Challenging Sexist Language: An Open Letter to The New York Times


new york times front page #DoBetterNYTimes

We are an organization of thousands of women who enthusiastically support Secretary Hillary Clinton for president. Our members know very well her qualifications, experience, hard work, policies, concern for issues important to all Americans, trustworthiness, kindness, and graciousness.

That is why we were appalled to read a story published in the digital edition of The New York Times on Monday, originally titled Presidential Candidates Gear Up for a Busy Labor Day, in which reporter Ashley Parker referred to Secretary Clinton as a “politician’s-wife-turned-politician-herself” who spent the summer “hobnobbing…with celebrities.” In two demeaning, sexist sentences, The Times dismissed Secretary Clinton’s extraordinary accomplishments, including her Yale law degree, the decades she spent working for the poor and underprivileged, her eight years as a senator from New York, and her four years as secretary of state (in addition to her eight years as first lady).

By attempting to delegitimize the secretary or depict her as a frivolous party-hopper, The Times has done the candidate a grave disservice. Secretary Clinton is a hardworking candidate who has been campaigning, honing policy, and doing voter outreach for more than a year. That she spent some of August undertaking traditional fundraising, as have her predecessors, is not surprising given the requirements of running a campaign. We would venture to guess, however, that if the Clinton campaign were cash poor, The Times would be the first to point a finger of doom.

And while the wording of the article, and the bias it revealed, angered us, the surreptitious editing that followed—perhaps in response to tweets and emails—without any mea culpa from the editors, only exacerbated the problem. As this NewsDiffs log of the various incarnations of the story shows, the original version, posted before 9:00 am, remained on virtually untouched for eight and a half hours. Most readers internalized that story, flaws and all. It wasn’t until after 5:00 pm that the online post was significantly revised—without a time stamp or editor’s note of explanation—now calling Secretary Clinton a “veteran politician” but leaving the “hobnobbing” comment intact. The current live draft, released after midnight, became the above-the-fold lead story in Tuesday’s print edition. The “hobnobbing” characterization was gone, but the writer could not resist a snarky assertion that Secretary Clinton “made nice with the news media” on her airplane yesterday, as if she somehow owed them something.

Such stealth editing on the part of The Times has been called out before, addressed in a column last March, in which then public editor Margaret Sullivan noted that “[d]igital platforms, after all, are not a test run.” Yet that is exactly how the editors chose to treat this story, publicly disseminating it to millions of readers in draft form for the better part of a day, and leaving in place editorializing that is supposed to be verboten according to The Times’s own style guide. Slipping in disrespectfully sexist passages and then deleting them without notice or explanation is unworthy of the paper’s editorial practices.

This is not an isolated incident; we have become increasingly frustrated with The Times for its skewed coverage of Secretary Clinton. Too often during this election season, The Times has published slanted articles masquerading as news. The article that was the catalyst for launching our Wise Women organization, Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright Rebuke Young Women Backing Bernie Sanders, underscores the point that you often do not even need to look past the headline to see The Times’ mischaracterization of the facts.

As the campaign went on, despite Secretary Clinton’s obvious popularity with voters, The Times portrayed her as struggling with the cool factor, lying about her emails (this one was repeated numerous times, regardless of the fact that the FBI said otherwise), under criminal investigation, and as a “mischievous child” hiding something in her well-earned public speeches given when she was private citizen. A wife-turned-politician? A mischievous child? Yes, these are actual descriptions The New York Times has used against the most qualified person in our lifetimes, and perhaps ever, to run for president.

Given their word choices, we believe it is no coincidence, that while The Times has taken time to blow up any piece of gossip or slander into “clouds” and “shadows” on Secretary Clinton’s campaign, it has, until this week, ignored any coverage of the Trump Foundation’s “gifts” to state attorneys general who were investigating Trump University. In the Labor Day article that we are protesting, there is only a brief mention of Florida AG Pam Bondi (and none of Texas-AG-now-governor Greg Abbott), and, even then, the subject is raised as an aside discussing Bill Clinton’s reference to a Washington Post article.

In a startling twist, The Times has turned innuendo into facts when it comes to Secretary Clinton, and then facts into innuendo with respect to the Trump Foundation story. There are appalling details underlying the Trump Foundation gifts, and the Times decision to not cover the story is more than galling—it is journalistic malpractice. The Times—the Paper of Record—once so nobly invested in finding corruption, now seems to be dedicating its investigative resources toward the wrong candidate.

Our membership of nearly 2,500 is comprised of informed, intelligent women of all backgrounds who came together because we also are wonks and news hounds. In fact, some of us are reporters ourselves, with collectively hundreds of years of experience as journalists. So we understand very well how, in this age of immediate digital media, reporters and editors can fall into a trap of “post now, fix later.” But this has consequences. Articles revised after the fact have already reached an impressionable audience, and mischaracterizations left in place will be accepted as truths in the historical record. We call on The New York Times to remember the great responsibility it carries and return to the journalistic practices that made it a highly respected newspaper: Stick to facts; report on policy, not innuendo; edit before publication, not after; and consider the impact of words before distributing them with such authority to the world at large.

UPDATE: Since we first posted this letter, The Times has published a story about Donald Trump’s various suspect campaign contributions, including those to Pam Bondi, under the toothless headline Donald Trump’s Donation Is His Latest Brush With Campaign Finance Rules. Rather than call out the corruption themselves, or point out that other media outlets have been questioning these donations for months, the reporters attribute all criticism of Trump’s practices to “Democrats and liberal watchdogs.” To their credit, however, The Times editorial board simultaneously published a piece, titled Pay for Play, Mr. Trump?, in which they pointedly question the legality of  payments to both Bondi and Abbott.

Wise Women for Clinton

  • Tamara Holt, New York, NY
    Kate McSweeny, Washington, DC
    Robin Alperstein, Brooklyn, NY
    Tanya Domi, New York, NY

    Anne Mollegen Smith, Brooklyn, NY
    Leslie Hermelin, New York, NY
    Karen Todd, Los Angeles, CA
    Mira Gerard, Johnson City, TN
    Emily Simon, Los Angeles, CA
    Kacey Farrell, Virginia Beach, VA
    Robin Black, Philadelphia, PA
    Dara Epstein Obbard, Andover, MA
    Deborah Barnes, Milwaukie, OR
    Nancy Letts, Cortlandt Manor, NY
    Sarah Durkee, New York, NY
    Sonni Mun M.D., New York, NY
    Naomi Shapiro, Wichita, KS
    Jonna Rubin, Framingham, MA
    Susan J. Getgood, Bridgeport, CT
    Marcy Rauer Wagman, San Diego, CA
    Elisa Camahort Page, San Jose, CA
    Judith M. Forman, Westwood, NJ
    Susan R. Doctrow, Arlington, MA
    Ann Brandman, Honolulu, HI
    Nichola Samponaro, Greenwich, CT
    Kate Wheeler, Pasadena, CA
    Jennifer Smith-Garvin, Athens, GA
    Rikkaela Kasperski, Chicago, IL
    LeAnn Davis, New York, NY
    Cristina Tate, San Jose, CA
    Barbara Aronstein Black, New York, NY
    Adrienne Verrilli, Queens, NY
    Sherry Brown, Oakland, CA
    Shauna Turnbull, Andover, NH
    Heather J. Fowles, Arlington, MA
    Lynn Bishop, Arlington, MA
    Elizabeth Jurenovich, San Antonio, TX
    Christine Cox Reinauer, Austin, TX
    Shana Corey, Brooklyn, NY
    Holley Atkinson, Brooklyn, NY
    Michele Chivu, New York, NY
    Aliza Worthington, Baltimore, MD
    Teresa Dunn Giroux, Columbia, MD
    Sandy Marks, Alexandria, VA
    Cynthia Bishop, Standish, ME
    Maggie Christ, Chappaqua, NY
    Susan Shaer, Arlington, MA
    Patti Schwartz, Binghamton, NY
    Sara E. Raymond, Castro Valley, CA
    Mary Rose Quinn, Woburn, MA
    Theresa Trzaskoma, Brooklyn, NY
    Liz Rizzo, Los Angeles, CA
    Jennifer Joan Allen, Aurora, TX
    Louise Mutterperl, Worcester, MA
    Sarah Ragan, Weston, CT
    Mary E Christenson, Chanhassen, MN
    Susan Braunhut, Wellesley MA
    Susan McDonald, Warwick, NY
    Kelly Andrews, Philadelphia, PA
    Linda Tomassi, Portland, OR
    Melissa Yu, San Francisco, CA
    Chris Black, San Francisco, CA
    Liza Donnelly, New York, NY
    Lorraine Dusky, Sag Harbor, NY
    Laurie Stewart, San Jose, CA
    Carrie Preston, Madison, WI
    Victoria S. Cook, New York, NY
    Christina Sebez , Torrance, CA
    Anne Manning, Ashland, MA
    Tracey Briones, San Francisco, CA
    Gena Galanti, Philadelphia, Pa
    Ravenna Taylor, Delaware Township, NJ
    Carina Chocano, Los Angeles, CA
    Laurie Henzel, Brooklyn, NY
    Wanda Davis, Dallas, OR
    Marian Belgray, Los Angeles, CA
    Heather Anderson, Los Angeles, CA
    Amanda Mitchell, Mountainside, NJ
    Emily Nazarov, Wilsonville, OR
    Patricia L. Whiteside, Palm Beach, FL
    Deborah Ludewig , Monte Sereno, CA
    Mary-Lynne Williams, Seattle, WA
    Lorraine Pastore, Brooklyn, NY
    Basia Hellwig, New York, NY
    Marian Belgray, Los Angeles, CA
    Claire Corcoran , Boston, MA
    Katherine K LaLime, Vero Beach, FL
    Catherine Collins, Philadelphia, PA
    Rachel Kolliopoulos, Arlington, VA
    Margaret McCann , New York, NY
    Laurel Brett, Port Jefferson, NY
    Joanne Bamberger, Chevy Chase, MD
    Lorien Babajian, Hackettstown, NJ
    Lucy Meskill, Milord, NJ
    Andrea Greer, Houston, Texas
    Carolyn Gonzalez, Wilmington, NC
    Tyler Knowles, Blue Hill, ME
    Sandra Sallee, Cairo, GA
    Bess Scully, Denver, CO
    Melanie Hope Greenberg, New York, NY
    Libby Chamberlain, Brooklin, ME
    Cat Lincoln, San Francisco, CA
    Annette Niemtzow, New York, NY
    Aimee Giese, Denver, CO
    Patricia McKeogh, Katonah, NY
    Victoria Bandon Noonan, Potomac Falls, VA
    Joan Durkee, Newton, MA
    Ellis Hughes, Asheville, NC
    Karen A. Packer , Portland, OR
    Rebecca Ward, Denver, CO
    Beth Weber, West Orange, NJ
    Priscilla Warner, Larchmont, NY
    Risa A Levine, New York, NY
    Molly Smith, Washington, DC
    Megan Dawson, Boulder, CO
    Kristin Wald, Montclair, NJ
    Emily Lifshitz, Trumbull, CT
    Kristen Wilke, St. Louis, MO
    Jennie Shortridge, Seattle, WA
    Elizabeth Pugh, New York, NY
    Lorna Tychostup, New Paltz, NY
    Ann S. Jacobs, Milwaukee, WI
    Joan Sand, Zumbrota, MN
    Lauren Porsch, New York, NY
    Stefania Pomponi, Palo Alto, CA
    Marquita Levy, Brooklyn, NY
    Shelly Kramer, Kansas City, MO
    Erin Forrest, Waterloo, WI
    Stephanie Romanos, Boston, MA
    Kristyn Keener, New York, NY
    Ellen Goldberg, New York, NY

  • Alexandra Bandon, New York, NY
    Emily Cacioppo-Monus, Jersey City, NJ
    Liz Gumbinner, Brooklyn, NY
    Debra Messing, New York, NY
    Amy Ignatow, Philadelphia, PA
    Sherree Merenstein Drezner, Madison, WI
    Elaine Lawson, Lexington, SC
    Amanda Deyerle, Salem, OR
    Barbara Peterson, Pacifica, CA
    Heather Turnbull, Chatham, NJ
    Kristin M. Miles, Chappaqua, NY
    Lisa Barnes, Boulder, CO
    Holli Broadfoot, Morristown, NJ
    Emily Kate Learnard, Brooklyn, NY
    Erika Drezner, Brooklyn, NY
    Anne Harris, Riverside, IL
    Molly Lerma, Anchorage, AK
    Lisa Allen, Hillsboro, OR
    Cheryl Souza-Parejo, Boston, MA
    Nina Restieri, Riverside, CT
    Hyon Su Kwon, Brooklyn, NY
    Lisa Bassani, New Haven, CT
    Judy Goldberg, Brooklyn, NY
    Stephanie M. Himel-Nelson, Esq., Chesapeake, VA
    Rachel Kolliopoulos, Arlington, VA
    Heidi Segal, Studio City, CA
    Ilene Marder Hinchey, Saugerties, NY
    Doris Casap Warren, Brooklyn, NY
    Suzy Capozzi, Peekskill, NY
    Asha Dornfest, Portland, OR
    Victoria Spetter, Newton, MA
    Linda Powell, New York, NY
    Randy Susan Meyers, Boston, MA
    Dr. Elizabeth Reyes-Fournier, Miami, Fl
    J. Silverperl Kleinskell, Arlington, VA
    Risa L. Arin, Chatham, NJ
    Elizabeth Blackney, Williamsburg, VA
    Terryl Donovan, Brooklyn, NY
    Lauren Young, Mount Pleasant, WI
    Deirdre Bergeron, Natick, MA
    Nan Bookless, Pittsfield, MA
    Mary Provance-Garvens, Waukesha, WI
    Katherine Center, Houston, TX
    Abigail Murray, Detroit, Michigan
    Hannah E. Simon, Arlington, MA
    Amy M. Hamilton , Short Hills, NJ
    Audrey Marcus Berkman, Newton, MA
    Stephanie Dolgoff, New York, NY
    Stacey Smith, New York, NY
    Debbie Koenig, Brooklyn, NY
    Cheryl Souza-Parejo, Boston, MA
    Sarah Karakaian, New York, NY
    Beth Goldstein-Huxen, Philadelphia, PA
    Molly Lerma, Anchorage, AK
    Tara Dublin, Portland, OR
    Liz Rosenthal, New York, NY
    Jolene Siana, Brooklyn, NY
    Chana Rothman, Philadelphia, PA
    Claire Casey, Washington, DC
    Jayme Kennedy, Upland, CA
    Melody Axe, North Plains, OR
    Maggie Haskins, Los Angeles, CA
    Bonnie Siegler, Westport, CT
    Lorrie DeKay, White Salmon, WA
    Alice Belgray, New York, NY
    Barbara Sibley, New York, NY
    Helen Stickler, Los Angeles CA
    Nancy R Liebman , Skokie, IL
    Amanda Forman, Flourtown, PA
    Jessica Kramer, New York, NY
    Katharine Swibold, Tarrytown, NY
    Sandy Ernst, Newark, DE
    Carolyn Mazzu Genovesi, Glen Head, New York
    Robin Krosinsky , New York, NY
    Constance F. Roland, Esq., Wantagh, NY
    Tina Hsu, Bethesda, MD
    Marnie Ann Joyce, New York, NY
    Fran DiDonato, Cleveland, OH
    Georgette Gilmore, Montclair, NJ
    Gina McHatton, Los Angeles, CA
    Holly Rosen Fink, Larchmont, NY
    Lisa Ridlon, Burbank, CA
    Sarah Campbell, Brooklyn, NY
    Stefania Pomponi, Palo Alto, CA
    Marquita Levy, Brooklyn, NY
    Lynda Kennedy, New York, NY
    Mim Adkins, Boston, MA
    Courtney Malley , Philadelphia, pa
    Susan Edelman, New York, NY
    Katie Bunten-Wren, Kittery, Maine
    Sheila Allen Avelin, Philadelphia, PA
    Rebecca Rod, Moscow, Idaho
    Karen Gestwicki , Charlotte, NC
    Jennifer McCann , Buffalo, NY
    Analiese Eicher, Sun Prairie, WI
    Ellen Hollander-Sande, Brooklyn, NY
    Theresa W. Carey, Palo Alto, CA
    Karen Heywood, W. Peabody, MA
    Molly Smith, Washington, DC
    Emily Lesinski, Middlesex, NJ
    Sarah Marks, Walnut Creek, CA
    Erin Kotecki Vest, Valencia, CA
    Peggy McCollum, Golumbus, GA
    Kelly Lotterhos Hime, Denver, CO
    Elizabeth Price, Eugene, OR
    Tracy Baron, Dobbs Ferry, NY
    Jennifer Parsons, Brooklyn, NY

    …and thousands more