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The Big Question

Erika Falk, the associate program chair for the master's degree program in communication at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, is the author of Women for President (University of Illinois Press, 2008).
Photo by Kaveh Sardari

Q: Why does equal treatment by the media matter?
A: "In a presidential campaign, most people learn about the candidates from the media. But there's a glaring disparity in the amount of coverage candidates get. I compared equivalent male and female candidates in eight races between 1872 and 2004, candidates who polled about the same or got similar vote totals, and I took experience into account. Men got twice as many articles written about them as women. If you aggregate the coverage, the articles about men were on average 7 percent longer. If you did see an article about a woman candidate, it would be less substantial, so you would learn less about her policies.

"With female candidates for president, more of the coverage is about their character, their personality, their experience, and less time is given to their issues. You would expect that a woman running in 1884 might have less coverage than the equivalent man. But the same thing happened in 2004. When I looked at the press coverage in six newspapers of Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's announcements to run and in the first month after they both announced, there were 59 stories headlined with 'Obama' and just 36 with 'Clinton,' even though at the time Clinton was leading in all the polls.

"There are studies that show in lower-level races women win just as often as men do, despite the bias in the press. But how does it affect women's decision to run? The press describes women as less viable than equivalent men. If you're a woman thinking about running for office and you read a lot of press, you might conclude that you have low chances."
—Maria Blackburn

Return to February 2008 Table of Contents

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