Archive for February, 2010

26
Feb
10

Chelsea Clinton turns thirty; a time for her

During Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, Chelsea Clinton emerged as an articulate spokesperson for her mother.  Answering questions no one would want to touch about everything from Monica Lewinsky to whether she thought her mother would be a better president than her father was (she did) she was sincere, sharp and popular as a stump speaker for her mother’s 2008 quest for the White House.  When her mother made her internet announcement speech declaring that she was “in to win” the presidency, observant viewers noticed the framed photographs of a younger Chelsea in the background of Hillary Clinton’s beautifully appointed Georgetown home.  A more vibrant portrait of Chelsea Clinton emerged as her mother’s campaign progressed.  When her mother won the Pennsylvania primary by a double-digit victory, her only child’s eyes welled with tears of joy.  And before her mother’s star-turn at the Democratic National Convention in August, 2008, Chelsea Clinton’s voice narrated the moving biographical tribute video.   Exuberantly she said:  “Ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud to introduce my mother and my hero, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton!”

On February 27th Chelsea Clinton turns thirty. Could she be the next Clinton in the political pipeline?  Her entire life she has functioned as a witness to her parents’ commitment to raising their only child well.  She was off limits to the press during her White House years.   Her most notable moment a visual one when she served as the human glue that kept her parents together as the three of them walked to a plane in the fallout over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

She has earned  bachelor’s and master’s degrees, holds a job and is engaged to be married.   Chelsea Clinton is, no doubt, a full-fledged adult.  While she will always be the daughter of the most notable political husband and wife team in American history, this birthday may signal the end of representing her family and the beginning of Chelsea Clinton speaking for herself.   Like the Kennedy children, there is the legacy, of course–the ceremonial events that she will preside over for many years to come– but her way in the world from now on, will likely be of her own design. 

It will be interesting to see where Chelsea Clinton goes in her own right. It is now a time for her.

22
Feb
10

Over-sharing or Worth the read? Elizabeth Edwards, Jenny Sanford and Dina Matos McGreevey

With the recent (and pathetically staged) “apology” of the allegedly sex-addicted Tiger Woods fresh in our minds, I read and re-read three books from spouses of politicians who have strayed.  This growing body of reading material begs the question:  “is it worth the paper it is printed on?”

            “My truth is I am a gay American.”   When I watched the governor of New Jersey declare this in August, 2004,  with his picture-perfect blond wife at his side, my only thought was, “And you had to stand next to him to further your humiliation because?”  In her 2007 book, Silent Partner, Dina Matos McGreevey explains why she stood by his side that day.  She explains that she stood by her husband because he asked her to be “Jackie Kennedy” that day. She could have refused.   The best compliment she has for her ex-husband in the book? “The sex was good.”  Throughout most of the book, however, the former first lady of New Jersey describes  her ex-husband as a self-important, pathological liar who said more   to the people of New Jersey than to her about his realization that he is gay.  That she was left for another man and not another woman is the “news hook”, I suppose about McGreevey’s book, but this book left me feeling sorry for all of them and hoping that by writing such a bitter tale, Dina Matos feels better.     Like the Jenny Sanford book, Staying True, McGreevey’s book is full of bitterness over slights that at the time seemed a little weird,  but in retrospect were pointing to a big problem in the marriage. 

 So it was a relief when Jenny Sanford didn’t subject herself to the same media glare when her governor husband gushed like a school boy and rambled on about crying with his soul mate in Argentina.  In June, 2009, when Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina made his stream of conscience confessional, it was good that he stood alone.  The first lady’s absence showed certain defiance.   But now Jenny Sanford is telling everyone how she is “staying true” in her tell-all book by the same name.   Besides the obvious financial gains of writing a best-selling book, what good can come of her over-sharing about the kinds of things better left for pillow-talk?

Now I am all for expanding women’s voices.  I live for it.  But what is gained by information like this? As a mother I cringe for her four sons.  They should come to their own conclusions about their father.   And Jenny Sanford no doubt could spend her considerable talent and energy doing something of greater import.

 I picture a glint in the eye of Jenny Sanford as she describes events that would better be left between the two of them.  Do we need to know about  how the governor returned a favorite diamond necklace  because he regretted spending as much as he did on it or how he left her alone while she underwent a tubal ligation to avoid the danger of a fifth pregnancy? The portrait of Mark Sanford that emerges from this book is one of a narcissistic lightweight woefully lacking in the sensitivity department.   I already sensed as much without reading one page. 

Who could not admire Elizabeth Edwards?  Mother of a dead teenager, cancer patient and political spouse; each role a burden.   But when word of her husband’s unfaithfulness hit the news, I wondered why thoughtful and intelligent Elizabeth Edwards would dignify it with a book.  Until I read it. 

Additionally, when the new book Game Change characterized the (soon to be former) wife of John Edwards as “an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending everywoman” I had to get my hands on that book to read the whole incriminating excerpt.   That book is too salacious for my taste, but back to the book review at hand.

Resilience is not what I expected, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.    When I teach communication at Penn State, I tell my students that the “rhetorical situation” is any set of circumstances that invites an utterance or writing that aims to influence others.  I’m influenced, indeed, by Elizabeth Edwards.

Political spouses are especially interesting to me, since they are, in most cases, thrust into the spotlight as surrogates to their spouse-candidate.  If John Edwards never ran for political office, it is most unlikely that we would have ever heard of Elizabeth Edwards.    After reading Resilience I come away with this perception of Elizabeth Edwards in particular and the perception of political spouses in our country in general.

 The book is unique because unlike other books in the ‘wronged’ political wife genre (the category is getting thick), this book is most reflective, sad and inspiring.  Clearly the stake in Elizabeth Edwards’s heart was the untimely death of her first born son, Wade and not so much the intrusion of Rielle Hunter into her marriage.  She painstakingly recounts the car accident that lead to his death (dishes survived the crash, but he died; she looked for him everywhere after his death, including drawers) and as a mother I want to embrace her (and my teenage son) because she poignantly writes of the fortitude needed to continue after so great a loss.  Her husband’s infidelity, though a tragedy all its own, is reduced to the seduction from a young upstart who told the then-candidate, “You’re so hot.” 

The image of political spouses that the press and books like Game Change would have us hold onto is one dimensional.  These “first ladies in waiting” as I like to call them are either super-nice and pretty or the b word and ugly or fat.   I have no doubt that Elizabeth Edwards was at times difficult on the campaign trail.  Put any one of us out of our comfort zone of hearth, home and regular routine and you will be surprised how quickly we would unravel.    Like most of the women I know, the Elizabeth Edwards that emerges from her own writing  is smart, sad, trying to be strong, loving, and in desperate need to share her side of the story.  Of particular value to parents of children who have died are the coping strategies revealed in the book Resilience.  In this book she shares the most private, personal pain a person could possibly endure.

Besides the sobering lessons in Edwards’s book is that sad reality that most of the time the American press and public prefers a dumbed-down version of the political spouse.     The media wants not even sound bites from our political spouses, but “picture bites” usually of Barbie-doll like perfection, demure, uncomplicated and ultimately quiet.    If they don’t match that picture, they are characterized as the opposite:   shrill and unacceptable.  Elizabeth Edwards is a one-time political spouse, but more than that, I believe by telling her stories in two books (her first book Saving Graces is more concentrated on the loss of her son than being stalwart in general) she has inched forward the stagnant image of the political spouse in a way that not even Hillary Clinton has done.     Elizabeth Edwards isn’t running for anything and is unlikely to have a public future.  In a quiet, dignified way she has told her story.    From her story of heart-wrenching pain and pleasure, a complete person emerges, defying the usual stereotype of one-dimensional political spouses. I am indifferent about former political candidate John Edwards and I predict his story will quickly recede from public interest.   McGreevey’s book and Sanford’s book are too bitter to be enjoyed and offer few, if any, lessons. Elizabeth Edwards, however has made a lasting impression on me and a contribution to reading with her thoughtful, open-hearted book,  Resilience.

Nichola D. Gutgold is author of several books on women’s communication styles.  http://www.nicholagutgold.com

19
Feb
10

Who is Elizabeth Edwards?

Who could not admire Elizabeth Edwards?  Mother of a dead teenager, cancer patient and political spouse.  Each role a burden.  So when the new book Game Change characterized the (soon to be former) wife of John Edwards as “an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending everywoman” I had to get my hands on the book to read the whole incriminating excerpt.   I also re-read Elizabeth Edwards’s two books, Saving Graces and Resilience.   Both Saving Graces and Resilience are worth a read.  When I teach communication at Penn State, I tell my students that  the “rhetorical situation” is any set of circumstances that invites an utterance or writing  that aims to influence others.  I’m influenced, indeed, by Elizabeth Edwards.

Political spouses are especially interesting to me, since they are, in most cases, thrust into the spotlight as  surrogates to their spouse-candidate.  If John Edwards never ran for political office, it is most unlikely that we would have ever heard of Elizabeth Edwards.    

 Edwards’s latest book, Resilience, is unique.  Unlike other books in the ‘wronged’ political wife genre (the collection is getting thick), this book is most reflective, sad and inspiring.  Clearly the stake in Elizabeth Edwards’s heart was the untimely death of her first born son, Wade and not so much the intrusion of Rielle Hunter into her marriage.  I have no doubt that Elizabeth Edwards was at times difficult on the campaign trail.  Put anyone of us out of our comfort zone of hearth, home and regular routine and you will be surprised how quickly any of us would unravel.    Like most of the women I know, the Elizabeth Edwards that emerges is smart, sad, trying to be strong, loving, and in desperate need to share her side of the story.  Of particular value to parents of children who have died is the book Resilience.  In this book she shares the most private, personal pain a person could possibly endure.

Besides the sobering lessons in Edwards’s book is the sad reality that most of the time the American press does not allow our political spouses to go beyond one dimension.  The media wants not even sound bites from our political spouses, but “picture bites” usually of Barbie-doll like perfection, demure, uncomplicated and ultimately quiet.    If they don’t match that picture, they are characterized as the opposite:   shrill and unacceptable.  Elizabeth Edwards is a one-time political spouse, but more than that, I believe by telling her stories in two books she has inched forward the stagnant image of the political spouse in a way that not even Hillary Clinton has done.  Elizabeth Edwards isn’t running for anything.  In a quiet, dignified way she has told her story.    From her story of pain and pleasure, a complete person emerges, defying the usual stereotype of one-dimensional political spouses. I am indifferent about the political candidate John Edwards and I am sure his story will quickly recede from public interest.  Elizabeth Edwards, however has made a lasting contribution with her books and  I am grateful to have learned more about her.

Nichola D. Gutgold is author of several books on women’s communication styles.  www.nicholagutgold.com

13
Feb
10

What do John Madden and Diane Sawyer have in common?

And it isn’t a new Diane Sawyer game for the X-Box.  A Los Angeles Times article describes Diane Sawyer as exuding an “alarming level of elegance.”   That’s not it, either (sorry, Mr. Madden).  A sharp contrast to the hyped up personalities so often jabbering behind a “news” desk, Diane Sawyer has a presence that many newscasters lack.  She should.  She isn’t some new-anchor-come-lately, she’s been working her way up to the anchor chair for decades.    She began her television career in the  often over-sexualized role of weather girl at her hometown television station, Louisville, Kentucky’s WLKY-TV.   A former Junior Miss America and Wellesley College graduate with an English major, she lacked the meteorolgy background and the vision (really) for the job.  She didn’t wear glasses on camera, and couldn’t tell if she was pointing to the East or West coast.    When her father, a respected judge, died unexpectedly she gained an interest in government and politics, which lead her to Washington, D.C. and happily away from the world of weather broadcasting.

 She served in the Nixon White House as an assistant deputy press secretary, where she was often referred to by Nixon as “the smart girl.”  After Nixon resigned she stayed on as his personal assistant, helping him pen his Watergate memoirs.  Once the job was complete she worked for CBS News where she won accolades for her impressive reports from Three Mile Island in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  The same impressive reporting of the Iran hostage crises gave Sawyer experience and credibility.  She was co-anchor of CBS Morning News, the Early Morning News and the first woman on the network’s flagship public affairs program, 60 Minutes.  In 1989 she moved to ABC and was named coanchor of Good Morning America with Charlie Gibson. 

In 1989 a Fox news executive called her the “John Madden of network news” because she has so often been brought in to save the ratings of a program.   So far, the description is still apt. Although “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” was was the most-watched evening news program last week, averaging 10 million viewers,  “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” was second and was the only newscast to increase viewers week-to-week. “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric” was third.

Diane Sawyer has been wooed by every television network throughout her career.  Let’s see if she can take “Team Brian Williams” in the high stakes game of television ratings.   No doubt she has the training and the endurance.

Nichola D. Gutgold is author of Seen and Heard:  The Women of Television News (Lexington Books, 2008).

08
Feb
10

The Rhetoric of Women Wronged

It looked painful for her and it was painful for me:  Watching Silda Spitzer stand by her husband, then New York Governor Eliot Spitzer while he explained why his name was being connected to an escort service.   So it was a relief when Jenny Sanford didn’t subject herself to the same media glare when her governor husband rambled on about crying with his soul mate in Argentina.     Her absence showed a certain defiance.   But now Jenny Sanford is telling everyone how she is “staying true”  in her tell-all book by the same name.   Besides the obvious financial gains of writing a best-selling book, what good can come of her oversharing about the kinds of things better left for pillow-talk?

Now I am all for expanding women’s voices.  I live for it.  But what is gained by information like this? As a mother I cringe for her four sons.  They should come to their own conclusions about their father.   And Jenny Sanford no doubt could spend her considerable talent and energy doing something of greater import.

 I picture a glint in the eye of Jenny Sanford as she describes events that would better be left between the two of them.  Do we need to know about  how the governor returned a favorite diamond necklace  because he regretted spending as much as he did on it or how he left her alone while she underwent a tubal ligation to avoid the danger of a fifth pregnancy? The portrait of  Mark Sanford that emerges from this book is one of a narcissistic lightweight woefully lacking in the sensitivity department.   I already sensed as much without reading one page.

07
Feb
10

More Paris Hilton than Politico; More Celebrity than Public Servant?

Public servant/politician;  the terms are interchangeable, right?   Though customary to  ‘hail to the chief’,  public servants, including the president and vice-president, should have  at the heart of their work the people’s interests, not their own.   In a world where media, politics and celebrity go hand in hand, it is useful to remember that politicians are leaders, not media stars.   It is one of the reasons Sarah Palin is so insulting to the history of women and the United States presidency.

Every woman who has run for president has had an uphill battle to be perceived as a “serious” candidate.    Instead of a servant leadership approach to governing, Sarah Palin quit the governorship, installed a television studio in her living room for her new Fox television gig and has toured the country selling her gossipy book about her vice presidential experience.  More reality-show contestant than presidential contender is the rhetorical message of  Sarah Palin, and it is anything but serious.   

In 1964 Margaret Chase Smith ran for president.  In her announcement speech she laid out her arguments carefully.  She proudly asserted: “I would be pioneering the way for a woman in the future–to make the way easier–for her to be elected President of the United States.”  In 1972 Shirley Chisholm made a bid for the presidency.  She said, “American women must stand and fight–be militant even–for rights which are ours.”  When Pat Schroeder got into the presidential race in 1988 she wanted to “offer nothing more than honesty and common sense to Americans.”   She offered a “rendezvous with reality”  that  she hoped would become  ”rendezvous with opportunity.”   In 2000 Elizabeth Dole, who the press widely called the first “serious” presidential candidate (her predecessors would beg to differ, I’m sure) wanted to “call America to her better nature.”  And in 2004, Carol Moseley Braun, earnestly, though briefly made a presidential bid to “give you an America as good as its promise.”   Each of these women received less press coverage than any of their male counterparts running for president.  Often the coverage was more seeped in detail about their appearance than their message and several of them were described as more vice presidential potential than presidential material.  Despite all of that, they were paving the way for a future woman presidential candidate simply by their serious determination in the race.   None of these women left presidential politics to become celebrities.  Margaret Chase Smith continued to represent Maine.  After retiring from political life, she commented that her greatest contribution to the country’s well-being was her consistent stand against bigotry and injustice.  Shirley Chisholm continued to serve in the House of Representatives.  Pat Schroeder returned to her work in the House until she retired in 1996.    Elizabeth Dole served one term as a senator from North Carolina.  Carol Moseley Braun campaigned for John Kerry and is now a businesswoman in Chicago.  

Most recently Hillary Clinton campaigned until she had no choice but to accept her defeat for the Democratic nomination.   Now she serves as Secretary of State.

None of these women cashed in on their candidacies.    When more Americans differentiate celebrity from public servant, they will  feel duped by Sarah Palin’s Paris Hilton-like public persona.

01
Feb
10

Candy Crowley says “Tough questions, good. Rudeness, bad.”

 Candy Crowley will anchor  “State of the Union” the Sunday morning show on CNN.  When I wrote Seen and Heard:  The Women of Television News (Lexington Books, 2008) I tried mightily to get interviews with the women broadcasters profiled in the book.  The irony that these women made their livings getting “the get” and I could seem to ‘get’ them, wasn’t lost on me.  I even traveled to NYC weekly to drop off letters of interest at ABC, CBS and NBC.  I became so familiar to the security guard at ABC that as I approached one day  I noticed him nod to his co-worker as if to say “it’s the crazy lady again with her letter.”

Candy Crowley was one of only two women to allow me to interview her (the other is Dana Bash).  Candy Crowley told  me her technique for getting good information in an interview.  She said:  “I don’t write out questions.  I’ll put topics down.  I find that writing out questions gets in the way of listening.  The best interviewer is the best listener.  The people you are interviewing will lead you places.   I’ve heard way too many interviews where it is question 1, question 2, question 3, thank you very much.  I don’t just like to go after the sound bite.”   She continued, “Relaxing the interviewee is key.  I usually throw softballs the first couple of questions (unless time is really limited).  People come to interviews with something they want to say.  I let them say it.  Then I ask about what I want to know.  I also am unfailingly polite (not to be confused with docile).   A rude, snarly interview may be good TV, but you shut down the interviewee and you get nothing of interest.  Tough questions, good.  Rudeness, bad.” 

Since the publication of that book two of the women profiled have become anchors:  Diane Sawyer and Candy Crowley.  State of the Union with Candy Crowley is going to be good Sunday morning television.




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