Hot or not?

A few eyebrows have been raised in the journalism community today with the Star Tribune’s front page, specifically whether the Star Tribune is treating a couple of female candidates differently than they would if they were men:

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Hot? Hot as in the race is close (There’s no public polling in the race so far)? Or hot as if they’re two attractive women? The answer might lie in the photographs. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s picture seems to have been weirdly “adjusted,” possibly to give her a hair color closer to her opponent’s.

The picture is actually a “lift” from Bachmann’s campaign Web site.

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Writing in NewsWeek this week, Julia Baird calls this “The Palin Effect.”


There seems to be an insistent, increasingly excitable focus on the supposed hotness of Republican women in the public eye, like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Michelle Malkin, and Nikki Haley–not to mention veterans like Ann Coulter. The sexual references are pervasive: they come from left, right, and center, and range from gushing to highly offensive. The Atlantic asked, “Is Sarah Palin Porn?” as others quizzed the former governor about whether she had breast implants. Right Wing News compiled a list of the hottest conservative women in new media. Playboy even ran an outrageous piece titled “Ten Conservative Women I’d Like to Hate ****,” which read like a sick attempt to make rape cool. “We may despise everything these women represent,” wrote the author, “but goddammit they’re hot. Let the healing begin.” Moron.

Giving the Star Tribune the benefit of the doubt, the race is considered “intense.” The story itself contained no reference to either candidate’s appearance. Still it’s hard to imagine a couple of guys beaming from the front page, along with a headline which, while technically accurate, could easily have another meaning.

  • Matt

    Grasping at straws here.

    Photos are toned by robots at the Star Tribune — remember when they laid off all their photo technicians? I doubt anyone went back and tried to do anything to it, especially to make their hair match.

    And I could definitely see a pair of guys with a headline like that. “Red hot” here might be more a play on the fact that it’s a red district. While I do agree with the problems with the media’s coverage of female candidates — it’s pretty sick, and reminds me of how few women work in newsrooms to put the kibosh on this kind of crap — this case really doesn’t raise any eyebrows from me.

  • bsimon

    slow news day?

  • Bill

    What bothers me more is that this is another example of pointless horse-race political coverage that manages to completely ignore the glaring fact that Michele Bachmann is (obscenity removed) crazy, and a country where people give her millions of dollars is a diseased place.

  • Heather

    Eyebrows raised? How ’bout eyeballs rolled? I totally disagree with you, Matt.

    No, this would not get run this way with male candidates. The head shots with “Clark vs. Bachmann” underneath? With the giant “This Race is Red Hot” headline? It evokes mud wrestling, folks. There’s even a Seinfeld episode for this:

    Elaine: What is so appealing to men about a cat fight?

    Kramer: Yeah, yeah, cat fight!

    Jerry: Because men think if women are grabbing and clawing at each other there’s a chance they might somehow kiss.

  • Jon

    @Bill

    Show me a politician that isn’t (obscenity removed) crazy and I’ll show you some one who probably doesn’t want to be a politician.

  • Bob collins

    //slow news day?

    Very busy today. But what you’ll notice, Bri, is that men will ask “slow news day,” and women will recognize the importance of the question.

    That should tell you something.

  • Kassie

    Before reading the article the first thing I noticed was how similar they look. I’m thinking someone from a different culture would have a very hard time telling them apart.

    But yeah, red hot. Tacky. It easily could have been an unconscious decision, but an editor should have picked it up. Do they still have editors at the Strib? Are any of them women?

  • Matt

    @Kassie — Yeah, actually. A lot of the copy editors and designers are women. And the editor in chief, who signs off on the front page design every day, is a woman.

    I’m not saying at all that is not a question to bring up. There are questionable decisions made in every newsroom, too many to count. We as readers/listeners should be ready to scrutinize, and leadership at the paper should be ready to detail their reasoning.

    But what I am saying is that I don’t think that anyone in the newsroom thought it was an odd decision to call a tightly-watched, highly interesting, nationally noticed congressional race “red hot”.

    Bob, any idea who wrote the headline? A call might clear this up. (I did also just see on Twitter that the designer was female.)

  • tired

    What bothers me is why voters cast their ballots, it often seems based on appearance (or with whom the voter wants to sit down and have a beer).

    The article’s headline and graphics are in bad taste, but even MPR could do a better job of covering the candidates rather than the race.

  • Bob Collins

    By the way, I resisted posting photos of the incumbents changing hair color. I’m now starting to wonder whether there’s some research that shows red has some emotional sway…. like college football teams winning their games on the saturday before election day.

  • Bob Collins

    tired, back when I ran MPR’s political unit in the ’90s, I introduced”theme weeks” throughout the summer. Each week would have an “issue” assigned to it and all the political programming would address candidate interraction with that theme.

    That might’ve been the year someone won a race because their name was “anderson.”

  • Heather

    If anyone has doubts about the validity of Bob’s post, just check out how differently the story “reads” on the Strib’s website. The headline is the same, but the side-by-side head shots are replaced by photos of the candidates in clearly separate settings and the tacky stars and MB’s dye job are gone. The look is much more neutral, and the focus shifts to the actual topic of the article: Money.

    I think the question of whether there were any women involved in the presentation of the print version is a bit of a red herring. Women produce sexist stuff all the time. Maybe the ones involved here really don’t know better, but maybe they do and ran it anyway, thinking this design might sell some papers.

  • Heather

    Now, if they could get Michelle Bachmann into a Wonder Woman costume… THAT would sell some papers.

  • bsimon

    “men will ask “slow news day,” and women will recognize the importance of the question.

    That should tell you something.”

    What does it tell me? Major media outlets use lowest-common-denominator marketing schemes to sell product. News? Not really.

    You could pick another story to make the same point: Russian spies. Is there a story on the subject that doesn’t feature a glamour shot of Anna Chapman?

  • John O.

    This gives new meaning to the phrase “Red Star.”

    I don’t seem to recall seeing the Strib turning Skip and Norm bald alongside Jesse in 1998. (It was the early, EARLY days of photo editing software after all.)

    One word with respect to the Strib: tacky.

  • Bonnie

    But see, folks. Just the fact that THIS story elicited way above average comments on this blog tells us all something.