Howard Kurtz: Bachmann Should Have Expected Verbal Abuse Because She Ran for President

Michele Bachmann complained that although the media are outraged over an insult of Sandra Fluke, "there is no level of vitriol that's beyond the pale" when the victims are conservative women. CNN's Howard Kurtz questioned that assumption since Bachmann ran for president and should have expected "a lot of criticism." Apparently, running for president nowadays subjects you and your family to vile, obscene, personal insults – and you should simply expect it.

When then-candidate Obama was the target of a fraction of the vitriol Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann received as presidential candidates, the media rushed to his defense and rightfully did not tolerate such invective being a part of the presidential process. [Warning: this article includes uncensored vulgarities to accurately represent what certain members of the media have said about conservative women.]

Once Bachmann declared last June that she had filed to run for president, the floodgates were opened from the left. Liberal comedian Bill Maher called her a "MILF" and joked about her being "mentally retarded" and her husband wanting to be violated. Gay rights activist Dan Savage ripped her as a "scumbag" and a "grifter."

Rolling Stone's Matt Taibi – who penned this lovely farewell to Andrew Breitbart – referred to Bachmann as "batshit crazy" and a "psychopath" with "Terminator-testicles." Washington Post columnist Colby King referred to the candidate as "Barbie with fangs."

On the Stephanie Miller radio show, one of the sidekicks wished Bachmann would be fed deadly "listeria-filled canteloupe," and at another time Miller herself pondered if Bachmann hadn't already had an abortion.

Probably the insult which drew the largest sense of outrage from the public was Newsweek's embarrassing cover of a wide-eyed Bachmann next to the headline "Queen of Rage." CNN's Carol Costello did ask if "Republican women" are "unfairly criticized because they're women?"

And Howard Kurtz added that liberal media pundits like Bill Maher and Ed Schultz, who have made outrageous comments in the past about conservative women, can rightfully be held to the same standard as Rush Limbaugh. However, he had already questioned the validity of Michele Bachmann's rightful complaints about "no level of vitriol that's beyond the pale" for conservative women. Just because Bachmann opened herself to criticism by running for president doesn't mean the vile abuse should still have occurred.

Earlier in the segment, Kurtz and CNN host Brooke Baldwin also played up the fact that Limbaugh had attacked a law student and not a "major political figure" – forgetting that the student Sandra Fluke is herself an activist and testified before Congress, thus placing herself in the public square.



A transcript of the segment, which aired on March 6 on Newsroom at 2:56 p.m. EST, is as follows:

HOWARD KURTZ: But there's something about this – you know, because Rush has used some inflammatory language over the years, but something about the use of the word "slut" aimed at a specific young woman who nobody ever heard of before that really has created something of a crisis for him.


BROOKE BALDWIN: You mentioned the student here. It got a couple of us thinking, sort of, if there maybe is a pattern when it comes to the target. Because you know the story of Don Imus who lost his job for what he said about students, right? Some members of the Rutgers college basketball team. In Limbaugh's case, this is a third-year law student. I mean, we're not talking about pundits, we're not talking about major political figures who are on the airwaves each and every day. There's a difference, is there not?

HOWARD KURTZ: And that's precisely it, because Limbaugh can go on and on and on about Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama. These are established public figures who have their own megaphones and can answer back and are used to being in the arena. It's the fact that he put a face on what the Democrats, in trying to capitalize on this, call the Republicans' "war on women," that he went after this young woman, Sandra Fluke, in such a personal way for daring to testify about something that she believes in, whether you agree with it or not, about access to birth control through health insurance plans, that has caused this backlash, one that I haven't seen a backlash of this magnitude, involving Limbaugh, despite all the controversies that he has been at the center of over the past two decades.

BALDWIN: Ever. Ever, you say?

KURTZ: That's correct.

BALDWIN: Yeah. I want to play a little sound. This is Michele Bachmann talking to Piers Morgan about this whole controversy. This was just last night. Take a listen.

(Video Clip)

Rep. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-Minn.): I have gone through, myself, an experience – more things said about me, and I have never seen this level of outrage on the left about what left-leaning commentators said about me.

PIERS MORGAN: That doesn't – that doesn't justify it –

BACHMANN: No really. I mean, honestly. It's – if you're a conservative woman, it seems like there is no level of vitriol that's beyond the pale. I've been on the receiving end of it. We all know Governor Palin has been on the receiving end of it. You don't see this level of outrage. You certainly don't see advertisers cutting back, and I think that maybe that's what we should learn out of all of this.

(End Video Clip)

BALDWIN: So that's her perspective. I mean, obviously, I read your piece in the Daily Beast. Basically, you're lead is the fact that this whole uproar is a gift to Democrats. But Howard, isn't this more about women, than the left or the right?

KURTZ: Well, the view on the conservative side, though, is that the issue should be about contraception and religious freedom, whether Catholic organizations should be forced to provide this kind of coverage. I mean, for Michele Bachmann to say that, it's a little bit of an unfair comparison because she ran for president. She willingly stepped into the arena, knowing that she was going to be the target of a lot of criticism. That's part of running for the White House.

A better comparison, I think, and what does suggest that there is a little bit of a double standard, would be comparing it to another pundit. Bill Maher has said – used some pretty incendiary language in talking about women. Ed Schultz of MSNBC used the slut word and then last year, he was suspended and apologized to Laura Ingram, the conservative radio talk show host.

Neither of those stories has ever been as big as this Limbaugh episode. But at the same time, Rush is a much bigger figure and more closely tied to the Republican party, which is why you have Republican candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich being asked about Rush's remarks, much bigger figure than these others. But there should be a consistent standard here, and it shouldn't just be let's all the people on the left beat up on a conservative when he says that and vice-versa when it's a liberal who talks his way into trouble.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014