Media Declares Open Season on Political Spouses

6 years ago

The media may say that they're just reporting the news, but what signs of restraint or maturity have you seen in the coverage given to the numerous and varied "truth is stranger than fiction" tales of people married to politicians?

Not much, given the recent Newsweek cover with the title "The Good Wife 2012."

Inside the issue, we find an article titled "The Real Running Mates."

The idea that The Wife controls the decision-making of The Men Who Would Be Leaders has been particularly strong this year. I think my all-time favorite headline is this one, from Outside the Beltway: Haley Barbour’s Wife Is “Horrified” at the Thought of a Presidential Run. Take a look at the URL and note the choice of browser title for "Wives With White House Veto Power," a post by Michelle Cottle for the Daily Beast. It reads, "Mitch Daniels' Wife Helps Nix Run: The Rise of the Political Spouse 2012." Where are all the articles that talk about how supportive the spouses can be?

One of the few times that a wife herself has spoken up in the media was Cindy McCain's "Spouses Get a Bad Rap" at The Daily Beast:

Everything you do is scrutinized, which is a hard thing for me to swallow. And the difference between 2000 and 2008 was the level of scrutiny: blogging was not around in 2000. I did read some of it for a very brief period, and then I stopped. When I met Laura Bush after John got the nomination, her advice was don’t read your own stuff. I was surprised. I assumed she read everything. She said, “I never read any of it—it’s just too awful!”

Which then begs the question: How should politicians' spouses respond to media coverage of them, if at all? (All we've heard from Maria Shriver on her recent separation from politician-husband Arnold Schwarznegger was a brief statement that her experience has been "painful and heartbreaking.".)

Lest we think that higher minds might not go there, the reality is that even NPR's Talk of the Nation devoted an hour to "The Evolving Roles of Political Spouses" -- and the show also covered the "what is fair game with politicians and their wives" angle earlier in May.

It's easy to see that the topic of political spouses is not a partisan issue nor one confined to lurid intimacies (depending on how you feel about shopping proclivities, in Calista Gingrich's case). But are these stories news, or no? What should the parameters be for reporting on politicians' spouses? Are we media literate enough ourselves to consume all the coverage and still cast an uncompromised vote?

If you're thinking that your vote can't be compromised by all the gossip and innuendo, read Nordette's 2007 post, "How Many Presidential Votes Can the Right Spouse Get You?," in which she looks at the 2008 candidates and the influence their spouses were perceived to have on the vote. A search for "political spouses" at includes a wide variety of takes on similar issues -- and just notice how regularly they've come up over the years! (I know that makes me groan in a major way -- just that it's so darn evergreen. Sigh.)

Constance at Soul Wisdom wrote of the influence of politicians' personal lives on her own vote in "How Schwarzenegger-Love-Child Scandal Changed my Voting Behavior."

If the person running for office is a married man, I will ignore platitudes about how much he respects women. Instead I will gauge my support based on the degree to which he puts such principles to practice within his own family. This will be a difficult position to maintain, given the growing ideological divide between Democrats and the GOP. And yet judging people by deeds rather words has always been the shorter path to wisdom.

At least the British media, like The Independent in 2005, makes transparent the double standard applied to coverage of female spouses of men in politics versus male spouses of women in politics:

Yet where are the politicians' husbands in this domestic idyll? There are 116 female MPs at Westminster, of whom 94 represent Labour. But we don't see Ruth Kelly, Oona King or Margaret Beckett parading their husbands for all to see, and neither do we see the media clamouring to be allowed access to them.

Jezebel broached a similar angle in its 2009 post, "Where are the female philanderers?"

No matter how you answer these questions -- even if you continue to think about them and not compose a position on them -- there's no doubt of the downside: fewer women will run for office. And no woman of any political persuasion should accept us letting half the U.S. adult population go untapped.

Today, four months after Mitt Romney told the press "My wife thinks I should run," he announced his run for the 2012 Republican nomination for presidency. His wife, Ann, introduced him.

More on Politicians and Their Spouses:

Jill Writes Like She Talks

In The Arena: Jill Miller Zimon, Pepper Pike City Council Member

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