Senator Clinton? Clinton? Hillary? In response to a listener’s letter we explore how the media and On The Media refer to the junior senator from New York.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. Edwards, Obama, Hillary, Giuliani, Romney. Notice anything odd there? I referred to one - and only one - of those candidates by first name. And we've gotten some mail about this.
Genevieve Van Cleve from Austin, Texas, wrote, "I find it interesting that in so many stories, Senator Clinton is referred to as 'Hillary.' It's remarkable to me no one refers to the other presidential candidates in news stories or on air just by their first names."
It's true. And when we looked through some of our old transcripts, we discovered that Brooke and I have both referred to candidate Clinton as "Hillary." Here's a clip of me from an interview I did in October. [CLIP] BOB GARFIELD: But the story was buried inside The New York Times today and inside The Wall Street Journal. Why shouldn't Hillary's progress be relegated to the inside pages of - [END CLIP] BOB GARFIELD: Was I wrong, condescending, disrespectful? Am I a bad feminist? The OTM production staff is, shall we say, divided on that subject, but as producers went to Hillary Clinton's official campaign website, they were struck by the fact that the word "Clinton" is barely there. She's running as "Hillary." All of the signage says "Hillary for President," which made our staff conclude that if anything, we shouldn't use "Hillary" simply because it is perhaps what her campaign wants, and we don't want to be taking our cues from them.
I'm still not comfortable on that feminism question, though, and I don't even know if I can stop saying it. It just comes out. And that's why I'm curious to hear what Marie Wilson thinks. She runs the White House Project and has long imagined a woman ascending to the highest office.
But could she imagine calling a female president by her first name? Marie, welcome to On the Media. MARIE WILSON: Thank you. BOB GARFIELD: So what's your take on this? Hillary. Is this something that institutionally the White House Project is comfortable with? MARIE WILSON: I have to tell you when your office called about this, it made me think that I had been doing the same thing [LAUGHS], you know, with the press and with the public, referring to her as Hillary. But we have done a great deal of work on how even the most important and popular women in America and the world keep their authority.
And I think it's a real mistake. I don't think it's about being a bad feminist or even, you know, accommodating a campaign. I think it's actually a bad mistake with regard to how women keep their authority.
On the Republican debate earlier this week, we had an example. [CLIP] MIKE HUCKABEE: Now, whether we need to send somebody to Mars, I don't know. But I'll tell you what. If we do, I've got a few suggestions, and maybe Hillary could be on the first rocket to Mars. [LAUGHTER] [END CLIP] MARIE WILSON: And the people roared. And I thought to myself, if he had said we should send Senator Clinton out in space, would there have been a different kind of reaction? And I think there might have, because there is respect for that. BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you about just the simple mechanics of naming names. First of all, the press, at least in second and subsequent references, doesn't use honorifics. MARIE WILSON: Mm-hmm. BOB GARFIELD: They simply use last names. And, of course, if you call Hillary Clinton simply Clinton, there arises the question of simple confusion of exactly which Clinton you're talking about. That's always been an issue.
And I think that's one of the reasons that Hillary branded herself Hillary to begin with, no? MARIE WILSON: [LAUGHS] That Hillary branded herself Hillary. [LAUGHS] Well, I'm sure that's one of the reasons. But, again, I want to emphasize we've done several pieces of research in the last few years that really point out how easy it is for, again, a woman who people get too familiar with to lose the kind of authority and the distance she needs to really be a credible candidate.
The largest piece of research, by the way, we ever did was one called "Barriers and Opportunities," and it was really looking at the ads that women, and men, have run for governor. And we tested those ads.
And what surprised me was when a woman came up on the screen — I don't care who she was — people immediately dialed down to indicate that she wasn't seen as effective. [LAUGHS] And that's a problem for women. BOB GARFIELD: I want to jump in and say, you know, there's another reason the press is blameless here because, after all, she has been confused about how she wants to be identified from the beginning of our history with her. She was Hillary Rodham, she was Hillary Rodham Clinton, she was the First Lady, which I think probably added to her Hillary-ness. Any thoughts as to how we in the media should deal with this issue? MARIE WILSON: I really do. I think you should not leave it to women, frankly, who are not always walking around the world thinking about how they maintain their power, to do it. I think you have to kind of bend over backwards a little bit to understand that every time you chip away, even inadvertently, at how a woman leader is seen in the world, you do diminish her.
And I want to tell you just a piece though about what's underneath that, and I would not have guessed this if we hadn't been working on this for the last nine years, that what's happened is with the public world, women are not seen as authorities because the cultural ideal of women is still wife and mother, not public leader.
And so, it's very vulnerable the way women can slip back into softness and nurturing, and not bad things, but things that don't make you a leader. BOB GARFIELD: Well, Marie - or should I say [LAUGHS] on second — [LAUGHING] MARIE WILSON: What about Your High and Lifted Up Holiness or, or Queen — or I’d like Queen. BOB GARFIELD: Majesty, thank you so much for joining us. MARIE WILSON: Thank you. BOB GARFIELD: Marie Wilson heads the White House Project, an organization that works to advance women's leadership.