Seeking Catfight, Reporters Find Clich�s

The New York Daily News kicked off the inevitable Hillary Clinton vs. Jeanine Pirro “catfight!” coverage yesterday, reporting under the gleeful headline “It’s Gonna Get Nasty!” that Pirro “wasted no time baring her claws” when declaring her intention to enter the New York Senate race. (Never mind that Pirro still has to win the Republican primary before the “catfight” can truly commence).

But we’ll save for another day our discussion of why writing about a contest that may not even come to pass as if it were a sure thing — and using tired sexist metaphors in the process — is bad journalism. Today, we’d like to direct your attention to this bit in Jill Lawrence’s USA Today piece (emphasis ours): “The husbands would be peripheral to a faceoff between [Clinton and Pirro], political scientists say. Gerald Benjamin of the State University of New York at New Paltz says both women are affected so ‘the bad-husband problem gets neutralized. It doesn’t get discussed.’”


Newsday: “Difficult Husbands Share The Spotlight” and “For Pirro, Husband’s Baggage May Sway Voters”

New York Daily News: “Hubbies Tote Old Baggage”

New York Post: “Pirro’s Huge ‘AlbertTRoss’”

New York Sun: “Pirro’s Heavy Baggage”

Associated Press: “Pirro Web Site Has No Photos of Husband”

Even if the wayward husbands issue “doesn’t get discussed” by the Clinton and Pirro camps — and who could blame them for preferring to avoid a “whose husband is naughtier” contest — this is a reminder that political reporters have some small hand, try as they might to pretend otherwise, in what “get[s] discussed.” (And they only get some of their story ideas from campaign operatives).

And so we’re bracing ourselves for the coverage of what Newsday’s Ellis Henican confesses is “the more titillating face-off — the battle of the difficult husbands, Bill and Al. The impeached versus the convicted. The intern-dater versus the extramarital impregnator.” Or, as the Daily News’ Michael Goodwin giddily writes today, “… The Desperate Househusbands. It’s a made-for-TV drama as Bill Clinton and Al Pirro putter in their gardens and pine for the days when women were in the house — not the Senate. And on Bad Boy Lane, there’s always a chance of bimbo eruptions!” Want that in Timesspeak? “[I]n truth,” admits the New York Times’ Peter Applebome today in a piece in which he, too, invokes “Desperate Housewives,” “it’s the husbands hovering offstage who provide most of the tabloid frisson.”

Or perhaps that “tabloid frisson” is coming not from the gardens of Westchester and Chappaqua, but from the reporters who can’t resist a bad clich?

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.