For those who don’t know, Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for the Washington Post’s politics blog The Fix. I am neither of fan generally of that blog (with the exception of one of its regulars, Sean Sullivan, and one or two of the several others) nor a fan specifically of Henderson—who, best as I can tell, never met a comment related to women, or to a woman, that she didn’t reflexively view as sexist if some woman or women said the comment is sexist or if the comment could be twisted as sexist.
And this morning Joni Ernst said a comment by Tom Harkin about her was sexist; ergo, Henderson thinks the comment by Harkin is sexist.
Or, more specifically, Henderson thinks that Harkin said Ernst is as attractive as Taylor Swift, so even though Harkin said nothing of kind—seriously; he said nothing of the kind—Henderson thinks Harkin said Ernst is as attractive as Taylor Swift. Specifically, here in full is what Henderson wrote, in a post titled “Tom Harkin compares Joni Ernst to Taylor Swift, because sexism. Then he apologizes.”, which I momentarily thought, naïvely, was sarcastic:
Here’s a Fix rule for politicians. Never, ever, ever comment on someone else’s personal appearance. Nothing good can ever come of it.
Retiring Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin just broke this rule into a million pieces. Here’s what he said about state Senator Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee running to replace him, courtesy of Buzzfeed:
“In this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads. And there’s sort of this sense that. Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive, and she sounds nice. Well, I got to thinking about that. I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”
If you watch the video, what Harkin said isn’t just him riffing and going off script. Nope, he has clearly given some forethought to what he said and doesn’t think it’s sexist or problematic. He likes the line. He thinks it’s cute and clever and the audience seems at least slightly amused.
Ernst, a National Guard lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq, was not. In an interview with Fox News she said she was “very offended that Sen. Harkin would say that.” “I think it’s unfortunate that he and many of their party believe that you can’t be a real woman if you’re conservative and you’re female,” Ernst said, adding that there is a double standard in terms of coverage. “I believe if my name had been John Ernst attached to my resume, Sen. Harkin would not have said those things.”
She is exactly right. The relative attractiveness of “John Ernst” would not likely be a focus for Harkin.
Give Ernst credit. She came up with this zinger of a retort to Harkin.
“He compared me to Taylor Swift, so I’m gonna shake it off.” ‐ @joniernst responds to Harkin
comments at kick off of 24‐hour campaign swing
8:51 AM ‐ 3 Nov 2014
82 RETWEETS 24 FAVORITES
Update #1: Harkin has, so far, declined to apologize.
Update #2: Harkin has now apologized.
EXCLUSIVE ‐ Just talked w/ @SenatorHarkin ‐ says he
“was wrong” to make Taylor Swift remarks re:
@joniernst ‐ “Didn’t mean to hurt anyone”
2:33 PM ‐ 3 Nov 2014
No, indeed, the relative attractiveness of “John Ernst” would not likely be a focus for Harkin. Nor, of course, was the relative attractiveness of Joni Ernst a focus for Harkin. Harkin’s comment was that he kept hearing that Ernst’s attractiveness is a focus of some voters, as is her reputed niceness—and that neither is an appropriate focus, in Harkin’s opinion, because neither will impact how her votes in the Senate would affect her constituents’ lives. Only her ideologically-based votes—which will be most of her votes—will affect her constituents’ lives.
If she does become a senator.
Not really a tough concept to understand. And I don’t actually know whether Ernst herself did not understand the comment or instead just pretended not to understand it. Harkin’s comment involved a more-than-one-step analysis—two steps, by my count—and Ernst doesn’t present herself as the most intelligent of folks, so maybe she didn’t understand the comment rather than taking a clear-but-compound statement and twisting it for attempted political gain. But there’s no question at all that Henderson did not understand it.
Here’s a rule for political journalists. Never, ever, ever mindlessly adopt some politician’s or political operative’s take on an opponent’s statement. Nothing good can ever come of it.