Groping Hillary Without Consequences: The Case of Jon Favreau
By now, it's widely known that Jon Favreau, Barack Obama's soon-to-be director of speechwriting, was caught in a photo fondling the breast of a cardboard cut-out of Senator Clinton while another Obama staffer holds a bottle of beer to her lips. These two young men are smiling broadly in the photo, apparently enjoying their mime of groping Senator Clinton as they get her drunk. What has become almost more startling than this photo is the way it has been addressed, or not addressed, by the incoming Obama administration and the media.
President-elect Obama has not made any public statement about this insulting and sexist behavior on the part of the 27-year-old Favreau. Obama has not seen fit to publicly denounce this behavior, to ensure that Mr. Favreau make a public apology, nor has the president-elect deemed it necessary to fire Mr. Favreau. Instead, Barack Obama has remained silent, providing yet another example of how his actions do not match his words. Barack Obama has stated a commitment to work for women's rights, including the reduction of violence against women. However, here we have his main speechwriter miming an act that is the prelude to what is now commonly referred to as date rape, miming sexual molestation that is specifically directed toward the woman who in all likelihood will be the next secretary of state, and for this Obama has not a word to say.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media has downplayed Favreau's actions in numerous ways. CNN anchor Campbell Brown appeared to feel that what Favreau did was wrong. However, after devoting all of three sentences to that, she redirected the bulk of her attention to Senator Clinton's response, calling Clinton out on what she perceives as Clinton's change of attitude regarding sexism. In so doing, Ms. Brown perpetuated the blame-the-victim mentality.
CNN aired a segment with Wolf Blitzer, James Carville and Kevin Madden chuckling their way through their commentary. Mr. Blitzer appeared concerned with "how people have to really be careful nowadays," suggesting that the problem is simply that Favreau got caught. Initially directing his comments to an organization called the New Agenda whose mission is to advance women's rights, including the issue of violence against women, Mr. Carville spewed: "It's a piece of cardboard, stupid!" In one fell swoop, Mr. Carville not only spoke in a highly disrespectful and demeaning manner to this group of women (or anyone listening who might have found Favreau's behavior offensive), but discounted the power of images. Is James Carville seriously suggesting that a cardboard image of a black person hanging by a noose is meaningless because it is cardboard? How might Carville feel about an effigy of a person being beaten or burned? What if that effigy were an image of Mr. Carville? According to Mr. Carville's misguided rules, there is no reason for concern if another human being interacts with an image because the image is inanimate, as if there is no relationship between images and behavior.
Mr. Carville's commentary noted that Favreau was "just having a good time" and that "he did absolutely nothing wrong." Mr. Carville further comments that he hopes he'll be doing the sort of thing that Favreau did when he is 67. Mr. Carville could not say enough good things about Favreau, describing him as "a very talented young man." Mr. Carville appeared to feel that the real issue of concern pertained to the "really sick people who put this stuff up" while suggesting that those who posted this photo on the Internet have mental problems.