When Hillary Clinton first ran for president eight years ago, much of the coverage reflected the excitement surrounding a woman trying to shatter the ultimate glass ceiling.
Now that Carly Fiorina is getting traction in the Republican race, the media’s reaction is, shall we say, more muted.
The New York Times weighed in with a piece that essentially asked, how can many women support Fiorina when she is (gasp) a conservative?
The paper quoted author and “influential feminist” Jennifer Weiner as saying: “It’s so weird — she looks like one of us, but she’s not.”
She’s not one of us. Wow. And the reason, according to Weiner: “You’re on the bus with her until she starts talking about Planned Parenthood.”
And there you have it. If you’re a female politician who is not pro-choice on abortion, you are not just in the back of the bus—you are ejected from the bus, as that vehicle is defined by the left. You can’t claim to be for equal rights for women based on that one issue, as if there are no pro-life women out there. You have the Times reporting that “liberal women across the web are expressing conflicted feelings about her candidacy. At times, there is gratification at watching a woman forcefully take on Mr. Trump; at other times, horror at Mrs. Fiorina’s conservative policy positions, which these women see as anathema to the feminist cause.”
Of course, Fiorina is more than just pro-life. She’s embroiled in a huge controversy over whether, in the CNN debate, she misrepresented what was on an undercover Planned Parenthood video (she talked about what the official was caught saying about fetal body parts but the image she described was just stock footage). And that becomes the lead of a Washington Post piece:
“On the facts, Carly Fiorina has been proved wrong. But on the politics, her impassioned condemnation of a Planned Parenthood video has turned her into a champion of the antiabortion movement and given her outsider candidacy new momentum…
“Fiorina is a candidate unlike the others — a woman, a survivor of breast cancer, a mother who buried a grown stepchild who died from drug addiction. She has also long been an opponent of abortion, a view she says comes from personal experience: Her husband’s mother was advised to abort him but chose not to.”
And abortion isn’t the only subject on which Carly is being treated as a woman first. There’s also the question of whether she’s too serious—an issue that would never be asked of, say, Ted Cruz. Here’s the Post again with a Style profile:
“Voters, we’ve been told, don’t just want a president who can name the leader of the Quds force in Iran, they want someone who can feel their pain. Someone to whom they’d happily hand their baby for a kiss, with whom they’d be glad to grab a beer.
“When Fiorina suddenly took off a couple of weeks ago, commentators started wondering whether she had a Mitt Romney problem. It was not just in the sense of the baggage from her corporate career (the 30,000 people she laid off at Hewlett-Packard, her swift dismissal as CEO, her $21 million severance package), but in the sense of: Will voters find her as aloof as they found him?”
So now she’s Romney Redux? Is this why morning anchors asked her after the debate why she didn’t smile more?
“Fiorina is hardly alone on the Republican side for displaying a sometimes unnerving intensity. Sen. Ted Cruz has a nearly robotic ability to stay on message.”
Ah, there’s Cruz. But you don’t see long Style stories about his intensity. Men are expected to be pretty intense.
Naturally, Fiorina is experiencing a wave of media scrutiny now that she’s in third place in some polls, and that’s as it should be. The critical pieces are a sign that the press is taking her seriously.
The Post had a total misfire with its Fact Checker column challenging her account that she rose “from secretary to CEO”—which I gave four Pinnochios because it didn’t find a single untruth.
But this much deeper dive by the Washington Post into her Hewlett-Packard is good journalism, and there will be more of it:
“In interviews with more than two dozen former HP senior directors and employees, many remember Fiorina’s legacy as troubling and divisive: A high-energy marketer, she nevertheless failed to deliver on lofty promises, alienated her workforce and presided over a disastrous reign at what was once a Silicon Valley pioneer. Supporters defend Fiorina as a strong-willed bomb thrower tapped to give a staid company a wake-up call.”
Perhaps the clearest sign that Carly is now a contender is that liberal columnists are unloading on her. Take Ana Marie Cox in the Daily Beast, writing that “Carly Fiorina Lies Like a Boss”:
“It’s her level of primary-color, pointillist embroidery on the truth—in that and other instances—that truly sets her apart from the rest of the field.
“Call it Car-lying. Describing things into reality is a trademark of Fiorina’s, a style of mendacity that sets her apart from career politicians.”
The same line of attack from the Post’s Gene Robinson:
“How angry is Carly Fiorina? So angry she can’t see straight. That’s the only explanation for the yawning gulf between what she says and the plainly visible facts.
“Fiorina stands out among the Republican presidential candidates not just because she is a woman but also because she has adopted a strategy of breathing fire. She presents herself as mad about everything, and she never gives an inch on anything she says, no matter how demonstrably untrue.”
Dealing with stories that question your veracity and your background, and ideological attacks from the other side, is all part of running for president. But while it may help Carly Fiorina to be the only woman in the GOP field, I can’t escape the conclusion that it’s affecting her coverage.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.