Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez makes some people very uncomfortable, and apparently that includes some editors and reporters at the New York Times.
So rather than report on how Ocasio-Cortez’s riveting, viral speech on the House floor on Thursday was a signal moment in the fight against abusive sexism, Times congressional reporters Luke Broadwater and Catie Edmondson filed a story full of sexist double standards and embraced the framing of her critics by casting her as a rule-breaker trying to “amplify her brand.”
First things first: If you haven’t watched and heard her remarks yet, do so now. (There’s a transcript here.)
Here is my full response regarding Mr. Yoho and the culture of misogyny that inspired his actions.
I am deeply appreciative of my colleagues and everyone speaking up and out against the rampant mistreatment of women both in Congress and across the country. ⬇️ https://t.co/nFfxy5UdmP
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 23, 2020
Then consider that the Times described the speech as “her most norm-shattering moment yet,” leading with the fact that “she took to the House floor to read into the Congressional Record a sexist vulgarity that Representative Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, had used to refer to her.”
Washington Post reporters John Wagner and Paul Kane, by contrast, led their story by describing how “House Democrats rallied around a high-profile congresswoman Thursday in an extraordinary denunciation of sexism.”
A critical “tell” in the Times’s coverage – something perhaps only fellow journalists would fully appreciate at first – was how the paper had previously avoided directly quoting Yoho’s particular words, but did so now:
“In front of reporters, Representative Yoho called me, and I quote: ‘A fucking bitch,’” she said, punching each syllable in the vulgarity.
Author, cultural critic (and close friend) Mark Harris was quick to call the Times out:
The NYT, which would not use the words when Ted Yoho spoke them, uses them tonight to quote @AOC–and it describes HER behavior, not his, as "disruptive" and a "norm-shattering moment," one that it implies is about "amplifying her own brand."
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) July 24, 2020
In the first Times article on the matter, on Tuesday, Broadwater described Yoho’s words as “a pair of expletives” – noting that Ocasio-Cortez “sought to turn the insult to her advantage.”
In his second article, on Wednesday, he referred to it as “a vulgar and sexist expletive.”
Now, all of a sudden, the Times was printing the words “fucking bitch.”
James Fallows, the renowned Atlantic national correspondent, asked in a tweet: “WHY should these words appear in a quote from AOC, at whom they were hatefully directed, rather than one from Rep. Yoho, who actually said them?”
Progressive journalist Benjamin Dixon suggested a possible explanation:
When I heard @AOC use the exact phrase Ted Yoho insulted her with, my gut told me that someone somewhere would be more upset at her saying the words than Ted Yoho.
Behold, the NYTimes:
“… she had her most norm-shattering moment…punching each syllable in the vulgarity.” pic.twitter.com/bkan0VX8dF
— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) July 24, 2020
The Times reporters wrote that after her speech, “Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who excels at using her detractors to amplify her own political brand, invited a group of Democratic women in the House to come forward to express solidarity with her.”
Only then did the Times acknowledge the actual significance of the occasion:
More even than the profanity uttered on the House floor, where language is carefully regulated, what unfolded over the next hour was a remarkable moment of cultural upheaval on Capitol Hill.
But then it was back to ascribing mercenary motivations, describing how “the media-savvy Ms. Ocasio-Cortez had sprung into action to create a disruptive and viral event.”
Who edited this story? There’s no way to know. But the fact that the Times printed the word “fucking” means it must have got to the very top of the foodchain.
Hamza Shaban, a business reporter for the Washington Post, called attention to the similarities between the Times’s framing of the story and the story’s own description, toward the end, of how Republicans have demonized Ocasio-Cortez.
This story frames AOC as a norm-shattering, virality-chasing politician because she uses her social media platform and her position of power to call out colleagues who dehumanize her in racist and sexist ways….instead of focusing on the racism and sexism https://t.co/nVRbNsGkLD
— Hamza Shaban (@hshaban) July 24, 2020
The fundamental problem with the story, as Shaban noted, was that it cast Ocasio-Cortez as the violator of norms, rather than questioning the norms she was denouncing so eloquently.
As British educator Sinéad Fitzsimons put it in a tweet: “’…her most norm-shattering moment…’ is standing up against abusive #sexism ? What exactly is the norm then?”
Science fiction author Sarah Pinsker noted the double standard, tweeting: “The NYT is doing exactly what AOC complained about in that speech, shaming her as if she somehow did something wrong in repeating the words he used against her.”
In fact, the double standards were everywhere. New York magazine writer Rebecca Traister, responding to Harris’s tweet, noted: “Women’s anger at male power abuse [is] regularly presented as path to self-advancement for the women. Voicing fury at systemic degradation is read as opportunistic. Whereas men’s abusive behavior rarely understood as fundamental to how they attained & maintain THEIR power. But it is!”
Progressive journalist Elizabeth Spiers:
When AOC does something to exhibit leadership, it's an exercise in brand building. When men do it–white guys, in particular–it's statesmanship.
— Elizabeth Spiers (@espiers) July 24, 2020
Vanderbilt University law professor Gautam Hans:
This has so many anti-woman notes it’s Exhibit A on why it’s (still) a man’s world.
A man standing up for oneself is brave; a woman doing it is “cheeky.” NYT: do better. @AOC — keep doing good. They wouldn’t come for her if they weren’t afraid. https://t.co/FtS6v8HuIs
— Gautam Hans (@dispositive) July 24, 2020
Washington Post columnist Helaine Olen tweeted: “I’m not into NYT bashing – newspaper work is hard and reporters and editors make bad calls! — but referring to @AOC masterful speech as a ‘brand’ exercise is a major, major miss.”
David Remnick’s appreciation of Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks serves as an antidote of sorts to the Times story. Writing for the New Yorker, he gave her credit for her achievements:
Ocasio-Cortez has been at the forefront of major issues, including climate change, immigration, campaign-finance reform, and income inequality. Her ability to skewer a balky witness in committee hearings has proved as uncanny as it is entertaining.
In a speech that “should be studied for its measured cadence, its artful construction, and its refusal of ugliness,” Ocasio-Cortez “defended not only herself; she defended principle and countless women,” Remnick wrote.
And he clearly identified the real norm-killer:
The politics of our moment are dominated by a bully of miserable character, a President who has failed to contain a pandemic through sheer indifference, who has fabricated a reëlection campaign based on bigotry and the deliberate inflammation of division. His language is abusive, his attitude toward women disdainful.
In the Washington Post, Monica Hesse wrote that “On the subject of misogyny at least, her Thursday address was the speech of a lifetime.”
Ocasio-Cortez is an extraordinary political figure: a smart, brave, charismatic, young Latina who refuses to be intimidated by anything or anyone.
Her very existence in Congress, along with her insistent, progressive agenda, her bold words and actions, and the ease with which she navigates pop culture and social media, have turned her into an icon – a singular walking, talking challenge to the conservative white male power structure.
As such, she tends to bring out the worst in some people.
And on Thursday, she brought out the worst in the Times.
A note from Dan Froomkin:
I write a lot about the New York Times because it is hugely influential but does a terrible job of holding itself accountable. They won’t pay for a public editor. But you can help support Press Watch with a donation!
Thank you for this. Cancelled my NYT subscription and am now donating to you monthly.
Thanks! Very much obliged.
Absolutely nailed them. The Times has been hiding behind its reputation for decades, while quietly enabling the Patriot Act, invasions of foreign countries, home-bred racism and sexism, and the widening gaps of inequality.
Thank you for holding their feet to the fire.
Great analysis. I think that one of the underlying issues is that the New York Times is a company paper in a company town. The company is Wall Street Finance. As a smart, charismatic, and effective progressive, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a real threat to the power structure so the paper takes a dim view of her triumphs.
Great reporting. Good to see a much closer look at what happened vs how it was misinterpreted.
Debating trivia instead if saving the planet is what I think of this event debate..AND wavering between rebuking the victim and reducing her to a naughty little girl. You are ignoring the issues. US politics is lost in a scrabble quibble.
The times has been playing footsie with the right since Safire. Legitimizing the likes of Kristol, Brooks, douthat, podhoretz, Stephen’s, not to mention tools like haberman and twits like baker. They decide what news is fit to print, how and when.
Chomsky used to joke that for years he went to the doctor complaining that his jaw hurt every morning but the doc couldn’t find anything wrong. Finally, one morning he realized that reading the NYT was making him grind his teeth.
For many at the NYT politics is about indiv brandbuilding and horserace; they can’t imagine that a person would actually care about her constituents or policies/norms that harm them, +/or make a case that had to do with anything but personal aggrandizement.
The NYT spent eight years smearing Bill Clinton with bullshit claims of scandal. Then led the War on Gore that put Little Bush in the White House and Roberts & Alito on the supreme court. They cheer-leaded for Bush/Cheney – and not just on the Iraq Invasion – and held back on negative stories to help them get re-elected. They smeared Hillary Clinton with bullshit claims of scandal for over 20 years and held back on negative stories to put Trump in the White House and Gorsuch & Kavanaugh on the supreme court. They, more than anyone besides FOX, have worked hard to protect and promote Trump, no matter how disastrous he is for the majority of Americans.
What they are doing to AOC is consistent with what they have been doing for 30 years.
Thank for your salutary harpooning of the one tenth of the ice burg of the normative construct of the intractable,misogynist.racsists and uncivil rituals which perpetuates a society of powerlessness.Exposure by “spearing digging cracking the surface” to get an understanding of that 90% of unexposed social constructs is demanded of critical journalism.I look forward to reading your articles.Every human being has a mother (a gift bequeathed to women)sisters, daughters,nieces (grandmothers aunts) etc.yet we continue to disrespect,infantilize and degrade a gender that replenishes our sacred planet..So we must pay homage to our sisters who call out this egregious imperfection of society.I will be making a monthly contribution to your press.
Well done! The NYT’s complacent buttressing of false, destructive, unexamined attitudinal assumptions coupled with its cowardly avoidance of the true object of its writing make the Times no better than the rest and worse than some.
Also, in craft as well as content, It was a great speech!
Always fascinating to get the take from people for whom, despite the NYT’s obvious hyper-partisan bias (grown even worse these last few years), it still isn’t left-wing enough.
Further proof that, as much as a person or institution might signal virtue before the witch-hunting mob, they will never be able to sufficiently align with an ideology that must, every 50 years or so, drive itself off a cliff. Just look at Mayors Ted Wheeler or Jenny Durkan, or TESC President Bridges. It’s always remarkable how institutions like NYTimes, always a reasonably (if not very) progressive place, still remain steeped in misogyny, racial prejudice, homophobia, islamophobia, etc. One would think that regular assertions of left-wing virtues would be the solution…but perhaps it is, in fact, the problem?
The real story may have been in the NY Post today, where Miranda Devine describes the original The Hill story by reporter Mike Lillis: according to that original story, Yoho spoke to no one in particular after an encounter with AOC, facing away from AOC, who therefore did not hear his words, though Lillis says he did. Devine further writes that Yoho denies using the words “Fucking Bitch” and instead says he used the words “Fucking BS”, annotating their just-finished conversation or making a commentary on her testimony earlier that day regarding rising crime in NYC. (paraphrasing here, but AOC contended that recent increases in crime in NYC are attributable to rising hunger and people looting to feed themselves.). How much righteous indignation is warranted if Yoho’s statements are true? Did any other articles interview Yoho or ask for his side of the story? Want to save my indignation for where it’s truly warranted after thorough fact-checking and reporting by journalists! That feels like a fair thing to ask.
Thank you! I don’t even know what to believe. Did he even use the eff word? “Freakin’ BS” sounds like the “B-word” with a southern accent.
Great analysis but the ending is off. She brings out the worst in people? No. People choose to unleash the worst in themselves against her. Let’s put the responsibility where it belongs, please.
Have you asked NYT for a response?
Way late, but great article. However, lavishing praise on AOC at the end only serves to call into question your objectivity and detract from the overall punch.