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MU Expert Available to Discuss Media Coverage of Candidates' wives

July 8, 2008

Story Contact:  Emily Smith, (573) 882-3346,
Betty Winfield, (206) 720-4572,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As media coverage of the 2008 presidential race intensifies, potential first ladies Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain are facing increased scrutiny. Betty Winfield, University of Missouri Curators’ Professor in Journalism, is available to discuss the media coverage of the presidential candidates’ wives throughout the campaign. 

       Winfield has extensively studied news coverage of current and former political candidates’ wives, including Obama, McCain, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney and Nancy Reagan. Winfield said there are similar patterns in the media’s reporting of Michelle Obama and former first ladies including Nancy Reagan and Jackie Kennedy.

       “Michelle Obama is critiqued for wearing sleeveless dresses and hating pantyhose, but honestly who cares about that? The public is aware that she is a lawyer with Princeton and Harvard degrees, so why is her appearance so important? One explanation could be the underlying issue of racism. There has never been an African-American presidential candidate, so reporters and critics may attack Michelle Obama as a way of targeting Barack Obama,” Winfield said. “The situation is similar to the media’s concentration on the mental health of Kitty Dukakis, wife of 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.”

       Winfield said the media’s depictions of Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain will weigh on the public’s opinion of whether the women are worthy of being beside the president of the United States.

       “Because there has not been a women president or vice president, the first lady acts as a reflection of women in the United States; they must represent the ideal image of American womanhood,” Winfield said. “During the next few months, the media will help the public decide which woman, Obama or McCain, they will be proud of in that position.”

       A specialist in political communication, Winfield is an adjunct professor in the university's Department of Political Science and an affiliated professor in the MU Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs. Before coming to Missouri, she was a professor of communication and American studies at Washington State University. She has had post-doctoral fellowships at the Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University (1991) and the Gannett Center for Media and Politics at Columbia University (1988-1989). Winfield has written three books and seven book chapters, including FDR & the News Media (Columbia University Press, 1994). She has published more than 70 encyclopedia and journal articles and numerous scholarly papers on mass media history and White House communication. Among them are analyses of the presidential candidates’ wives, and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt's relationships with the public and the media.