Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Pack Rat

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Pack Rat

Article excerpt


Projection of an image - whether good or bad - goes a long way in the wacky world of politics

Do you think that a man who can't control his makeup artist before going on national TV for a political debate is capable of being a good president? Do you wonder why I'm asking this question? Because it's one of the great issues that has arisen from the Election Night mess: When should the press critique a politician's image -- and are Republican women off-limits?

Right after the first debate in October, columnists around the country zeroed in on Al Gore's dreadful neon-traffic-cone makeup. The New York Times' Maureen Dowd likened him to "a big,

orange, waxy, wickless candle." The issue was Gore's inability to come across as presidential material, as the image of a leader. It started earlier with Gore's famous change to "earth tones," which signaled to the rest of us: unsure of himself.

Comes now Katherine Harris, the secretary of state for Florida. She's been kicked around in print for how she presented herself during the post-election debacle, when she delivered news that seemed at odds (to many) with logic or fairness. Her appearance practically shouted: "I love all this attention!"

No one's done a better job of critiquing Harris than The Washington Post's fashion editor, Robin Givhan, and no one's taken more crud doing her job. On Nov. 18, Givhan wrote, "At this moment that so desperately needs diplomacy, understatement and calm, one wonders how this Republican woman, who can't even use restraint when she's wielding a mascara wand, will manage to use it and make sound decisions in this game of partisan one-upmanship."

"Her skin had been plastered and powdered to the texture of prewar walls. ... And her eyes, rimmed in liner and frosted with blue shadow, bore the tell-tale homogenous spikes of false eyelashes. Caterpillars seemed to rise and fall with every bat of her eyelid, with every downward glance ... "

Givhan added this denunciation: "The American public doesn't like falsehoods, and Harris is clearly presenting herself in a fake manner. Why should anyone trust her?"

The Post was swamped with letters and e-mail messages. Its new ombudsman, Michael Getler, called Givhan's column "a slashing attack" and "a classic example of the arrogance of journalists."

Only the Post's top editor, Len Downie, defended Givhan in Getler's column: "Robin is a well-established fashion critic who is known for her strong views. ... The newspaper has printed many other strongly voiced views about the issues and participants in this national drama, and I believe that is a proper role for the newspaper. …

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