New TIME’S UP Now Report Finds Pervasive Sexist and Racist Bias in Media Coverage of Harris Selection as VP Pick

Changing Culture, Equity, Power, TIME'S UP 2020, We Have Her Back

One quarter of coverage of Sen. Harris included racist and sexist stereotyping and tropes, according to the findings 

Washington, D.C. – The day before the first and only vice-presidential debate, TIME’S UP Now has released an in-depth report analyzing media coverage of the announcements of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris in 2020 and vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine in 2016.

The report found that one quarter of coverage of Sen. Harris included racist and sexist stereotyping and tropes, from misogynoir like the harmful “Angry Black Woman” trope to the racist so-called “birther” conspiracy. TIMES UP Now commissioned Edelman Data & Intelligence (DxI) to compare the ways in which the three candidates were positioned and described overall by top-tier U.S. media — especially when it comes to overt and coded language around potential racist, ethnic, religious, or sexist stereotypes.

“When women, and especially women of color, run for office, they are subjected to a double standard that has nothing to do with their qualifications and everything to do with this country’s history of sexism and racism,” said Tina Tchen, president and CEO of TIME’S UP Now. “It’s time for women to be judged on their merits — and for the media to take a critical look at their biased coverage.”

Among the key findings of the report:

  • Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of analyzed coverage mentioned race or gender compared to just five percent of coverage for then-Gov. Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Kaine. This shows that when white men are running for elected office, their identity is viewed as the “default” for leaders in our society and not considered an important factor when governing.
  • President Trump’s attacks on Sen. Harris in 2020 have been much harsher than his attacks on Sen. Kaine were in 2016; what’s more, journalists and opinion makers not only amplified President Trump’s harsher descriptions of Sen. Harris — rooted in harmful “angry Black woman” tropes — but they also fueled widespread coverage of false and racist, so-called “birther” conspiracy theories.
  • Adjectives to describe Sen. Harris skewed more negative than those used to characterize then-Gov. Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Kaine. While Sen. Harris was labeled with sexist and racist language, such as “nasty,” “extreme,” “phony,” and “mean,” then-Gov. Pence and Sen. Kaine were both portrayed as “safe” and “experienced” choices, if somewhat uninspiring.
  • Over one-third (36 percent) of media coverage focused on Sen. Harris’ ancestry — overshadowing her professional background and achievements. In contrast, under five percent of media reporting about then-Gov. Pence and Sen. Kaine related to the candidates’ ancestry or personal lives.

TIME’S UP Now released this report ahead of the first and only head-to-head debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Harris as part of its We Have Her Back campaign. The campaign seeks to disrupt sexist and racist coverage and conversation about women candidates of both parties and asks reporters and the public to pause and interrogate what they are seeing and hearing. The campaign was catalyzed by a letter prominent women leaders in politics sent to newsrooms ahead of the announcement that Sen. Harris was the nominee for Vice President.

“This report demonstrates how our broken political discourse can derail the political ambitions of women, and particularly Black women,” said Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama and a member of the board of directors of TIME’S UP Now. “These harmful words and actions matter, and we’re holding the media accountable.”

When watching the vice-presidential debate this week and continuing to report on women candidates this election cycle, TIME’S UP Now offers the following advice for newsrooms and debate watchers:

  • Avoid invoking identity, such as race or gender, in routine coverage of politicians.
  • Debunk political attacks steeped in racism and sexism, rather than simply reporting on them. Some ethicists recommend not repeating racist and sexist comments in your reporting at all, as coverage can irresponsibly elevate their importance.
  • If you must cover attacks rooted in racism or sexism, make it clear in the headline and in your coverage that these attacks are, in fact, racist (“birtherism”), sexist (“nasty”) or plainly false (“ineligible”).
  • Cover women leaders the same as men, and depict women leaders as the professionals they are. Use gender-neutral language whenever possible and avoid characterizing women candidates in relation to men (“wife of” or “female version of”).
  • Encourage dialogue in the newsroom to evaluate whether there is overt or coded bias in the language you use or statements delivered by sources. Respect opposing views and seek more neutral word choices whenever possible. For example, our society currently does not apply attributes of leadership, such as ambition, evenly to men and women. And remember: whether someone is “liked” or “likeable” is not news.
  • Create editorial policies and processes that address discriminatory comments or remarks that appear in your news outlet, such as anchors calling out inappropriate remarks real-time, and letting everyone appearing on-air know those policies in advance.
  • Ensure editorial standards work closely with correspondents, producers, anchors, opinion editors, and bookers to diversify sources.
  • Engage third-party experts, such as The Press Forward, the Women’s Media Center, and the International Women’s Media Fund, to evaluate newsroom guidance, policies, and processes. These experts can help build safe and fair newsroom environments that foster productive dialogue on these issues.

“Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, if you are a woman in politics today you’re going to encounter sexism from naysayers and even some voters — you shouldn’t have to get it from the media, too,” said Ana Navarro-Cárdenas, political commentator and a board member of TIME’S UP Now. “We will continue to ‘have her back’ against sexism in politics — no matter who the ‘her’ is — because this is about so much more than just one election cycle. It’s about women being seen as the leaders we are.”

Download the full report here.


We Have Her Back

The We Have Her Back campaign is an independent, non-partisan, rapid response movement of allied individuals and organizations to defend the unprecedented number of women candidates from sexist attacks and hold those who perpetuate these sexist and racist tropes accountable.


TIME’S UPTM Now is the nonpartisan and not-for-profit advocacy and political arm of TIME’S UP. We advocate for safe, fair, and dignified work for all in the public and private sectors, calling for an end to harassment and other related forms of discrimination on the job. And we fight to rebuild the systems that have taken away women’s power for far too long. TIME’S UP Now is a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization.

Edelman Data & Intelligence (DxI)

Edelman Data & Intelligence (DxI) is a global research, analytics, and data consultancy. DxI brings together and integrates the necessary people-based PR, communications, social, research, and exogenous data, as well as the technology infrastructure to create, collect, store, and manage first-party data and identity resolution. DxI is comprised of over 350 research specialists, client consultants, data scientists + engineers, and machine-learning experts based around the world.