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Tuesday, 11 August 2009 04:56

Hillary Clinton and War Victims in the Congo Get Sexist Pantsuit Treatment from the Media

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BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White

Sure, it's easy to slam hapless Washington Posters Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza for basically calling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a "mad bitch" in the now-thankfully-defunct "experiment" known as Mouthpiece Theater. But at least Clinton was the victim of a bad joke, and at least the video wasn't at the expense of real news (in fact, one could argue that it caused WaPo to abandon its attempt at humor entirely, which is certainly a plus for journalism).

Yet, when the international media establishment calls Clinton's three-sentence answer to what appeared to be a sexist questioning of her authority a "raging" "temper tantrum," the usual critics are surprisingly quiet.

As part of her seven-nation tour of Africa, Clinton fielded questions from students in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Monday. I heard the media's reaction before I saw the video, so naturally I assumed Clinton had walked over to the questioner and ripped the poor student's head off. Watching the video, this is hardly the case:

Clinton appears tired in the video, which isn't surprising considering her schedule. The State Department's transcript of the question is as follows:

Thank you. Mrs Clinton, we've all heard about the Chinese contracts in this country. The interference is from the World Bank against this contract. What does Mr. Clinton think through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton and what does Mr. Mutombo think on this situation? Thank you very much.

Even the anonymous people in the room can't help but react to the question. Clinton herself hardly believes she's being asked such a question, beginning with an incredulous "Wait. You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" One can hear what sounds like applause in the video after she says this.

Yet you'd never imagine that's how it really went down after reading the reports of the brief encounter in the media. Here's a sampling:

Indeed, there seems to have been confusion on all sides. The student who asked the question reportedly said he was misquoted, intending instead to ask what President Obama thought of the situation, not former President Clinton.

Though it's unclear whether it was the French-speaking student or the translator who misspoke (if anyone actually did), an aide to Clinton said she wanted to assure the student not to worry about it, according to the AP story. Clinton also reportedly shook hands with the student after the event to show there were no hard feelings.

If you actually watch the video of the supposed explosion (or heaven forbid you should listen to it on the radio -- as I initially did -- where you're not confronted with her unflattering suit, which makes her much easier to label as a grumpy wench), you're left wondering where the media came up with such language. Sure, she gets a little snippy. But what if someone asked California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger what Maria Shriver thought should be done about his state's budget hole? Would we characterize his dismissive response as blowing a gasket?

On the other hand, one could make the argument that she should be used to such treatment by now. It was hard enough to keep Bill out of the spotlight long enough for her to get elected to the Senate and make a presidential run.

But her role has changed recently, and some in the media seem to have missed that memo. One would hope that now that she's a diplomat (and that's the United States' top diplomat to you, mister), she would not have to keep smiling at stupid and insulting questions. Now she actually gets a chance to get something done instead of perpetually running for office, as politicians so often find themselves doing.

Indeed, the saddest part of this treatment is what the story coming out of Clinton's visit to the DRC should be, but isn't. On her way there she seemed eager to bring attention to the widespread culture of sexual violence that flourishes in Eastern Congo.

"I will be there primarily to speak out against the unspeakable violence against women and girls in eastern Congo. It is the worst example of man's inhumanity to women," Clinton told reporters in Kenya about her impending visit to the DRC.

Is it any surprise that the media would mock a woman who shows a cranky moment in response to what seemed to be a crackpot question, rather than focus on the heartbreaking, seemingly intractable problems of a war-torn, psychologically-scarred community?

Should I not be shocked that the media would rather focus on Clinton's reaction to the question than the question itself? None of the articles I read about the encounter explained the situation of the International Monetary Fund's debt forgiveness plan for the Congo and how the mineral extraction contracts being discussed between China and the DRC are affecting the status of the World Bank's loans to the country, which are guaranteed by the Congo's mineral reserves.

Isn't it easier to smack Clinton for getting a little snippy than to address the uncomfortable fact that the endemic war in the Congo is primarily being fought over the precious metals that power our cell phones and laptops?

Isn't it more interesting to focus on one diplomat's momentary lapse in politeness rather than the bizarre Ugandan rebel group known as the Lord's Resistance Army, who were recently in the area raping, pillaging and burning entire villages to the ground as they kidnap Congolese youth to restock their brutal child army?

Isn't it simpler to focus on the silly question Clinton didn't answer, rather the the one that came immediately before it (which she did answer), on whether or not the West should apologize for colonialism?

This is yet another example of an unfortunately tight focus on an unflattering pantsuit or a cackling laugh obscuring the real news of the day. The real tragedy is that the media's obsession with celebrity in general -- and the Clintons in particular -- had to overshadow such a troubled country with far more important stories to tell.

BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS