Was NPR’s portrayal of NY Sen. Gillibrand sexist?


US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. File Photo: Mark Kurtz

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. File Photo: Mark Kurtz

Ailsa Chang’s NPR profile of New York Senator — and former North Country congresswoman — Kirsten Gillibrand is getting panned on-line and apparently edited by NPR’s on-line crew.

Chang’s report cast Sen. Gillibrand as a soft-voiced woman, whose strength was demonstrated most poignantly by her courage during pregnancy.

Chang also notes that Gillibrand was once described as one of the “hottest” lawmakers in Washington.

All of this at a time when Sen. Gillibrand is taking the lead in opposing sexual assault and bias in the US military.

The coverage has drawn fierce criticism on-line.  Here’s a sample:

Wow, this story really takes me back to the 1970s … and not in a good way. I find the sexist language highly offensive: “girlie voice,” “petite, blond and perky,” “hottest member of the Senate,” indeed!

And another jab:

I am extremely shocked that this article even made it to this section of the website. This article is full of sexist garbage that really just minimizes Senator Gillibrand’s work. You would never hear about a male senator being described this way.

According to Jezebel.com, NPR significantly edited the piece after it was placed on-line, pointing out that “in the edited version of the piece, those descriptors [of Gillibrand] have been tapered down.”

The story still includes questions like this one, taken from Chang’s script:

Gillibrand essentially operates as a single mom during the work week because her husband’s job keeps him in New York City during the weekdays. Friends marvel at her multitasking skills — she manages to get home early nearly every night to cook her two sons dinner, get them bathed, read them books and put them to bed.  But is this woman the stuff presidential candidates are made of?

So what do you think?  Reasonable questions about a rising politician who happens to be a woman?  Or questions asked of a woman — and adjectives applied to a woman — that would never be applied to a male politician?

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16 Comments on “Was NPR’s portrayal of NY Sen. Gillibrand sexist?”

  1. I’d think great multitasking abilities are EXACTLY a quality we’d want in a president.

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  2. Jim Bullard says:

    It has crossed my mind more than once that a presidential run could well be in her future. She’s what my mother would have called “one tough cookie”. I suppose today that would be sexist too.

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  3. Mary Thill says:

    I was surprised NPR does not disclose edits of substance or corrections within the text. I’ve also been surprised that NCPR doesn’t acknowledge substantive changes within blog posts. What’s editorial policy?

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  4. Kind of reminds me of how there was a controversy in Australia when some male pol called their prime minister a bitch. It occurred to me that a) the male pol was probably right and that b) a woman doesn’t attain high office in macho countries like Australia or America without being one. Politics isn’t for the meek, male or female.

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  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Senator Gillibrand seems to have made a political career out of being underestimated. Being short and blonde and squeeky-voiced has been to her advantage. The whole hotness thing was encouraged by her well publicized weight-loss and photo shoot. If NPR had made that the focus of their story it is certainly pertinent, but NPR has changed over the years from being a plucky outsider in the media world to an inside-the-beltway insider. They should do better.

    I could provide a better portrait of Gillibrand who has connections from the Tobacco industry to the international armament industry, and from the Corning Machine in Albany, to the Clintons to the Cuomos and even to Al D’Amato. She was eyeing higher office even as she ran for John Sweeney’s House seat and she knew about his activities at Men’s Clubs but never said a word about it and let him blow himself up. Gillibrand is very, very sharp.

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  6. jeff says:

    “But is this woman the stuff presidential candidates are made of?” For ChangTo include this sentence in the context of the other material is equivalent to asking ” can you believe this person is left handed?”

    On the other hand, Brian’s remark, “All of this at a time when Sen. Gillibrand is taking the lead in opposing sexual assault and bias in the US military.” I say it is about time she comes out; out of the shadow of the other senator from NY. So often the pictures I’ve seen of her, since her insertion in the seat until about 8 months ago the two were usually in the same picture. Enough to make it tough to dismiss the thought of puppet. I couldn’t help thinking how she was being trained, told what to say, where to inject, a side issue here, another there. Go visit Drum. Go talk about Agriculture upstate, they’ll like that.

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  7. Pete Klein says:

    I applaud Gillibrand for doing her best to be a mother.
    I would hope that anyone, doing any job, would put the needs of their children first.
    Yes, sometimes you need to be away, work late or even be out of town on business. But if that is all there is to you, you would not be my ideal anything.
    After all is said and done, all of the fame, fortune and power don’t amount to a hill of beans.
    Let me put it to you this way. If I had to chose between saving the life of a President, Pope or my children, I would save my children.

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  8. mervel says:

    At the end of the day those questions would not even be considered or posed to a male Senator.

    I mean is a father who actually shows an interest in his children “presidential material”? Likely a male Senator who took care of his kids now and then would be lauded for being such a great dad, not questioned about being presidential material or not. The question would not come up.

    I still think there is a bias against her from the very beginning, from the fact that she IS a NY Senator and from upstate, the other women was supposed to be there.

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  9. mervel says:

    Now that is a different question than if she really is ready to be President? Personally I would say maybe but I am not sure, I would want several terms under her belt and some accomplishments. Why do we always have to rush this stuff? Obama was certainly not ready to be President, think how much better he would have been if he had spent a couple of terms in the Senate.

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  10. Michael Greer says:

    I hope she runs for President. She seems to be far less of a Republican in sheep’s clothing than Hillary, and young enough to actually do the job without having a stroke. Being a politician from New York doesn’t exactly inspire…the younger and newer she is, the less potentially tainted she’ll be.

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  11. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Gillibrand’s children are a huge asset for her. They are a lens for her through which she can focus on issues beyond the Beltway. I am told that Gillibrand’s children have some issues with allergies or asthma, and that this has become a concern for her in terms of health, food, the environment. She is (get ready for an unusual dose of common sense) using her personal life experience and combining it with science to influence the direction of policy.

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  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Wow! Kirsten mush have read my post above because she has just sent me an email:

    “When I think of children hurting from the pangs of not having enough to eat, looking into a parent’s eyes and saying, “Mommy, I’m hungry” – I can’t help but imagine how I would feel if my children ever said that to me

    This week, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved the Farm Bill with $4.1 billion in cuts to SNAP Benefits – more commonly known as food stamps. I voted against it.

    Nearly three out of four families on food stamps have children. This bill would eliminate food stamps for 500,000 of them. It takes food from families led by single parents, families hit hardest by the economic collapse and military veterans and their families, 1.5 million of which were on SNAP in 2011.

    I’ve offered an amendment to restore this funding, but I need your voice behind it before next week’s vote before the full Senate. VoteVets.org is with me on this. Can we count on you?

    Join with VoteVets.org and me to call on the Senate to pass my amendment and restore this funding to the final bill.

    No child should have to go to bed hungry. No parent should have to know the pain of sending a child to bed without enough food, because there isn’t any.

    My amendment restores these funds without adding even a penny to the national debt, asking any sacrifice of our hardworking farmers or raising taxes on anybody. These cuts are unnecessarily deep and unnecessarily cruel.

    We have to stop them. Help by adding your support now.

    Tell the Senate: Draconian cuts to food stamps must be reversed in the final Farm Bill.

    Thank you for your support on this critical issue,


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  13. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    um, “must”

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  14. Paul says:

    Why are food stamps part of a farm bill? The cuts probably should be reversed but why are they in this bill?

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  15. Shovel says:

    Glad to see Gillibrand beginning to take a lead on some issues, particularly ag policy and prosecuting sexual assault in the military. Her voice does seem unusually high-pitched, which is not an asset for a public speaker. OTOH, I find Cuomo’s voice harsh and grating, and he always seems to be yelling.

    The truth is, female politicians (and CEOs, and Oscar-winning actors, and Supreme Court Justices, and …) are scrutinized by both friends and foes in a way that is unimaginable for male politicians.

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  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Paul, Food Stamps are part of the US Dept of Agriculture, therefore they are in the Farm Bill.

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