Covering Miss Carly

There is an appalling covert media bias surrounding coverage of Carly Fiorina’s ouster from Hewlett Packard this week. The stories fairly delight in her downfall. But the papers don’t focus on her qualifications — like her business skills or decision-making abilities. Instead, they comment on her personality and offer thinly veiled commentary on her femininity…or lack thereof.

The New York Times paints her as a bitchy cheerleader with “hardball tactics,” saying she’s “tough-as-nails” but has a “penchant for holding pep rallies.”

The Wall Street Journal helpfully points out she once (gasp) “was photographed with a beer in hand” at one company party. (See what happens when you let a woman take control?)

Fortune cuts to the chase of what’s truly important when running a Fortune 500 company: “She became the only woman extant who never had a bad-hair day.”

The Washington Post points out she was handicapped by her “celebrity,” portraying her as a glamorous media hound known from her “countless magazine covers.” The paper also implies her problem was she was anti-family. The rationale? She presided over a series of layoffs, which the “family-oriented company’s founders would never have stood for.”

Male CEOs, of course, are covered very differently. Last year, for example, when an embattled Michael Eisner was stripped of his chairmanship at Disney, Fortune Magazine talked about his salary package and arrogance, but reserved any comment on his hair. The New York Times said Eisner had the “misfortune to have been paid a lot of money to run a company that did not do very well for years.” The Washington Post discussed the role of shareholders in weakening his leadership. (No mention of if he’d ever been caught with a beer at a company party.) Shame on the media for reinforcing this outdated bias against powerful women.