WaPo Pushes Caroline Kennedy Victimhood: 'Does a Glass Ceiling Persist?'

Caroline Kennedy’s nebulous withdrawal from her bid to be appointed to the U.S. Senate by the virtue of her genes drew an odd front-page story in Friday’s Washington Post: "Does a Glass Ceiling Persist in Politics? Kennedy’s Withdrawal Illustrates a Double Standard, Some Say." Reporter Anne Kornblut’s "some" were Democratic women like Dee Dee Myers and Donna Brazile, and she complained that other Senate appointments (Bennet, Burris, Kaufman) have all been male. She began:

With her abrupt exit this week from consideration for the Senate, Caroline Kennedy added her name to a growing list: women who have sought the nation's highest offices only to face insurmountable hurdles. Like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin before her, Kennedy illustrated what some say is an enduring double standard in the handling of ambitious female office-seekers. Even as more women step forward as contenders for premier political jobs, observers say, few seem able to get there.

Anne Kornblut is feeling Sarah Palin’s pain? That’s a little strange from a woman who pushed the GOP ticket not to push "phony umbrage" about sexism last fall. Here’s the first draft of history from Kornblut when Palin broke the Republican "glass ceiling" last year:

Though it was high in shock value, the Palin pick left bruised feelings among the short-list contenders who were not picked -- and infuriated some Republican officials who privately said McCain had gone out on a limb, unnecessarily, without laying the groundwork for such an unknown. Two senior Republican officials close to Mitt Romney and TimPawlenty said they had both been rudely strung along and now "feel manipulated." "They now know that they were used as decoys, well after McCain had decided not to pick them," one Republican involved in the process said.

Perhaps the funniest thing about the Post’s "Some Say" headline is that a lot of people told Kornblut her glass-ceiling thesis was lame:

Many political observers dismissed the notion that Kennedy's difficulties had anything to do with gender, noting that she came across as a novice and sought appointment just as the national tolerance for family dynasties seemed to ebb. Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic strategist, said any suggestion that Kennedy was treated unfairly because of her sex was "nonsense."

When Kornblut turns the page to the Caroline-was-robbed crowd, it’s amusing to see them defend Caroline’s thin resume, and remember the media attacks on Sarah Palin:

Several Democratic strategists said the Kennedy conundrum was in part unique to her and in part reflective of what other high-profile women encountered this year. Dee Dee Myers, press secretary in Bill Clinton's White House, said it was difficult to untangle questions about scrutiny Kennedy faced as a woman from those she faced as a New Yorker, where attention is fierce, or as a celebrity or member of the fabled Kennedy family. But Myers said that "questions about her résumé absolutely have to do with her gender." "I don't see it as thin, I see it as unconventional," Myers said of Kennedy's résumé, which includes work as an author and schools fundraiser. "I don't see why running a hedge fund is better preparation for doing the people's business than writing books or working in the school system and raising a family." Political strategist Donna Brazile noted the contrast between the excitement surrounding Obama's inauguration this week and the general public attitude toward women in office, one that she said helped drive Kennedy out of the running. "Obama inspired us to turn the page, and now women seem stuck in the table of contents," she said. Noting that women still make up less than 20 percent of both houses of Congress, Brazile said: "The elevator to our future growth in the Congress is still stuck in the lobby. It's time we hurry history." Many are eagerly watching to see whether Paterson picks another woman, Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, when he names his appointment today.

That last sentence underlines an important point. If Paterson appoints a woman, isn’t this whole story negated? At the very least, the Post should be questioned for putting this victim-of-sexism story out so prematurely – before Paterson makes his pick, and before we have any real idea why Caroline withdrew.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis