When the New York Times got around to reporting Ted Yoho’s vicious outburst at Ocasio-Cortez, they put all the emphasis on the woman’s anger, as if Yoho was in a boys will be boys moment, and Ocasio-Cortez was over-sensitive. Rebecca Traister explains what the Times was up to.
The Times’ story on the speech bore the headline “A.O.C. Unleashes a Viral Condemnation of Sexism in Congress” and kicked off by noting that Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman in Congress, who arrived there in 2019, “has upended traditions.” It called her speech on Thursday “norm-shattering” and described supporting speeches made by her colleagues — including one in which Pramila Jayapal recalled being referred to as a “young lady” who did not “know a damn thing” by Alaska representative Don Young — as a moment of “cultural upheaval.”
All these words somehow cast Ocasio-Cortez and her female colleagues as the disruptive and chaotic forces unleashed in this scenario, suggesting that they shattered norms in a way that Representative Yoho’s original, profane outburst apparently did not. (Perhaps Yoho’s words weren’t understood as eruptive and norm-shattering because calling women nasty names, in your head or with your friends or on the steps of your workplace, is much more of a norm than most want to acknowledge).
As Mark Harris pointed out on Twitter, the Times only printed the full epithet in a piece about Ocasio-Cortez reading it into the House record, after declining to print the words in an earlier story, when they would have been attributed to Yoho. This offered the faint impression that the only person who actually said the actual words “fucking bitch” was AOC herself, and not the man who aimed them at her. What’s more, the paper described her as “punching each syllable in the vulgarity,” reinforcing a view of Ocasio-Cortez’s utterances as pugilistic, without acknowledgment that while she enunciated clearly, she delivered her speech in the calmest and most genial tones imaginable. (An earlier Times story on Yoho’s non-apology and Ocasio-Cortez’s initial response to it described her as having “upbraided” him, and opened with a description of how she “forcefully rejected” his apology.)
This is a perfect summary.
In describing her team’s decisions about how to respond, the Times put scare quotes around their plans “to discuss how she ‘was accosted and publicly ridiculed,’” rather than simply reporting that she had been … accosted and publicly ridiculed. The whole thing suggests that she had somehow connived to set this all in motion; that her actions were the active and self-serving ones, while Yoho was a passive actor, his only contribution to the situation providing the platform from which she might spring. As the Times put it: “Republicans have long labored to cast Ms. Ocasio-Cortez as an avatar of the evils of the Democratic Party, a move that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has used to bolster her own cheeky, suffer-no-fools reputation.”
The Times has long been a master of framing, whether it’s the he-said-she-said style of reporting, or this, pandering to the conservative businessman in a suit reading the paper in his limousine, aghast at the fact that women are in the workplace, the boardroom, even in the halls of power.
As we read commentators tell the story of women’s ambition and savvy and drive, all of which are surely politically animating forces — as they have been for all the many men who have preceded them in American politics — I hope people can remember that the analysis is not wrong, exactly, but that it is woefully incomplete. Because until we can see how white men have taken advantage of sexism and racism for their own gain — how they’ve built their own “brand,” the American brand — on the backs of the fucking bitches forever, we’re not really reading a full story.
Remember this: The NY Times is and always has been an agent of the status quo, working to build and reinforce the “American brand”. We won’t be able to rebuild our country by letting “the newspaper of record” tell the story.