Media continues to downplay Elizabeth Warren’s surging success in favor of a more comfortable narrative

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In much the same way Sarah Palin’s personal life was covered in the news more than her policies in 2008, and just as Hillary Clinton was routinely described as “shrill,” “programmed,” “calculating” and prone to “mood swings” in 2016, mainstream media outlets are repeating the same mistakes in their coverage of Elizabeth Warren in 2020.

That’s despite Warren’s surging popularity. According to a CBS News poll this week, voters in early states like New Hampshire give Warren a one-point edge over Joe Biden and seven over Bernie Sanders.

But you wouldn’t know that from the media coverage. Warren’s steady rise to the top spots in recent polls has seemingly been brushed off by media giants who are continuing to hit the candidate with negative coverage. Take a USA Today piece from this week describing the “hurdles” Warren is facing and the “obstacle” that her gender represents should she make it to the general election because “a woman would have a harder time than a man running against President Donald Trump.” And take this article by CNBC, which describes how Wall Street executives are “ fearful of a Warren presidency” and believe she “has to be stopped.”

Of course, female candidates have historically received less attention than male candidates in U.S. politics. As Erika Falk points out in her book Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns, news stories about female candidates “tend to portray female candidates as unviable, overemphasize their physical appearance and focus more on their family lives than their policy agendas,” as Meg Heckman recently pointed out on Storybench. And when female candidates are covered in the news, the media paints them in a more negative light, as Storybench has shown several times this campaign.

The media’s propensity towards covering female candidates in this way has of course caught the attention of President Trump and look for him to exploit it. Indeed, Elizabeth Warren will likely endure an assault from both the president and the media should she win the Democratic primary. Remember that in the run-up to the 2016 election Trump and his surrogates perpetuated rumors that Clinton was ill and repeatedly said – in both a tweet and in an interview – that she did not have a presidential “look.”

Look for similar tactics from Trump in 2020. Hopefully the media won’t fall for them.

Photo: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Federation of Labor Convention hosted by the AFL-CIO at the Prairie Meadows Hotel in Altoona, Iowa. Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Alexa is a master’s student at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism in the Media Innovation program. She is the digital editor of The Scope.

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