Visual Vilification: A Tale of Two Hillarys

07 Aug 2013

In the media’s obsession with all things Hillary, no sooner did NBC and CNN announce biopics on the former Secretary of State than the RNC denounced those films as biased infomercials. Republicans are terrified of running against someone with her bona fides and popularity. Cue the negative coverage, as evidenced by the photographs of Mrs. Clinton and RNC Chair, Reince Priebus, in the FOX News’ article, Republicans open pre-emptive strikes on Clinton, undecided yet formidable in 2016:

Priebus looks calm, cool and collected.  Clinton looks like she wants to bite his head off even though she has likely never met the man.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is visual vilification.  Thousands of pictures of Hillary Clinton are on file.  No accident they chose a combative 2008 campaign photograph.

Professor Kathleen Jamieson, Professor of Communication and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, explained that visual vilification is a technique whereby media organizations use photographs of a candidate that appear angry or unpleasant in order to make the electorate uncomfortable with that person. If media operatives can attach a “negative affect” to Hillary Clinton, they can make you less likely to vote for her.

The technique works.  Look at 2008.  In order to push candidate Obama forward, the Huffington Post, Newsweek, the Washington Post and The New York Times, to name a few, portrayed him as thoughtful and reflective while his opponent Hillary Clinton was depicted as sullen, angry or bug-eyed.  It is easy to take a picture of an animated person at the wrong moment, attributing a lunacy to that person that is not in their character.  Maureen Dowd, The Times’ most powerful columnist, alternately referred to Hillary Clinton as “Sybil,” a shoulder-pad feminist and Femi-Nazi in order to echo this visual slander.  Dowd was but one of many in the pundit class more concerned with Clinton’s appearance and womanhood than her policies.

There are plenty of pleasant shots of Mrs. Clinton. But those “nice” pictures are not sensational enough for campaign coverage.  While the current FOX News’ article offers innocuous reporting otherwise, a picture is worth a thousand words.  It is the picture that you are meant to take with you into the voting booth and one of the many ways in which big media manipulate the electorate.

Once again, interested parties are attempting to define Hillary Clinton to the electorate early, and not well.  Sexism; ageism; unflattering photographs: any and all of these techniques are added to the mind numbing list of sins they wish to heap upon her.  Dowd infers it is Hillary’s fault that Anthony Weiner is running for Mayor.  It seems Hillary is also to blame because NBC and CNN seek to profit from her name with their film projects.  The endgame for Priebus, and for Dowd, I suspect, is to equate the words “Hillary Clinton” with the word “controversy.”

Ms. Dowd, along with Media Matters, agreed with Republicans that NBC and CNN are wrong to offer these films. I’d prefer they not be aired either, but whatever is “wrong” has nothing to do with the former Secretary who has not sought this attention.  Hillary Clinton also does not seek to once again be defined as “shrill and shrewish” before we know her direction as a leader or whether or not she will contend in 2016.  What’s past is prologue, and what defined her last run for the Presidency was an abundance of unflattering photographs and vile verbiage from the pundit class on both sides.

If we ever want to see a qualified woman elected president in this country, or have any qualified leadership, we must guard against those who would influence or manipulate us with cheap tricks or distractions.

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Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a shocking exposé deconstructing the biased media narrative plaguing women who dare to lead.

Available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon.  #1 on Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

Like Anita Finlay, Author on Facebook.

Follow @AnitaFinlay on Twitter.

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  1. Visual Vilification: A Tale of Two Hillarys | Anita Finlay | Author | Actor | Blogger | Speaker | Host

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