CNN’s Roland Martin: ‘Weak’ Conservative Men ‘Don't Like Strong Women’

NewsBusters.org - Media Research Center[Update, 10:30 am EDT Thursday: Martin's title at CNN is now political analyst, not contributor, according to an e-mail we received earlier this morning. This must be a very recent development, as Mr. Martin was referred to as "contributor" as late as June 17.]

CNN contributor Roland Martin, when asked on Tuesday’s "Anderson Cooper 360" if Michelle Obama was being held to a different standard than other presidential candidates’ wives, unequivocally placed the blame on conservative men. "No, I think what you have is you've got some weak men on the conservative side who, frankly, don't like strong women. I mean, we saw the exact same thing take place for Hillary Clinton back in 1992.... All of a sudden... Michelle Obama is this angry black woman, when in fact, she's an accomplished woman, a mother, a wife. And so, they are trying to define her in that way, because they don't want to deal with the reality."

Host Anderson Cooper, seemingly surprised by this answer, followed up: "Well, are you saying that race is playing a role in this? Because I mean, if she was white, would she be being described as angry?" Martin ignored the whole racial component in his answer, and instead focused on gender: "Well, I think if you examined 1992, they tried to say Hillary Clinton was too tough, she was too commanding, she was too domineering. And that's what you have here. And so, they're trying to frame her that way, but it's ridiculous. There are no facts to substantiate that."

"No facts to substantiate it"? I guess he forgot or didn't hear about the April 24 CBS Evening News story where a camera shot found the message, "Whatever Michelle Says Is The Message" written on a piece of paper at the Obama campaign’s headquarters.

Martin made the comments during a "Strategy Session" panel discussion 42 minutes into the 10 pm Eastern hour of the CNN program, which included Martin, CNN correspondent Candy Crowley, and The Huffington Post’s Hilary Rosen. At the end of the segment, the CNN contributor returned to the same line of argument: "...I do think a lot of this is not because of race. That you have people who are -- who are critics of strong women, who represent First Ladies, who aren't just a matter of standing up there and reading the typical script. When she talks about policy, this is a woman who is an executive for a hospital. She can discuss health care. Why not let her talk about it?"

There isn’t a conservative who would object to Michelle Obama talking about issues like health care. But if she says something that legitimately sets her up for criticism, she’s fair game, a tactic that even CNN’s John King thought was acceptable.

At another point in the discussion, Cooper asked Crowley about Mrs. Obama’s now-infamous "proud of my country" remark: "Candy, there have been some things that -- that Michelle Obama has said that have certainly raised people's eyebrows, raised a lot of criticism. Her comments about the first time she was really proud of being an American. I mean, that has been widely criticized."

Crowley replied, "It has, and in some ways, that was the kicking off point. Because last summer, Michelle Obama was seen as this huge asset to him.... And then she made that remark and it came to light, ‘I've never been -- for the first time in my adult life I'm proud of my country.’ And boy, that was sort of the beginning of people really going after her...."

The full transcript of the segment from Tuesday’s "Anderson Cooper 360:"

ANDERSON COOPER: Technically, First Ladies don't run for office, but they are definitely judged in the court of public opinion. Before the break, we told you about changes being made in Michelle Obama's campaign staff. [I] want to talk more about that in our 'Strategy Session.' Joining us again, CNN's Candy Crowley, Hilary Rosen of HuffingtonPost.com. Also along with us is CNN's Roland Martin. Roland, do you think Michelle Obama is being held to a different standard as other first ladies -- potential first ladies?

ROLAND MARTIN: No, I think what you have is you've got some weak men on the conservative side who, frankly, don't like strong women. I mean, we saw the exact same thing take place for Hillary Clinton back in 1992 where, all of a sudden, it's like, 'Oh, you know, she can't be so strong.' All of a sudden -- all of a sudden, Michelle Obama is this angry black woman, when in fact, she's an accomplished woman, a mother, a wife. And so, they are trying to define her in that way, because they don't want to deal with the reality. That's what you have going on here.

COOPER: Well, are you saying that race is playing a role in this? Because I mean, if she was white, would she be being described as angry?

MARTIN: Well, I think if you examined 1992, they tried to say Hillary Clinton was too tough, she was too commanding, she was too domineering. And that's what you have here. And so, they're trying to frame her that way, but it's ridiculous. There are no facts to substantiate that. And what you also have is Cindy McCain -- you've got two women who are standing by their husbands who are strong businesswoman, and you know, I would love to see them have a conversation to show America we can have a different view of First Lady than the typical just staying back and follow behind your man.

COOPER: Candy, there have been some things that -- that Michelle Obama has said that have certainly raised people's eyebrows, raised a lot of criticism. Her comments about the first time she was really proud of being an American. I mean, that has been widely criticized.

CANDY CROWLEY: It has, and in some ways, that was the kicking off point. Because last summer, Michelle Obama was seen as this huge asset to him. He called her ‘my rock.’ She was out there on the campaign in New Hampshire with her children. She -- everybody said, ‘Oh, she's so great, because she talked in terms of, you know, well, I had to do with the kids and then I came out here.’ Women really related to her. She seemed like the Hillary antidote for the Obama campaign. And then she made that remark and it came to light, ‘I've never been -- for the first time in my adult life I'm proud of my country.’ And boy, that was sort of the beginning of people really going after her. It also, by the way, tends to coincide with when Barack Obama became a real player and people saw him as possibly going to be the presumptive nominee.

COOPER: And I think she used the word "really," which people that support her say makes a difference in the statement.

CROWLEY: Right.

COOPER: I just want to add that in. But Hillary, I want to just read something from The New York Times tonight, which says, quote, 'Barack Obama often blurs identity lines. Much of his candidacy has seemed almost post-racial. Mrs. Obama's identity is less mutable.' Do you agree with that, and if so, why is that the case, or why does it matter?

HILARY ROSEN, HUFFINGTON POST: I'm actually not sure I do agree with it. I think that the philosophy that he has, she seems to espouse -- I think she's a terrific role model. She -- she obviously has been a great mom and made her kids a priority in this campaign. I think what's going on with Michelle Obama is what goes on with most political spouses, which is you have an identity. You're strong and your husband or wife appreciates you for that identity. But when you get out in public, people don't really want to know about you. They really want the candidate to be out in front, and so your authenticity sort of gets beaten out of you. You know, the spontaneity has to go away, because in essence, you know, it is much more your job to be controlled and be in a very specific, supportive role, even more so than the candidate in some way, because you are supposed to, essentially, be the support role: seen, not heard. You know, keeping things together. Keeping people gently motivated. And I think that what's going on is that she has experienced her role as being the advocate, and I think that, as the general goes on, she's going to -- she's going to fade back into kind of a more supportive role.

MARTIN: Hey Anderson, you raised a great point when you talked about how they tried to say Obama is post-racial. But here's the reality: Obama is a biracial man with a white mother and a Kenyan father. Michelle Obama grew up on the South Side of Chicago -- two black parents, went to public schools, grew up with her brother, and so she comes from a different experience. And so she brings something different, and he brings something different. So you can't deny one's past, and I think that's what some folks want to do. She brings a different set of circumstances and history to the table than her husband.

COOPER: Is -- do people -- are people less comfortable with that, though? I mean, Roland, do you think people are not -- are just -- aren't as comfortable with her background or how she presents herself?

MARTIN: Anderson, I think America just -- if America is going to have to be used to the notion of there being a potential first African-American President, they're going to have to get used to the notion of there being an African-American First Lady. And so this is a matter of breaking down barriers. But I do think a lot of this is not because of race. That you have people who are -- who are critics of strong women, who represent First Ladies, who aren't just a matter of standing up there and reading the typical script. When she talks about policy, this is a woman who is an executive for a hospital. She can discuss health care. Why not let her talk about it?

COOPER: We're going to have to leave it here. Candy Crowley, Roland Martin, Hilary Rosen, interesting discussion. Thanks a lot for being with us.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center