Sexist Attacks on Hillary's Laugh


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

A writer named Patrick Healy yesterday critized Hillary Clinton in a tabloid-type trash article in the New York Times because of her laugh which he calls a "cackle." The implication: Hillary is a witch.

The weirdest moment was with Bob Schieffer on the CBS News program "Face the Nation" when Mr. Schieffer said to Mrs. Clinton, "You rolled out your new health care plan, something Republicans immediately said is going to lead to socialized medicine." She giggled, giggled some more, and then could not seem to stop giggling — "Sorry, Bob," she said — and finally unleashed the full Cackle.

As Media Matters has reported, Healy has been doing hit pieces on Democratic candidates for years while giving Rudy Giuliani a pass. More inexplicable is that Maureen Dowd, whom Atrios calls Wanker of the Day today, chimes in.


As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: “She’s never going to get out of our faces. ... She’s like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won’t stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone.”

That’s why Hillary is laughing a lot now, big belly laughs, in response to tough questions or comments, to soften her image as she confidently knocks her male opponents out of the way. From nag to wag.

Then there's Frank Rich who writes:

Now Mrs. Clinton is erupting in a laugh with all the spontaneity of an alarm clock buzzer.

Excuse me? How should a woman laugh? The inherent sexism in these characterizations should be obvious. And the point needs to be made that this is not really about how Hillary laughs because however she laughed, it would be criticized. If she snickered, "tee-heed", gleefully clapped her hands or raucously bellowed, all would be jumped on as inappropriate. As Ann at Feministing writes, "If they weren't using witch or schoolgirl allusions to describe the laugh, they'd no doubt be calling it "mannish."

What will happen when a sad event occurs? How is Hillary or any woman candidate expected to cry? Should she just let her eyes well up or should she gently wipe away a tear? Is she allowed to let a few stream down her cheeks? Can she make any noises? Remember Pat Schroeder? Will writers always fall for this style of commentary?

The truth is, if Hillary had only cried a little, back during The Troubles, she might not be seen as the ice queen.

It's a laugh, people. That journalists hungry for a hit piece make it into more warrants comment and criticism. I hope the New York Times dumps him. If you'd like to weigh in, you can do so here.

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    it's not just NYT (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Patriot Daily on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 04:40:40 PM EST
    Chris matthews has had field day with sexist remarks about hillary (who, btw, i do not support for prez).

    In 2007, Chris Matthews used the sexist slut/whore meme when he compared US Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to a "strip-teaser," described her as  "look[ing] more witchy"  because she criticized Bush on homeland security a day after London bombings, and referred to her as "sort of a Madame Defarge of the left."  Madame Thérèse Defarge is the main ruthless villain of the book A Tale of Two Cities.

    True (none / 0) (#17)
    by kovie on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 05:03:54 PM EST
    The media HAS been unfairly hard on Hillary since she hit the national scene in '92. At the same time, it's not as if she hasn't done more than her share to warrant it, on both substantive and insubstantive matters. The same goes, of course, for most politicians, male and female.

    If they seem to be attacking her more than others, part of it is surely because she's an ambitious woman in an era in which ambitious women are still seen by many as pushy and unappealing. But part of it is surely also because, well, she says and does stuff that clearly calls for harsh criticism.

    This is hardly one of them, of course, compared to Iraq and Iran, but when you invent an annoying and transparently phony laugh to look confident and normal, and obnoxiously--and cluelessly--shove it down everyone's throat, you should expect to be ridiculed--and deservedly so, IMO (sans sexist remarks, of course, as this isn't a gender thing, but rather a stupid thing).


    "Synthetic being that cries mercury." (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Beldar on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 04:42:01 PM EST
    I don't see this as an issue involving sexism. She's been subjected to some other commentary that definitely is sexist, e.g., pundits teeing off on whether she's showing too much cleavage or whether her blouse's color has been coordinated with that of the podium and backdrop between which she's standing. This, instead, is criticism in the nature of a backhanded compliment about how disciplined, programmed, and even robotic she sometimes appears to be as a candidate.

    Still, criticisms of her laugh are indeed trivial.  That's true even when the criticism is based on the suspicion that her laughs were less the product of genuine humor than some focus group-derived advice for her (very impressive) five-show Sunday morning sweep.

    Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" take(including video clips of the laughs in question) is still pretty funny, though. (And it indirectly makes the legitimate point that the weird delay in the eruption of the belly laughs is probably the result of about a 1-second delay between the program hosts and Clinton's Chappaqua studio.)

    Think Again (none / 0) (#13)
    by squeaky on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 04:48:21 PM EST
    For someone so smart you seem to have missed some part of your education. Comparing a woman to a hen is indeed sexist. It is used almost always by men to disempower a strong woman.  Do you think calling her a cow would also not be sexist?

    points taken but (none / 0) (#19)
    by Beldar on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 05:04:36 PM EST
    "Hen" and "cow" are indeed sexist terms. I don't think they're central to the gist — such as it is, which (again, I agree) isn't much — of the discussion about Hillary's Sunday talk-show laughs, though.

    Some are talking about the trees & forgetting (none / 0) (#18)
    by kindness on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 05:03:57 PM EST
    about the forest.

    It isn't about Hillary's laugh.  It's all about setting up a Conventional Wisdom to bring her down later.  It parallels what they did to Al Gore (invented the internet, was the inspiration for Love Story), John Dean (the Deal rebel yell), and John Kerry (swift boat liars).  Once an item is repeated enough, it can be used as a reference to back it and other dubious claims.

    The whole idea isn't the specific claim being made...it's much more a function of preparing the wall to throw more crap at it hoping it'll stick as well.


    I cackled (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by Dulcinea on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 05:57:51 PM EST
    when I read Healy, Dowd, and Rich.  Figured they were all abiding by the instruction they were handed to attack Hillary on her laugh (which was in response to laughable statements directed at her by two of the media wise men--Schieffer and Wallace).  May Hillary have the last laugh.

    Cackologist Borger declares HRC laugh inauthentic (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Ellie on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 06:01:39 PM EST
    During the last ~20 min of the Situation Room, Wolfe Blitzer asked the noted cackologist Gloria Borger to analyze Senator Clinton's laugh.

    Just when you thought political analysis had reached its lowest point ever, CNN comes out as the hands-down winner at today's Limbo Contest for Tapeworms.

    CNN not only set up this focus for a deeply important story, but (hard right wing AEI member) Blitzer framed it between mentions of the Gore sigh and the Edwards hair ... as an equivalent "problem" Clinton has.

    Delving deeper into the skill of cackology -- more an art than a science, the really good ones will say -- Borger mentioned the number of times that Sen. Clinton laughed during a spate of appearances to put a solidly factesque fondue  under her shocking pronouncement that the laugh was not only inauthentic, but deployed as a device to trivialize the questioner and the question.

    For shame.

    No mentions by Wolfe and his dish-date Glo -- as they strolled from their pedicure to the fresh squeezed juice bar to await their hot stone massage appointment -- of issues that might harm other candidates: for instance, 9-11 mentions of 9-11 from Rudy "9-11" Giuliani 9-11, this'n'that from Flip Flomney and how the heck Fred "Huh?" Thompson is supposed to lead in this crisis-ridden time when he's apparently unaware of events that are within even the most minimally engaged person's radar.

    The reason I object to this kind of focus on HRC's laugh -- aside from the fact it shouldn't be on a news and analysis program any more than piano-playing cats -- is that it relates neither to her statements nor deeds. Whether it's a defense mechanism or buys time for an answer, it's a tic that Borger "used" to do a ridiculously slanted Vulcan mind meld which has as much credibility as declarations from a Mentalist at the circus.

    The criticisms of the GOP candidates I've touched upon above actually relate to their statements and deeds. Actually, they more than relate; they're inextricably in the warp and weft of each candidate's campaign so far.

    I'm still mystified why one sigh or good hair was -- respectively -- "their" problem, ie, generated innately by them, as opposed to a falsely inflated "negative" trait slapped onto them by people with the agenda of reducing personal enemies to cartoons for the express purpose of inviting a pileon.

    As host of a TV show, Blitzer, for instance, easily spends more time and money daily getting his hair and beard in trim and applying cosmetics to get ready for the camera. Pretending he doesn't know this when he catapults the Repug propaganda about hair makes him less a functioning newsman and more of a talking paper clip or other such "user friendly" contrivance.

    Lovely, (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by Dulcinea on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 06:10:45 PM EST
    Ellie.  As for Gloria Borgia, she's a piece of work in the Dowd style.

    Good One!!! (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by squeaky on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 06:21:27 PM EST
    today's Limbo Contest for Tapeworms.



    People worry Hillary triangulates. A phony laugh. (5.00 / 1) (#34)
    by jerry on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 08:42:08 PM EST
    supports that worry, that Hillary is not who she sells herself as.

    As some of Atrios' commenters have said, if she were half the liberal that her opponents have accused her of being, they (Atrios' commenters) would be twice as supportive of her as they are.

    Nixon had 5'O Clock Shadow.  Was that relevant?

    Dukakis had his tank moment.  Kerry his windsurfing.

    None of that was relevant, and none of that was considered sexist.

    Frankly, I find discussion of her laugh and if it was phony or staged to be much more germane than 5 O'Clock Shadow or standing in a tank.

    I don't know if it was on Jon Stewart's show or elsewhere, but in a sense what makes this worse is that the Big Dog signaled this whole thing in an interview several weeks ago.  When asked the best thing about Hillary we didn't know, he said, "she has the best laugh."

    Is it coincidence or plan that a week or so later we were given access to her laugh in spades?

    Two mints in one (3.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Lora on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 03:57:54 PM EST
    Hillary's a woman AND the front-in-the-polls democratic candidate.  I think they're trying to undermine her as a candidate and they are not above being sexist about doing it.  Remember the Dean Scream?  Now we will have the Clinton Cackle.

    Well, it is a cackle. (none / 0) (#1)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 02:12:44 PM EST
    And her speaking style is that of a shrill harpy.

    And, to be fair, GW's speaking style is that of defensive sniveling punk, Rudy sounds like a 6th grader opening his first Playboy, Condi sounds like she's about ready to burst into tears, and I sound like James Earl Jones.

    All imo, of course.

    You're a casual viewer, though (none / 0) (#26)
    by Ellie on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 06:19:31 PM EST
    The pronouncements and focus on the laugh are coming from people being held up -- and handsomely paid -- to deliver the news and/or provide context for political analysis.

    I might sit on my couch panel and laugh my ass off at someone's tics and affectations, or be annoyed by a gesture because it reminds me of someone I can't stand.

    But if I were invited because of my particular skills and interests to analyze a potential future President or Vice President, I wouldn't spend a fraction of a second weighing in on the very very important story that said person's laugh was unsettling Punditstan.


    Well, of course you are right, (none / 0) (#39)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Oct 02, 2007 at 01:03:27 PM EST
    but so what?

    This is but one of an infinite number of trivial digressions from actual news that our pundits offer to us. It is, was, and always will be thus.

    Doesn't change the fact that she does indeed have a cackling laugh. And that she used it in what appears to be a manner in which to express her derision of her interviewers.

    Whether it was a ginned up ploy just for these interviews or whether she employs it to deride others in her daily life as well is immaterial to its startling inappropriateness in the interviews.

    Of course I sound like James Earl Jones, so I have plenty of room to speak of such things...


    IMO, Hillary Clinton has gotten some (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 02:25:51 PM EST
    vocal coaching w/i the last six months.  But, I din't hear Face the Nation.  

    I'll give you the housewife one ... (none / 0) (#3)
    by roy on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 02:28:41 PM EST
    ... but the others don't strike me as sexist.

    Yes, "cackle" has a strong feminine connotation.  But it's not negative because it's feminine, it's just negative and feminine.

    Rich's comment, though, seems to be entirely independent of sex.  Especially in the context of comparing her lack of spontaneity to Gore's.

    (Disclosure: I giggled when I read that "cackle" refers to the sound of a hen after laying an egg)

    Media matters is (none / 0) (#4)
    by Wile ECoyote on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 03:05:50 PM EST
    nothing more than a Clinton mouthpiece.

    Um, you DO realize who founded Media Matters? (none / 0) (#15)
    by kovie on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 04:55:05 PM EST
    If not, look it up. It may surprise you.

    Yup (none / 0) (#16)
    by Wile ECoyote on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 05:01:49 PM EST
    it is in the link.

    Whats to dispute (none / 0) (#38)
    by Wile ECoyote on Tue Oct 02, 2007 at 06:49:08 AM EST
    Media matters wrote what the Clinton camp told them to write.  The punctuation and diction was swell, editing was top notch.  

    Re: nothing to dispute (none / 0) (#42)
    by Listener on Thu Jan 03, 2008 at 06:09:52 AM EST
    I'm with you too

    best regards, Giftman

    Hillary reminds me of Nixon (none / 0) (#5)
    by Marcus Aurelius on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 03:35:50 PM EST
    Every laugh, every word, every gesture is choreographed for effect. To paraphrase Kant, she has made of herself a mere speaking machine.

    I swear, (none / 0) (#6)
    by HeadScratcher on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 03:42:31 PM EST
    I'm 45, college educated, read a lot, and I never thought cackle was a feminine word.

    But I do know a reach...

    Maybe (5.00 / 4) (#9)
    by squeaky on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 04:07:20 PM EST
    A biology course would have helped you to realize that hens are female.

    maybe an Ag course, (none / 0) (#10)
    by HeadScratcher on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 04:34:56 PM EST
    Since I didn't know that hen's cackle. Must be the urbanite in me.

    Big belly laughs and Nixon (none / 0) (#7)
    by diogenes on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 03:54:38 PM EST
    Men are the ones who use big belly laughs.
    If Hillary spoke with more content and less choreography/dodging, then the media might focus on the content and not the acting.
    There was a John Denver song called "The 1968 Nixon" which said that "He can dance from left to right and not lose his place".
    Maureen Dowd cited an alleged incident where Bill quashed an article critical of Hillary by threatening to withhold access to himself to GQ.  It's in the same column.
    Isn't this all very Nixonian?

    I agree and disagree (none / 0) (#14)
    by kovie on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 04:53:50 PM EST
    Yes, calling it a "cackle" is sexist and focusing on such trivialities (along with haircuts and middle names) is shallow reporting that is all too common these days. But anyone who's paid attention to Hillary lately realize that this is no mere spontaneous laugh, but yet another clearly focused group-tested and deliberately stage attempt to "soften" her image and make her look above it all, and yet one more reason, however trivial, for why I don't feel comfortable with her. She's a phony--anyone who doesn't see that is delusional. She may or may not be a phony who's fit to be president, but she's clearly trying to invent a persona that she and her handlers feel would best sell to the public.

    If she doesn't want people to focus on non-substantive mannerisms, then she needs to stop inventing them. Works both ways. So while I can't stand hit job hacks like Healy and Dowd because that is ALL that they do, I've got to say that they have a point this time. And Hillary gave it to them. Enough trying to convince us that she's likeable and down to earth. Just freakin' lead on the issues that count, and she can laugh her ass off all that she wants.

    It was a "campaign laugh". (none / 0) (#20)
    by Harry Davis on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 05:18:20 PM EST
    As one who has studied campaigns all my life, I am a far leftist, this was clearly a fake laugh. It was on all of the shows she did Sunday. No two ways about it, the laugh was planned to go off just the way it did. Jeri, I know you support Hilary but don't let this fact cloud your judgement. A phony laugh it was.

    Cringed (none / 0) (#28)
    by Natal on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 06:32:27 PM EST
    I actually cringed when she laughed. It seemed so inappropriate for the comment when something lesser would have done.

    Inexplicable? Here's an explanation for you (none / 0) (#21)
    by CMike on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 05:29:01 PM EST
    Jeralyn writes:
    More inexplicable is that Maureen Dowd...chimes in.

    Ever read "The Daily Howler," Jeralyn?

    Go through some back issues and all will be revealed:

    Maureen Dowd is an Inka-style oracle, able to mind-read everyone's meanings. And, of course, she's incurably fatuous. Hence the start of yesterday's column...

    Meanwhile, like her culture-mate, Chris Matthews, Dowd is a hopelessly retrograde throwback to 1950s Irish Catholic culture. Indeed, Dowd's purring style comes straight from the "women's pages" of mid-century newspapers. She and Matthews define a distant era, in which powerful Democratic women stage "catfights" in "hair salons"--and of course, remind us of strippers (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/06)...

    We grew up Boston Irish Catholic ourselves--but somehow managed to move past the 50s. But make no mistake--Washington punditry in the past fifteen years has been heavily driven by a group of retrograde, 50s-era Irish Catholics. (For quite a while, that was all they hired at "Catholic Central"--NBC/MSNBC. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/7/05, for a brief discussion.) They led the chase after Bill Clinton's sex life, then turned their powerful guns against Gore. Today, they tell us that Hillary Clinton's like a stripper and that Nancy Pelosi engages in catfights. And by the way--it's Gail Collins who puts this bullsh** in print.


    If you folks can't stand (none / 0) (#22)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 05:35:44 PM EST
    for Hillary's laugh to be called a "cackle," how will you ever stand for her to be attacked for anything??

    It was a cackle. So what?

    Keep complaining and you will define her as a woman running for President, rather than a politician running for President.

    Laugh (none / 0) (#29)
    by Harry Davis on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 06:42:40 PM EST
    But it's Hillary who's causing the citzenry's heads to pitch forward and collapse on their chests. Every time she opens her mouth, her flat, monotonic voice lays out yards of opaque white gauze, muffling any possibility of "discourse." Where does she stand? Over here, and a little to the side, and maybe a few steps to the right. Hers is known as the "flawless" campaign, but no one in it seems to be able to turn off the endlessly triangulating tape in her head.

    Lately she's taken to emitting to sudden, inexplicable, bursts of deep laughter - known in the media as "the cackle." Whether this is a deliberate "humanizing" touch or a glitch in the computer program no one knows. According to the New York Times, the "weirdest moment" came in response to a question from Bob Schieffer about Republican charges that her health plan would lead to "socialized medicine." As the Times reports, "She giggled, giggled some more, could not seem to stop giggling -'Sorry, Bob,' she said - and finally unleashed the full Cackle."


    Really? The Whole Citizenry, huh? :-) (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by Ellie on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 07:35:01 PM EST
    I read Ehrenreich's piece earlier. Unlike the Wolfe BLitzer / Sitch item I posted about upstream, BE looks at the tics, the campaigns, the issues, stances, media reactions, and it's more comprehensive than Blitzer's pre-chewed hooey about "Her Royal Hills in Cackle SHOCK!" -- disembodied from substantial revelations involving more than a tic.

    But it's Hillary who's causing the citzenry's heads to pitch forward and collapse on their chests.

    This was a piece of hyperbole, as opposed to the wurlitzing of "cackle" as a RW talking point. That is a non-issue being pinballed back and forth among a handful of pundits that, going by past hit jobs on Dem front-runners, is the biggest contrivance of all. It's designed to generate attention-grabbing bells and feign a dissonant dissatisfaction with the candidate coming from people to punditstan, rather than in the opposite direction.

    The closest approximation to my feelings so far about Sen. Clinton is from Katha Pollit (quoted in the Ehrenreich piece you linked to)

    [...] Katha Pollitt, who recently told the Times: "If people don't stop saying incredibly sexist things about Hillary Clinton, I may just have to vote for her."

    Yes, But (none / 0) (#33)
    by squeaky on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 08:38:39 PM EST
    Using sexist codewords as a retort, rather than just calling BS is f*cked up.

    Sexism (none / 0) (#36)
    by Jgarza on Mon Oct 01, 2007 at 10:18:22 PM EST
    Whats really sexist, is to call every criticism of Hillary Clinton.  It reminds me of of when Ari Fleischer warning people to watchwhat they say after 9/11.
    Hillary Clinton's cackle is a defensive mechanism she uses to evade tough questions.  She has turned it into a political tool therefore it is fair game to be criticized.
    More importantly it not a real laugh.  SO if she can fake laughs people can comment on the quality of it.  I think accusing everyone who ever criticizes Hillary of being a sexist is irresponsible and insulting to women.
    Further more i think Hillary, in her campaign, will experience sexism, and the fact that her supporters accuse every negative thing said about her as having sexist undertones, will diminish the credibility of criticism of actually sexist remarks made by popel on the right about Hillary.

    my goodness! (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by cpinva on Wed Oct 03, 2007 at 03:07:58 AM EST
    Hillary Clinton's cackle is a defensive mechanism she uses to evade tough questions.

    we have another mind reader amongst us. who knew? please share with the class the source of your amazing insight; do you have a crystal ball, or do you throw bones on the ground, and read them based on how they land?

    you too can be a highly compensated member of the punditocracy class, spouting baseless inaninities on the airwaves, while turning no substantive stone over.

    next stop, nantucket, where you'll live and party amongst your friends, the republican swells who pay your salary, and who you (ostensibly) objectively cover in your job as a "journalist".

    you have arrived!


    non sequiturs (none / 0) (#37)
    by Lacy on Tue Oct 02, 2007 at 05:43:04 AM EST
    Some words spoken about the laughs were undoubtably sexist. But that doesn't cancel the fact that erupting into odd laughter when folks expect a serious answer is not a good thing. I back HC and it made me uncomfortable.

    Surprisingly, no one here seems to have noted that Jon Stewart also had a segment lampooning those HC laughs. But then it's harder to throw out ad hominems against someone we like.