Media Report Card: “Shows Improvement”

Calling out the gender bias against Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins shows some progress.

Since the election, (some) news outlets have been doing their fair share — and rightfully so — of reflecting on their role in the dissemination of information. Biases, creating sensationalized spectacles rather than focusing on policies, as well as blatantly sharing misleading or false information are all lessons the media industry have had to face.

While it’s been challenging, strides have been made in the right direction. Disproportionately acknowledging and praising men for the same work women do is nothing new, and the reporting surrounding the latest defeat against the Republican health care bill joins the laundry list. Much of the spotlight was immediately put on Senator John McCain (AZ) for breaking away from the Republican party and preventing the bill to be passed. However, several media outlets, journalists, and activists were quick to point out that Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) had consistently voted against numerous bills despite immense pressure, public shame from the President via Twitter, and even threats.

TIME Magazine, Vox.com, and several others ran pieces that highlighted the efforts of Collins and Murkowski and shined light on the bias they faced both in Capitol Hill and in the press. Old habits do die hard, but this time they were held accountable and highlighting this gendered experience became a part of the conversation.

There have been other moments where the media have tackled longstanding issues. A few months back, Mic.com flipped the script on women being defined by their relationship to men. To announce the birth of their twins, writer Anna Swartz used the headline, “Amal Clooney and actor husband announce birth of twins.” Readers immediately noticed and commended the intentional highlighting of Amal and noting George’s relationship to her. (Yes, Amal, George, and I are totally on a first name basis.) All too often women are described primarily by their relationship to their male counterparts or partners, irrespective of their own identities and success. A recent example that shook the headlines was when Corey Cogdell-Unrein, who had just won an Olympic bronze medal, was solely described as “the wife of a Bears’ lineman”. By doing so, this framing erases the identities of these women, their successes, their experiences. They are not theirs, rather their husband’s.

Another example of where media are being steadfast in fighting for accountability is everyone’s new favorite unsung hero: the chyron. The captions located on the bottom of the screen during news segments have been vigilant in correcting lies and pointing out hypocrisy. #ChyronShade is alive and well and has been a daily dose of speaking truth to power. Not all heroes wear capes.

While mainstream media have a long way to go, progress has been made. During this period of reflection, the transformation must be intersectional. The attacks on press freedom and truth in our nation are nothing short of alarming. We must look at how Trump discredits the media, but we must also look at how women are disproportionately discredited in the media. Media outlets need to have an “all hands on deck” approach to accountability; and that means calling out falsehoods while being just as adamant about addressing harmful biases within the industry. Let’s keep the conversations going.