Forget mainstream media’s stereotypes; learn about candidates yourself

Column by Kathryn Hogg

According to the election coverage, I’m a supporter of Hillary Clinton. I am a registered Democrat, white and female. My youth could indicate that I’m an “Obama girl,” but the fact that I’m an all-out feminist places me squarely in Clinton’s camp.

This seems to make a lot of sense until I remember that I’m not actually planning on voting for Clinton in the upcoming presidential primary.

I must admit that I’ve subjected myself to more than a normal dose of mainstream media coverage; nothing beats coming home from a long day at class and work and absorbing the wisdom of the pundits on CNN, MSNBC and yes, shamefully, Fox News. I spend more time than I should procrastinating by checking news Web sites while “doing my homework.”

Despite all this, I’ve realized lately that I still don’t know as much as I should about the candidates’ stances on the issues that are important to me.

Certainly, I can tell you about Rudy Giuliani’s deeply flawed strategy of concentrating only on Florida, and I can tell you who outspent whom in any given state. I know all about the anxiety and fear that Midwestern men allegedly feel when confronted with Clinton. I’ve heard over and over that many women in my age group can’t sympathize with the struggle for women’s rights faced by the previous generation and therefore won’t see any reason to vote Clinton.

And if people who are important enough to be put on television say it several times, it must be true, right? Because there couldn’t be any other reason to decide which candidate you support than how much they look or sound, or genetically resemble you, right?

Well … no. I can’t help but feeling like there’s something wrong with the fact that I know about how Mitt Romney expects to be received by evangelical Christians but not about his stance on environmental issues. I knew about Giuliani’s campaign commercials but never quite kept up with his stance on abortion at any given moment.

I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been bothering me about this arrangement for months now, and it comes down to the fact that the media is failing to elevate the public discourse and is relying on spreading stereotypes that pigeonhole voters instead.

The worst example of this tendency is the much talked-about dilemma that black women are apparently collectively facing: Obama or Clinton?

Pundits have been having a wonderful time speculating about whether black women will vote for their female identities in Clinton or their African-American identities in Obama. This discussion is problematic because, in the context of public discourse, it limits the choices of black female voters with a dangerous brand of essentialism. This particular brand reduces black women to two elements.

There is no room in this discussion for the other priorities that undoubtedly shape the decisions of these voters, and it demeans the intellect and agency of individual voters. The media doesn’t seem to trust black women, or women in general, to vote based on the issues; the coverage suggests that only white men can do that.

Considering that the news organizations that are meant to enlighten us are largely failing, we each have a daunting choice to make.

Our decisions are important, and they are importantly our own. The challenge will be seeking out information on where the candidates actually stand and making informed decisions instead of allowing the media to categorize us and distribute prefabricated information packages. This means doing homework, which can include reading campaign Web sites, independent news sources, foreign news sources, and reading transcripts or watching video of campaign speeches instead of just relying on analyses of speeches.

The media has got it backward. Instead of telling us the candidates’ positions on the issues, they’re endlessly rehashing our supposed positions on the candidates. It’s up to us to give them a surprise or two on election night.

Kathryn Hogg is an English and gender and women’s studies senior.

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