The Media’s Beto Obsession is Harmful

“I want to be in it. Man, I’m just born to be in it.”

Those words, plastered across the front cover of Vanity Fair, launched Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign. O’Rourke has certainly taken the media by storm since his run for Ted Cruz’s Senate seat.

O’Rourke joined a field of Democratic presidential nominees that, for the first time, has many female candidates. Media outlets were quick to focus their attention on him immediately following his announcement, but after a few days he started to receive some negative backlash. Much of the criticism has been centered around what many publications have identified as white, male privilege.

The Daily Beast argued that both his Vanity Fair profile and his announcement video — “in which he talked straight to the camera for more than three minutes while his wife sat eerily silent beside him,” — would not have worked for a female candidate.

In addition, Beto’s campaign platform has been criticized for its vagueness. Politico wrote: “Beto is loud and proud about his ambition to be president, despite having had mixed success as a politician.” The Guardian took a similar stance, writing that O’Rourke believes he is qualified to be president “despite the fact that he himself has absolutely no idea what he stands for.”

A recent study from Harvard University found that: “Voters are less likely to vote for female politicians when they perceive them as power-seeking, though male politicians are not penalized.”

These findings show a double standard that the media is perpetuating. If a female candidate were to run her campaign as O’Rourke has done, they would not receive nearly the same level of attention. The Daily Beast questioned whether “news consumers truly prefer charm over policy,” comparing Beto’s platform, or lack thereof, to Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up corporate giants in Silicon Valley. But, instead of focusing on policy, the media is focusing more on the “likeability” of candidates.

After losing his Senate race to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, O’Rourke hit the road, documenting his roadtrip in diary-style posts on Medium. He decided to take a road trip to clear his head, writing that he has  been “in and out of a funk.”

According to CNN, no female candidate could get away with road-ripping before announcing their bid and then get the media treatment that O’Rourke has received. The article also points out that female candidates in this race need to run as “serious, surefooted, policy experts with big ideas,” which is quite different from O’Rourke’s nebulous platform.

The media is fascinated by O’Rourke. Of all the candidates who have announced their bids, creating a more diverse voting pool than ever, O’Rourke was the one to sit down on Oprah Winfrey’s show. This drew criticism from some media outlets that claimed his lack of policy knowledge should not be awarded by an interview with Winfrey.

The media’s obsession with Beto O’Rourke has emphasized likability over seriousness and experience. For female candidates to get coverage, it takes much more than a simple desire to “want to be in it.”

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