti-sexist guidelines in the piece, which described Barrett as "unleashing her ambition" despite her "prolific motherhood."

Slate also violated the anti-sexism experts' prohibition on critiquing female "ambition" by painting Barrett as "a shameless, cynical careerist" who is "bent on making herself one of the nine most powerful judges in the country." As the liberal experts made clear in their reporting guidelines, such reporting is sexist because "the very nature of seeking political office, or any higher job for that matter," is by definition a "mission of ambition" that women should be allowed to pursue as readily as their male counterparts.

The Economist, meanwhile, flagrantly ignored the expert sanctions against reporting on a woman's "likability" by describing her as "the least popular Supreme Court nominee in recent history." This is obviously sexist, the coalition of anti-sexists argued, because likability is "a subjective metric at best," and is "never considered a legitimate news story" when applied to men. 

We are not even halfway through Barrett's confirmation process, which means the sexist media coverage is bound to continue. The behavior thus far of our nation's foremost professional journalists—ignoring the expert guidelines and embracing sexism at the expense of the truth—has been regrettable.