Invisible, Mysterious, and Inconsequential: The Absence of Women in 2004 Presidential Campaign Coverage

By Lueck, Therese L. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Invisible, Mysterious, and Inconsequential: The Absence of Women in 2004 Presidential Campaign Coverage


Lueck, Therese L., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Abstract

Discussions of leadership and its inherent qualities surface in the United States most visibly every four years during the presidential election. In defining the terms, tone, and parameters, the news media set the public's agenda in these discussions as they do most other issues and events of salience. Mainstream U.S. newspaper coverage during the latter stages of the 2004 presidential election modeled the campaign machismo of the two major political candidates, Republican incumbent George W. Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry.

The national electorate was nearly evenly divided between the two candidates, lending importance to states that could "swing" the election either way, in particular, the state of Ohio. A close examination of two Ohio newspapers that were in step with the dominant framing of the national discussion on leadership reveals a marked absence of women. From depicting the essential qualification of leadership as masculinity to translating women's issues to fit a male-defined agenda, the news excluded women from meaningful discussion of leadership.

Introduction

U.S. newspapers defined qualities of national leadership as they helped readers, a.k.a. potential voters, sort through the issues of a contentious presidential election in the fall of 2004. The political season featured presidential debates, but only between the top contenders of the two major political parties, effectively squelching voices of third-party opposition. This two-party dominance was reflected in the news framing of the campaign as a two-man debate, effectively silencing women's voices. Yet, with the polls showing an evenly divided electorate, the two campaigns were targeting key blocs of voters, including women.

Nowhere was coverage of the national election more important than in the Midwestern state of Ohio. The populous state's ability to pivot, or "swing," an election held the nation's focus, including that of the Republican and Democratic campaigns. The candidates repeatedly visited the state, which kept election coverage on Ohio's front pages. Late-term issues that arose in Ohio, particularly with regard to new voter registration and voter challenges, took on prominence in light of their potential impact on the national process.

Paying particular attention to the portrayal of women in the unfolding election story, this analysis investigates how the latter stages of the national campaigns were framed in newspaper coverage for readers in Northeast Ohio, a region of heavy newspaper penetration and home to over one-third of Ohio's voters. The question this analysis sought to answer was, With regard to women's roles and representation, how was national leadership framed?

A Review of the Literature

The literature of framing scholarship points to the fact that how media cover stories is as important as what stories they cover. Journalists construct the representations that news consumers use to make sense of events and issues. Robert Entman noted that a framing process was inherent in the selection and emphasis of some aspects over others, (1) which are the practices journalists routinely employ to express the newsworthiness of events and the salience of issues.

One manner through which news media bring credibility to their portrayal of events is by including opinion of expert sources in their stories. A study of the coverage of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., that compared print and broadcast news found a consistency among how the newspapers framed the events. Yet that study also found that the newspapers used more diverse sources in their stories than did broadcast media in the coverage of the national crises. (2) Another examination of expert sources found a preponderance of male sources in news stories. It also found that having a female reporter in a byline was a predictor of finding female sources in the story. …

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