Coverage of Nikki Haley Campaign Demonstrates Double Standard in Media


Photo courtesy of CNBC

Coverage of Haley’s campaign displays double standards of treatment.

On Feb. 14, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. Unsurprisingly, this news made headline after headline. Haley was placed at the center of an ongoing media frenzy. Her declaration made her the topic of many political commentators’ discussions and in turn highlighted the flawed treatment of women in politics by the media.

To start, notorious Fox News pundit Ann Coulter recently called Nikki Haley a “bimbo” when critiquing Haley’s stance on the removal of Confederate statues. Coulter also went on a racist tirade, telling Haley to “go back to her country.” Nikki Haley was born in the United States of America to two Sikh parents who immigrated to the United States from Punjab, India. Coulter also attacked India itself, asking, “What’s with the worshiping of the cows? They’re all starving over there. Did you know they have a rat temple where they worship rats?” 

If Coulter disagreed so heavily with Haley’s actions, she could have easily criticized those actions themselves. Instead, she attacked Haley using specific language meant to belittle and discriminate. The word “bimbo” references an attractive but stupid woman. It could have easily been swapped out with “idiot” or “moron.” However, if Coulter had done this, then she would not have been able to take Haley down a peg by making her poorly perceived choices boil down to her identity as a woman. It is also doubtful that Coulter would have made that same xenophobic remark if Haley had immigrant parents from a country she deemed “white enough.” Coulter not only showed her ignorance, but also her prejudice toward anyone she disagrees with through her automatic response.

Later on in the week, CNN anchor Don Lemon made a comment about how Nikki Haley was “not in her prime.” Haley is 51 years old, five years younger than Lemon. This statement was made in response to Haley’s call for mental competency tests for any political figure over the age of 75. He also mentioned that the prime of a woman is typically considered to be her 20s and 30s. Lemon later went back on this statement, and he said that he was just warning Haley that she should be careful about saying politicians are losing their mental competence. 

The attempt to mitigate possible offense taken by his comment is pointless. Regardless of whether he “meant it” or not, by repeating a sexist concept to his millions of viewers, Lemon is perpetuating the idea that women can somehow expire and that their ability to work is defined by a timeframe set by men.

In general, as soon as a woman politician, specifically a woman of color, starts to make points that political pundits disagree with, the automatic response is for the commentator to publicly voice their disapproval. However, they rarely do so by attacking specific policies or plans. Rather, they tend to fall back on insults laced with misogyny and racism. Members of both major political parties fall prey to this cliche. The fact that Nikki Haley is a Republican, or to some is not Republican enough, does not make discriminatory comments made about her any less harmful. When someone insults a prominent woman of color for arbitrary characteristics that are unrelated to her values and ideals, their unconscious bias comes through and they indirectly insult women and people of color as a whole.  

I am not arguing against critiquing Nikki Haley, and her policy positions have plenty of reasons to be criticized. She recently stated that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ new “Don’t Say Gay” bill did not go far enough. She argued that classroom discussions of gender identity and sexuality should be banned in elementary schools altogether, instead of only in kindergarten through third grade as proposed by the original bill. She has also harshly criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, slammed critical race theory, and lied about the words of fellow politicians to get ahead.

Personally, I do not believe that Haley is the best candidate for president, but this perspective is based on her political stances and her lack of clear, organized goals. My decision is not based on her racial or gender identity, nor do I believe that her choices are a result of those factors.

Because Nikki Haley only has support from six percent of registered Republican voters, it is illogical to expect an extensive amount of coverage on Haley and her policies. However, if there is enough media interest in Nikki Haley to write numerous detailed articles about her husband and family life, then there should be enough media interest in talking about her politics too. It should not be too much to expect that the coverage she receives does not rely on sexism and racism. You don’t have to agree with someone in order to treat them like a human being.