Falk, Erika. Women for President: Media Bias in Eight Campaigns. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008. 192 pp. $19.95.
Even before Hillary Clinton announced that she would pursue the presidency in January 2007, folks who anticipated she would do so began to buzz about the potential of having a woman in the Oval Office. The chattet did not stop when she failed to get the Democratic nomination. In fact, it continued after Barack Obama sealed his historic presidential victory as pundits began speculating that Sarah Palin will run in 2012.
Thus, Erika Falks Women for President: Media Bias in Eight Campaigns could not be timelier. She combines her experience as a communications professor and a former Washington-based public policy researcher to explore the press treatment of female presidential candidates from 1872 to 2004. She contends that although attitudes about women and politics have evolved since 1 872, press coverage of female candidates has changed little. Because voters primarily look to the press for information about presidential candidates, she atgues that by treating women unfairly, the media not only hampers female candidates but also discourages women from running for office.
After establishing the importance of the press in presidential elections, Falk uses three chapters to examine the stereotypes that the media ascribes to female contenders. In addition to portraying them as incompetent leaders and unviable candidates whose presence in the public sphere is unnatural, the press describes female aspirants by their emotions, familial connections, and physical appearance (particularly apparel choices) more often than their male counterparts. The next two chapters describe coverage biases, concluding coverage of female hopefuls focuses on fewer issues than coverage of male candidates and the press writes fewer and shorter articles about women than comparable men. Finally, she asks if America is ready for a woman president and notes media prejudice against women conttadicts opinion polls that indicate voters would support a female candidate. …