Dede Scozzafava's exit from a major campaign gave readers a perfect glimpse into the double standard applied by the media when it comes to women in politics.
The World Newser, official blog of ABC's World News Tonight, ran an article November 2 lamenting Scozzafava suspending her campaign curtly titled "Message to the GOP - 'Moderates Need Not Apply.'"
The piece quoted three people sympathetic to moderates and a long quote from Scozzafava herself, but only one voice to speak for conservatives. Among the complaints was that conservatives targeted Scozzafava for being a woman instead of focusing on political issues.
Perhaps a report on Scozzafava's lipstick preferences would have been more substantive since that was counted as newsworthy on the World Newser blog just one year ago.
In covering Scozzafava, ABC got right to the point in the second sentence:
Sarah and Rush, Glenn Beck and the rest of the Republican right "have basically hung out a moderates need not apply sign" says former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.
Conservatives like Palin had argued that Scozzafava was not so much a moderate as a liberal in disguise who "more than blurs the lines" between the parties. The World Newser glossed over her positions in an attempt to make her seem more moderate:
Scozzafava's crime apparently was that she was not Republican enough: conservative on some issues but a supporter of abortion rights and gay rights. So off with her head!... The price she paid raises a key question -- is the GOP tent becoming too small for a "discussion of the issues?"
It didn't occur to ABC that perhaps voters had spent all summer discussing the issues and chose Hoffman as someone who best represented them, especially since Scozzafava had been selected without a primary. In the mind of the MSM, the only rational "discussion" to be had over issues like abortion is to be pro-choice.
This notion of narrow-minded conservatives came out in a full-fledged assault a few paragraphs later:
But some believe the right's ideology police will swoop down on more women candidates. Scozzafava, they say, is only the first Republican woman to be targeted. Next on the chopping block, says author Linda Hirshman, is Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. Senator Hutchison is in a tight primary race for Governor "and unwilling to say women should go to jail for their abortions," writes Hirshman, "She is the next duck in the barefoot and pregnant shooting gallery."
Not only did conservatives banish Scozzafava for being pro-choice, now the implication was that she was punished for being a woman by the "ideology police."
Yet back in 2008 when a pro-life woman was running for Vice President, the World Newser had no such worry about women not being taken seriously.
Following Sarah Palin's announcement from the McCain campaign, the blog concerned itself with gossip surrounding Palin's family and even promoted a public gambling pool to predict when she might bow out of the race. Snarky cries of "off with her head" did not apply to attacks on her.
ABC news reporters Kate Snow and Imtiyaz Delawala used the blog on September 26, 2008 to criticize Palin's interview performances. The piece relied on attacks from "conservatives" like Kathleen Parker to convince readers that even the right was ashamed of how Palin acted with the media. Nowhere did they feel a need to discuss Palin's actual stance on important subjects, just her performance in front of a camera.
Just in case readers might forget that Palin was a woman, the World Newser highlighted a discussion from The View on October 2, 2008. The ladies of the The View once again focused less on issues and more on Palin's dry sense of humor. That supposedly counted as serious coverage of a Vice Presidential candidate to ABC.
Again on October 22, 2008, a mere two weeks before the election, the World Newser printed a hit piece on the controversy around Palin's wardrobe:
And today Governor Palin has a new question to answer: Did the Republican Party pay $150,000 to "clothe and accessorize" her and her family, with big-ticket purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus? Whose money was it? How does this square with her everyday, Joe-The-Plumber appeal?
Such catty and superficial writing appeared in nearly every piece about Palin on the World Newser in 2008. Back then, political issues were not as important as makeup and designer clothes.
Now when a liberal woman was denied support based solely on her political positions, it obviously meant that conservatives were sexist bigots. This time, no one had printed attacks on Scozzafava's wardrobe or peddled hurtful gossip about her children.
Yet the World Newser mystically saw sexism at work anyway. In a race that really was about substance, the only explanation for a liberal woman's defeat had to be her gender.
The real message from ABC News has come through loud and clear: conservative women need not apply.