The monthly Capital Communicators lunch was this afternoon at the Chophouse in DC. This time the subject was Bias in the Media – with talks by Ken Hoover, Washington bureau chief for the American City Business Journals and Erika Falk, associate program chair for the Johns Hopkins University Master’s Degree in Communication program and author of Women for President: Media Bias in Eight Campaigns.

Ken was effective in explaining how bias works in the media, and he made no attempt to deny it exists. That was refreshing. Clearly everyone comes to the table with a position and an opinion. The most effective journalists limit the way in which this colors their reporting – but in a world where the kooks at either end of the political spectrum are screaming conspiracy – it is impossible to win. Sometimes the other side does not want to be heard, and it is usually because they are wrong. (Those are my thoughts by the way)

Erika Falk shared the findings of her study on media bias against eight women presidential candidates – starting in 1872. I was ashamed to admit (if only to myself) that I had no idea there had been eight female presidential candidates. Come to learn that by some definition there have not. Many of them (if not all – too lazy to find out) ran only for their parties nomination. None of them actually won the nomination. Anyway, the point of Ms. Falk’s thesis was that since 1872 the media bias against women who seek the presidency has held steady – as in the trend line has remained flat. In each of the campaigns she cites (she includes the Clinton-Obama struggle – even though the book was published after Senator Clinton announced her candidacy) the bias showed against women remained statistically consistent, and high. The statistics she cited are staggering in their indictment of the media’s bias – things like a much higher percentage of articles written on women candidates mention appearance (hair style, clothing, etc), and women are more likely to suffer dropped titles (so Hillary Clinton, instead of Senator), and a lower percentage of articles on women candidates touch on actual public welfare issues. I think the problem is more general – the media decline to focus on issues because they misunderestimates our interest and our ability to understand. I cite the recent ridiculous “debate” on ABC. Ms. Falk excuses the media to some degree, saying that they are simply members of a society that cultivates a culture of devaluing and debasing women. That should make them feel better.

I can’t cite enough of her examples here to accurately illustrate the trend, but trust me when I say that any woman running for president (or any office) can count on the media giving them the short end of the stick. I happen to not be supporting the woman in this particular presidential race – but I certainly think she deserves fair treatment in the media. I mean if there has ever been a female candidate that that should be strongly critiqued on actual issues, as opposed to fashion or hair, it is Senator Clinton. To help balance it out I will devote the next several posting to a critique of Obama and McCain’s tie choices. It promises to be scintillating stuff. Stay tuned.