One can only conclude from a survey of the American media, both the old and the new, that even its most well known representatives lack awareness, knowledge, and character. The word ‘shallow’ comes to mind in describing coverage by supposedly liberal news outlets from the Huffington Post to the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
Recently, PBS has been interrupting regular scheduling with one of its periodic pleas for money. A staff member at my local station usually gets around to reminding listeners that the NewsHour is the only program available where you can find consistently balanced news coverage.
I was riding my exercise bike last Friday night with the above fundraising claims in mind while watching the analysis of liberal Mark Shields and conservative David Brooks, moderated by Jim Lehrer. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript on their discussion of Secretary Clinton’s trip to Africa – notice how the distinguished Lehrer introduces the topic:
JIM LEHRER: OK, you mentioned the word, the name "Clinton." How about Secretary of State Clinton? What do you think about her trip to Africa and that little outburst about her husband?
With the usual smirks and leers, the three white males chortled over the incident, poking fun at Bill Clinton while grudgingly acknowledging the appropriateness of Secretary Clinton’s response to the offensive question posed by a student.
With that out of the way, the so-called analysis includes a few general comments about Africa, acknowledging that Clinton brought her star power to the region.
The NewsHour’s shamelessly sexist coverage of Clinton’s trip is in sharp contrast to Mary Beth Sheridan’s comprehensive, balanced article in today’s Washington Post. Sheridan highlights a major theme of Clinton’s trip – her strong support of women’s rights, putting her own life at risk in places like the Congo, which is known as the rape capital of the world.
She talked chickens with female farmers in Kenya. She listened to the excruciating stories of rape victims in war-torn eastern Congo. And in South Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited a housing project built by poor women, where she danced with a choir singing "Heel-a-ree! Heel-a-ree!"
Clinton's just-concluded 11-day trip to Africa has sent the clearest signal yet that she intends to make women's rights one of her signature issues and a higher priority than ever before in American diplomacy.
She plans to press governments on abuses of women's rights and make women more central in U.S. aid programs.
But her efforts go beyond the marble halls of government and show how she is redefining the role of secretary of state. Her trips are packed with town hall meetings and visits to micro-credit projects and women's dinners. Ever the politician, she is using her star power to boost women who could be her allies.
"It's just a constant effort to elevate people who, in their societies, may not even be known by their own leaders," Clinton said in an interview. "My coming gives them a platform, which then gives us the chance to try and change the priorities of the governments."
Clinton's efforts are being reinforced by a White House women's council and a Congress with a growing number of powerful female members. One sign of that: Aid dedicated to programs for Afghan women and girls increased about threefold this year, to $250 million, because of lawmakers such as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who was recently named head of the first Senate subcommittee on global women's issues, and Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.
It is striking how much time Clinton dedicates to women's events on her trips, even ones that receive little public attention. In South Africa, a clearly delighted Clinton spent 90 minutes at the housing project, twice as long as she met with South Africa's president. "It feeds my heart," she explained. "Which is really critical to me personally since a lot of what I do as secretary of state is very formalistic. It's meetings with other officials."
With Obama’s election as president, it became possible for every little boy to believe he could grow up to fulfill his dreams; in time, maybe Hillary Clinton will be able to thwart the likes of Lehrer, Shields, and Brooks and her contributions to the world will mean that every little girl can believe she can also grow up to fulfill her dreams.
May it be so.