'Pillorying Hillary'

April 28, 1994|By Betty Friedan

I'D BEEN invited to Australia to help launch a new government policy on age and to talk about my book, "The Fountain of Age." But since I am also known as an American feminist, I was asked by women in Sydney and Melbourne, "What on earth are they doing to Hillary in your country?"

I was myself unable to figure out why it had suddenly become a crime for an American to have made $100,000 on the commodities market 17 years ago -- this is a capitalist nation, after all -- though some men may still resent that a woman acting on a smart tip could turn $1,000 into $100,000 in that high-risk market. It's not exactly like turning $1 million into $100 million in the S & L scandal at the taxpayers' expense.

As for Whitewater, it seems to have been a financial mistake that didn't make anybody money.

I first knew of Hillary Rodham Clinton when she headed the board of the Children's Defense Fund, working as an effective and unremitting advocate of neglected children, black and white, in the era of greed. President Clinton, by putting her in charge of health care reform, and she, by her leadership, have lent national health insurance a seriousness and a sense of urgency.

So all I could surmise was that the powerful economic and political forces in the Unit- I can only surmise that the powerful forces who want to prevent health insurance from happening and who want to bring Bill Clinton down are trying to do so by getting Hillary.

This seemed a little crazy to the women of Australia, since they've long had national health insurance. But I assured them that this "get Hillary" ploy wouldn't work, that the American people support Hillary Rodham Clinton as an equal partner of the president.

When I got back home and saw escalating scandal insinuations about Hillary and "Whitewatergate" on the front pages and covers of newspapers and magazines, my incredulity turned to outrage. What hypocrisy, all this digging up of tax mistakes of several thousand dollars.

It has been pointed out to me defensively by some journalists that certain newspapers that caught on to Watergate late are trying to make up for it by "building Whitewatergate," as they put it, into a news scoop.

It has also been explained to me that women journalists "have to prove that they are not feminists by getting Hillary as meanly as the men."

I am proud of my young sisters in the National Organization for Women and the Hollywood Women's Political Committee and the Democratic National Committee for their marches, ads and buttons, "Stop Pillorying Hillary." And I am ashamed of the editors and reporters who are exacerbating and building up beyond all probable basis in fact "Whitewatergate" and, yes, lending themselves to "pillorying Hillary."

Some insight into the media's role here may be found in a report just released by Women, Men & Media, which I co-chair and direct under the auspices of the schools of journalism of the University of Southern California and New York University and the Freedom Forum, analyzing the coverage of women on the front pages.

While there has been a notable increase in the percentage of women mentioned, quoted or pictured on the front pages of major newspapers, it seems that women are mainly there as victims or perpetrators of violence (Bobbitt and Harding), as sex objects or in otherwise negative roles or as "entertainers," while men hit the front pages predominantly as opinion makers.

The growing number of women in Congress, the Cabinet, Supreme Court and business leadership are evidently still notoriously not quoted on the front pages or in broadcast news.

Did Hillary Rodham Clinton violate that taboo through her impossible-to-ignore force as an opinion maker? She used that force effectively last week to defend the investments she made for her family's welfare, but she shouldn't have had to. Where is the investigative reporting about the role of the insurance, pharmaceutical or medical establishments or the Republican National Committee in "Whitewatergate"?

I am outraged at the hypocrisy and double standard and, yes, immorality of the misuse of government and media power diverting our attention and resources from the real problems facing our nation -- the job-downsizing crisis, the health care crisis, escalating gun violence, Bosnia -- to which the president and his wife, the administration and Congress need to give their whole attention.

As for the media, have you no shame?

Betty Friedan's latest book is "The Fountain of Age."

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