Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Film Star versus Groundbreaking Politician.

by Meredith O’Brien


“My name is Geraldine Ferraro. I stand before you to proclaim tonight: America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us.”Geraldine Ferraro [1], at 1984 Democratic National Convention.


“Every time a woman runs [for office], women win.” – Ferraro to a reporter during the 2008 presidential campaign [2].


Two weeks ago, screen icon Elizabeth Taylor died. Her death was the third biggest news story [3] of the week among American media organizations. (It generated a column in this space about Taylor’s experience as a working mom [4].)


A few days later in that same week, former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate for a major political party, also passed away. But Ferraro’s death wasn’t noted on front pages across America with the same verve like two-time Oscar winner Taylor’s had been.


For example, the three newspapers I receive at home in their old fashioned, dead tree versions – The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The MetroWest Daily News – treated the two women’s deaths differently. A big, glamorous photo of Taylor along with a story appeared on the top left-hand part of Times’ front page. The Globe ran a photo and a story on the lower part of page one. My local newspaper ran a photo with a teaser along the top of the page which directed readers to a page 2 story about Taylor.


Days later, Ferraro’s death wasn’t heralded as much as Taylor’s in the same three newspapers. The New York Times had the Ferraro story on the bottom of its front page along with a photo. (Taylor’s had been at the top.) The Boston Globe had a page one blurb mentioning her death with a tiny photo, and told readers to turn to page B9 – B freakin’ 9 -- for her obituary, and she died in Boston. My local paper didn’t even mention her death on page one but ran an Associated Press story about her passing on page 2.

According to the think tank the Project for Excellence in Journalism [5], Taylor’s death was the third most-covered story by the news media during the week of March 21-27 -- Ferraro died on March 26 – and ranked third in newspaper coverage [6], consuming 13 percent of the news space. Ferraro’s death ranked sixth in newspapers, getting a paltry 4 percent of the space. Ferraro’s passing didn’t even show up among the top 10 stories of the week in the other media outlets (network and cable TV news, radio and online news).


While some might argue that Taylor versus Ferraro isn’t a fair comparison, these numbers ticked me off nonetheless. Ferraro’s 1984 candidacy for vice president meant a great deal to women, even if it didn’t so much for the men. Here was a then-48-year-old professional, working mother of three, a political leader who was afforded the chance to stand up in front of the nation as a plausible choice for a nationally elected office. Ferraro’s nomination was historic, inspiring. Considering that there was a 24-year gap between her nomination and the nomination of the next major party female vice presidential candidate -- that of Sarah Palin to the GOP ticket in 2008 – this kind of candidacy is still a rare event. And yet Ferraro’s death wasn’t deemed as worthy of as much or as prominent news coverage as was afforded the passing of a world-famous actress with the scandalous love life?


In eulogizing the woman who she said paved the way for her own historic candidacy for president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recalled taking her then-4-year-old daughter Chelsea to a 1984 campaign event to show her the first Democratic female candidate for vice president in the flesh, the New York Times reported [7]. Clinton said her daughter was carrying a flower which she wanted to give to Ferraro. The first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, echoed Clinton’s sentiments, saying that “huge crowds of mothers and fathers held up their daughters to see” Ferraro during the 1984 campaign. U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said Ferraro’s stint as a vice presidential candidate changed “the way we women thought about ourselves in American politics.”


Ferraro’s running mate, former Vice President Walter Mondale, noted that she had to withstand demeaning, sexist behavior on the campaign trail. “Every day she was patronized in a way not experienced by male candidates,” Mondale said at her funeral. “If they ever make another movie about true grit, it should be about Gerry.”

Businesswoman Erika Anderson, in her Forbes Magazine blog [8], remembered how much she identified with Ferraro in 1984, writing, “I was a young(ish) working mother at the time, and I remember feeling proud and elated – if a woman could run for vice president of the U.S., what else was possible?”


By the early 1980s, Ferraro had already waded through the trenches in which Anderson found herself. After becoming a mother, Ferraro reverted to practicing law on a part-time basis. “She had made a pact with her husband when they were first married that she would stay home when they had children, remain there until the youngest was in school full-time and then go back to working outside the home,” wrote Diane Vacca [9]. Once Ferraro returned [10] to the full-time work world after a 13-year absence, she went on to become an assistant district attorney, then New York congresswoman.


In a 2007 interview, Ferraro was asked how she wanted to be remembered and she gave a third-part answer, according to Vacca [11]: First as a good daughter, second as “as a mother and a wife who really believed in the sanctity of the family” and third “as somebody who went into office and made a difference.”


And a difference did Ferraro make, certainly one which warranted more attention and focus by the media than her death received. Writing in the National Journal [12], Kathy Kiely compared the reaction the deaths of Taylor and Ferraro received and observed: “. . . [A]s the media space afforded Elizabeth Taylor’s and Ferraro’s obituaries attested . . . society still values female sex symbols more than female leaders.”

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