Back in March, the Washington Post published a story that mentioned Vice President Mike Pence’s 2002 comment that he doesn’t eat alone with any woman other than his wife or imbibe in public without her.
These 15-year-old comments were painted by the media as inexplicable, misogynistic, and horrific. Here were the first headlines that came up when I Googled for examples:
- How Mike Pence’s Dumb Dinner Rule Puts Women at a Disadvantage: “I thought I’d heard just about everything over the course of my 13-year career on Wall Street, but Vice President Mike Pence’s statement from 2002 about not dining with a woman unless his wife, Karen, was present, left me baffled.”
- Why It Matters That Pence Won’t Have Dinner With A Woman Who Isn’t His Wife: “In Pence’s worldview, men have no self-control, and women are either temptresses or guardians of virtue.”
- Mike Pence won’t dine alone with a woman who’s not his wife. Is that sexist?
- Mike Pence’s Dinner Rule Shows Donald Trump Team’s Fear of Powerful Women: “Women Are Binary in Trump World: Mike Pence and Donald Trump see women as sexual prey or altogether invisible.”
- How Pence’s Dudely Dinners Hurt Women: “The vice president—and other powerful men—regularly avoid one-on-one meetings with women in the name of protecting their families. In the end, what suffers is women’s progress.”
On Twitter, the outrage was even more pronounced. Journalists tweeted things such as:
- “So the GOP is up in arms over Sharia law, yet Mike Pence won’t have a business meal with a woman that’s not his wife. Sure, that checks out.”
- “Sincere question. How is this different from extreme repressive interpretations of Islam (‘Sharia Law!’) mocked by people like Mike Pence”
The overarching media message was clear as day. The outrage went on for days as broadcast, cable, radio, print, and online media all treated Pence like a freak for the rule he revealed 15 years prior. A few of us spoke out against the hysteria. You can read my piece, “Don’t Mock Mike Pence For Protecting His Marriage, Commend Him,” for example.
Well, guess what. According to a new New York Times/Morning Consult poll, it turns out Pence held a completely mainstream position:
How out of touch are newsrooms that they thought this position was Sharia-like, as opposed to what it turns out to be: completely normal? According to The New York Times, “Nearly two-thirds say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work.”
All those many stories about how unforgivably sexist Pence was to protect his marriage? Note that women are even more likely than men to think it inappropriate to have a drink, have dinner, have lunch, drive in a car, or have a work meeting with someone of the opposite sex who is not one’s spouse.
A female writer friend who saw this story said, “I know I’m speaking to the choir here but this is exasperating given the hysterics the media went into over this. They have NO CLUE how America feels about anything, ever, anywhere.” They have no clue. Yet they lecture and moralize and treat average American viewpoints like bigotry. Constantly.
The Times pointed out that the poll shed light on the Pence story:
Further, the poll results provide societal context for Vice President Mike Pence’s comment — made in 2002 and resurfaced in a recent profile — that he doesn’t eat alone with any woman other than his wife.
As Bobby Ross at GetReligion wrote, “Am I the only one who finds that ‘provide societal context’ phrasing pretty humorous? I guess it’s less wordy than ‘help explain how out of touch the progressive elite are on certain moral and religious issues.'” Too many media leaders have no clue how angry are those whose views have been systematically derided and marginalized by a powerful media complex. This Pence fake scandal is a great example.
Pence 15 years ago said something that is held by a majority of those polled. Yet his protection of his marriage was treated as nothing short of a misogynistic hellscape by nearly all major media. That the media found this newsworthy is telling. That their mostly one-note response was to disparage it as sexist is also telling. The New York Times story — which is well-written — notes that women, Republicans, rural voters, Southerners and Midwesterners, and religious people (particularly evangelical Christians) were more likely to show concern about meeting with opposite-sex people who are not spouses.
You’ll also note that women, Republicans, rural voters, Southerners and Midwesterners, and evangelical Christians are far less likely to inhabit newsrooms. Monolithic newsrooms are a problem for balanced or even halfway decent coverage of any and all nuanced issues, including this one. And until and unless newsrooms begin to take steps to address the problem, anger at the media and its gaslighting of middle America will likely continue.