By Tom Cushing
Reflections on the Loss of HopeUploaded: Mar 2, 2018
Let’s start with an experiment: think about Hope Hicks, the departing White House Communications chief. What are the first few words that come to mind to describe her? Now, repeat the process, except with Stephen Miller, or Jared Kushner or Gen. John Kelly. What are those words?
I will wager that the terms “model” and “beautiful” were close to the top of most folks’ Hicks list. And while none of those male counterparts won the lottery-of-looks, I’ll guess that physical characteristics were not on the tip of anyone’s tongue.
Okay, one more: which of those four individuals was captain of the lacrosse team in college? If you answered ‘Kelly,’ go to the back of the class. It was Ms. Hicks, who, incidentally, stopped modeling in her mid-teens – half-a-life ago even in her abbreviated tenure on the planet.
At considerable risk of inflaming the eager sensibilities of those who look for any excuse to berate the ‘lame stream media,’ I want to suggest that the press – left, right, and middle – have a long way to go in fairly covering women of accomplishment.
There is a palpable, dismissive tone in articles about Hope Hicks that is too easily adopted and believed. Some bit of it may be contextual, as a beauty* working for a boss with a legendary affinity for extra-marital extra-curriculars (whew!) may come under some suspicion that she serves at his particular pleasure. But I believe there’s far more to it. Every article written about her – even by those who complain about her mistreatment – contains the ‘former model’ reference as a primary descriptor. That, and ‘neophyte.’
Those labels endure, despite the fact that she has survived in the Trumpian Insta-Pot for more than three years – far longer than many, many others who sport Y chromosomes. There’s got to be more than attractiveness to account for that stamina and staying power. After all, in trump-years, that’s an entire career’s (and many affairs) worth of longevity.
Add to that the fact that three years in a total-immersion environment is more than long enough to have gained any substantive expertise that was missing at the outset. Hell, they even let me practice law in public after a similar interlude. The ‘neophyte’ label should have fallen away, long ago.
Contrast, if you will, the press treatment of Jon Favreau, President Obama’s primary speechwriter, who was two years younger than Ms. Hicks. Per Vox, he somehow qualified as a “Wunderkind.” **
It’s true that humans make stereotypical judgments about others in milli-seconds, and that those judgments carry with them dangerous levels of implicit bias (try taking Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test, as described in Malcolm Gladwell’s insightful book “Blink.”)
You may learn unflattering things, as I did. That said, the real point is that there’s little disgrace in understanding things we cannot affect, but great shame in treating it as an end-point of the process. Our implicit biases should be the starting point for considering whether that’s who we want to be. We are not slaves to our instincts, unless we choose to be. We all come with built-in biases, which we can consciously correct via knowledge and attention.
The media need to up-their-games on the self-examination front. It’s also true that the press corps itself would benefit from more equal gender representation. It’s no accident that, in their rush to explain Ms. Hicks’ departure, two very male, very facile explanations have prevailed: that she’s either heart-hurt over the loss of her recent squeeze Rob Porter, or butt-hurt by the verbal spanking she took from the Prez about her interviews with Congress and Mr. Mueller (the ‘white-lies’ issue).
It’s also no coincidence that the Times’ redoubtable Maggie Haberman came through with the actually informed, if mundane and gender-neutral conclusion that she had been contemplating a change for weeks; timing was coincidental. (Of course, then Haberman herself came in for a ration from the boys’ club about whether that was Really it. Yes, these prejudices die hard.)
I also want to say that I do not know a lot about Ms. Hicks’ personal ideologies – and that’s a problem, too. I suspect that I would disagree with her on many things, but that’s not because I know specifics, which are shrouded in all that former-model/neophyte trope. The lack of incisive reporting weakens our understanding of the Trump Administration, which is given to an astounding frequency of prevari … disingen … dissemb … Lying – across the full color spectrum.
To the extent that she as Communications Director is responsible for that pattern, it matters. We do know that she played a role in the initial mis-stat … set of lies about the Trump Tower meeting, and that her early defense of Rob Porter’s conduct and character turned out to be ridiculously, tragically amiss. She’s responsible for those, and perhaps there are many other decisions and positions taken for which the credit or the blame should come to her.
But we’ll never know these things unless/until the media coverage matures. As the proud father of accomplished daughters, I want them evaluated on their considerable merits, and not just because they’re good-lookin’.
* I have to say that she leaves me cold on the pulchritude front. I note the similarities to the First Lady, especially in terms of hair and dark make-up, but I also find that ‘look’ to be way too severe – almost serpentine. And then I must ask myself: would I even notice such similarities if both were men? Have I fallen into my own trap? Yes, here I have – blame that Harvard test.
** That’s to take Nothing away from Mr. Favreau, who is currently a primary host of the insightful, hilarious and wildly popular podcast “Pod Save America.” It’s an hour well-spent, twice a week.