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Will other candidates get the Klobuchar treatment?

Wmc Features Senator Amy Klobuchar Eau Claire Wisconsin 021619 Lorie Shaull 022619
Sen. Amy Klobuchar campaigning in Wisconsin this month. Photo by Lorie Shaull.

I read the article “How Amy Klobuchar Treats Her Staff” in the New York Times last week when it had only seven comments after it. The article recounted a time Minnesota Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar ate her salad with a comb because a staff member failed to provide utensils, that she has thrown things at staff when upset, and that she has blamed her aides for ruining her image and even her marriage. 

The last time I checked, the article had 3061 comments, and I’m quite sure I’ve read each one. I know. Obsessed. Given the number of comments attached to the article about Klobuchar, and the varied reactions of readers, many who read the article are conflicted about how to interpret such coverage. The comments were very mixed—with reactions from readers who pointed out sexism, others who said they had decided not to vote to Klobuchar based on the article, some who suggested she get help, pointing to her upbringing as a daughter of an alcoholic father as a reason for her behavior, and more that defended her, saying, essentially, “So what?” A good number point to the low pay of staff people, the insane hours, and how much is riding on the image and execution of work in the Senate.

I’ve been studying the obstacles that women face when they run for president for almost 20 years, and in my observation, this is just the kind of article that is often written about women candidates but not men. When it comes to media coverage, in addition to an emphasis on appearance and image instead of issues, women face a fixation on family matters, such as who is minding the children; the supposition that a woman running for president really only wants to be vice president; and the assumption that she simply doesn’t have the temperament, and especially the toughness, to serve as commander in chief.

The “Mommie Dearest” trope that comes through in this article is one of the challenges women face not only in politics, but in all positions of leadership. As one of the few named sources commented, “Male senators yell quite a bit. But if a woman yells at you, it’s like, ‘I got yelled at by my mom.’” For years, women who aspired to be president were suspected of not being tough enough, and now we are exposing a woman who wants to be president for not being kind, gentle, and friendly enough.

Here’s a challenge for media covering the 2020 election: Now that you have written this rather petty article about how Amy Klobuchar treats her staff, will you please write about how each person running for office, including President Trump, treats their staff? It seems only fair that if we are going to try to level the media coverage of male and female candidates, we have to be careful not to run stories like this one, focusing on aspects of candidates personalities, only about women candidates, or even one woman candidate.

When sources in articles hide under the cloak of anonymity, as most of the sources in this article have done, staff members seem rather free to open up about the personality of their boss in the most trying of times. So, please, tell us how Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard, John Delaney, and anyone else who announces for president has treated their staff. Before becoming president, Donald Trump was the boss of so many people over the years, and on television known for declaring “You’re fired!” on a reality TV show, but his demeanor as a boss was never seriously investigated.

I certainly do not condone throwing things at staff members, retaliating against people who leave your team, or public humiliation, but I also don’t condone sabotaging one presidential candidate’s aspirations with a damaging article without interviewing the staff members of other campaigns. Maybe the reports about Klobuchar’s team being treated badly that gave life to this story in the Times have just had more traction than similar stories that could be told of other candidates. Please, give us the complete picture of all staff interpretations and experiences, and then move on from this type of reporting and focus on the political positions of these candidates. I really don’t care how my political candidates eat their salads.

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