Earlier this week, President Donald Trump (ugh) made headlines for the way he treated two women journalists.
On Tuesday, he interrupted a phone call with the Irish prime minister to comment on an Irish journalist’s appearance.
“Well, we have a lot of your Irish press watching us,” Trump said, according to the New York Times, before pointing at journalist Caitriona Perry and saying, “And where are you from? Go ahead. Come here, come here. Where are you from? We have all of this beautiful Irish press.” After Perry introduced herself, Trump said, “She has a nice smile on her face so I bet she treats you well.”
Perry later tweeted out the video of the interaction with the comment, “Video of the bizarre moment when President @realDonaldTrump called me over during his call with Taoiseach @campaignforLeo Varadkar. @rtenews.”
Just two days later, Trump sent out a series of tweets about another female journalist - Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s show “Morning Joe.”
“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” he tweeted.
In response, Brzezinski tweeted a photo of a box of Cheerios “made for little hands.”
This morning, she discussed the tweets on “Morning Joe,” saying that they showed Trump’s “fragile, childlike ego." In addition, Brezinski and her “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough published an op-ed in the Washington Post this morning, in which they wrote:
“More significant is Mr. Trump’s continued mistreatment of women. It is disturbing that the president of the United States keeps up his unrelenting assault on women. From his menstruation musings about Megyn Kelly, to his fat-shaming treatment of a former Miss Universe, to his braggadocio claims about grabbing women’s genitalia, the 45th president is setting the poorest of standards for our children. We were heartened to hear a number of Republican lawmakers call out Mr. Trump for his offensive words and can only hope that the women who are closest to him will follow their examples. It would be the height of hypocrisy to claim the mantle of women’s empowerment while allowing a family member to continue such abusive conduct.”
In each instance, Trump showed that he judges women journalists not by their accomplishments, or even by the way they write about his administration, but by their appearance. He complimented Perry’s appearance and insulted Brzezinski’s - but in each case treated them as if their appearances that were the only thing that mattered.
But although we’ve come to expect the worst from Trump, we should also look at how the media is covering the insulting way he treats female reporters. After Trump complimented Perry, much of the media coverage of their encounter focused on her reaction - to laugh uncomfortably - and many articles describing the exchange as Trump “flirting” with Perry, rather than sexually harassing her.
Likewise, much of the coverage of Trump’s insults to Brzezinski have focused on the fact that she didn’t have a face lift - something that Brzezinski and Scarboruogh spent a whole paragraph refuting in their op-ed, as well:
“Putting aside Mr. Trump’s never-ending obsession with women’s blood, Mika and her face were perfectly intact, as pictures from that night reveal. And though it is no one’s business, the president’s petulant personal attack against yet another woman’s looks compels us to report that Mika has never had a face-lift. If she had, it would be evident to anyone watching ‘Morning Joe’ on their high-definition TV. She did have a little skin under her chin tweaked, but this was hardly a state secret. Her mother suggested she do so, and all those around her were aware of this mundane fact.”
Let’s be clear - it wouldn’t matter if Brzezinski had had a face lift, because the way she looks shouldn’t matter - the way she does her job should. And it doesn’t matter how Perry reacted to Trump’s comments, because it doesn’t change the fact that he made them in the first place.
But the focus on whether Brzezinski had a face lift or not, and the way Perry reacted to Trump, and discussion of both of their appearances, shows that Trump isn’t alone in the way he judges female reporters based on their looks - much of the media, and public, does the same thing.
I’m reminded of a recent profile ELLE magazine published of New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who is considered one of the greatest political reporters working today - and one of the few whom Trump seems to respect, though he certainly doesn’t appreciate everything she writes about him, as his tweets about the "failing New York Times" show.
In the feature, writer Rachael Combe points out that much of the media coverage about the way Haberman reports on Trump has fallen into sexist tropes - and she’s not talking about Breitbart. Slate called Haberman Trump’s “snake charmer,” and New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick compared Trump to Haberman’s “ardent, twisted, suitor.”
“I didn’t care for that metaphor,” Haberman said of Remnick’s comment, calling comparisons of her relationship with Trump - that of a reporter and her subject - to a romantic relationship “facile.”
Combe points out, “No one suggests her male colleagues are ‘wooing’ Trump.”
So, yes - condemn the way that Trump treats female reporters, because whether he says they’re beautiful or ugly, he's still focusing on their looks - which should not matter. But also pay attention to the way the media covers these encounters, and the way people talk about them.
Because sexism against women journalists doesn’t end with Trump’s tweets.
Top photo via MSNBC.com
More from BUST