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American Woman: When Double Standards Shape An Election

OpEd: #GailForce Captain Gail Harris examines how the media’s double standard failed America in the race between Hillary Clinton & Donald Trump for the White House.

According to the Greek writer Pausanias, “Know Thyself” was inscribed on the Temple at Delphi. As we approach a day of reckoning, Election 2016, and are asked to make a choice, do we as Americans truly “Know Thyself”?

I consider myself truly among the most blessed. I was born in one of the greatest nations in history, a nation built on the core belief that the dream of improving your life is not dependent upon your economic class, race, or gender. My military career is a testament to that dream.

However, the reality of that dream has been a long journey. Originally, our Constitution left it to states to determine who had the right to vote. All white males could vote and take part in government, but only if they met requirements like owning property. In many states, Catholics and non-Christians were not allowed to vote. Some states even allowed immigrants who were not naturalized the right to vote. Change was gradual, but by 1856 North Carolina became the last state to end the property requirement for voting. I believe an important narrative in our nation’s history has been the gradual extension of the “American Dream” to all of our citizens. This includes women.

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
– Maya Angelou

By 1870, the 15th Amendment gave African Americans the right to vote. By 1920, the 19th did the same for women. Yet many cultural, social, and legal barriers remained. These barriers did not begin to fall until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.

I’ve always found it ironic that the “sexual equality” aspect of civil rights legislation was added as a joke. The prohibition on sex discrimination was added in 1964, just two days before the vote, by Howard W. Smith, a Virginian Democrat who chaired the House Rules Committee and strongly opposed the Civil Rights Act. Representative Carl Elliott of Alabama later reportedly said, “Smith didn’t give a damn about women’s rights … he was trying to knock off votes either then or down the line because there was always a hard core of men who didn’t favor women’s rights.” According to the Congressional Record, the amendment to the legislation was met with laughter.

An argument can be made that women have gained the most in the aftermath of civil rights legislation, but there is still so far to go. This issue is especially relevant to fully understanding the dynamics of the current election. Which brings me to my bottom line up front: women still face a double standard. Those that seek to break through the “glass ceiling” and become titans of their chosen profession, mark the final frontier for women.

The double standard manifests itself in a couple of ways. On the one hand, a dynamic exists where women have to be twice as good as their male peers to be considered “as good.” And then there still remains the standard where traits considered admirable, or behavior that comes under the “boys will be boys” category for men, are often considered undesirable or even repugnant for women.

Why is this important? How is this relevant to the current election?

“Know Thyself”. A powerful argument can be made that we see the world through a filter formed by our experiences. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, only that you need to be aware of it, and how it may affect your view of events. On the positive side, this can give you great insight and empathy. On the negative side, you may retain an unconscious bias on certain issues and not be aware of it. The worst thing that can happen is if you assume something is not a problem because it’s never happened to you.

This is why I believe issues like racism or sexism are particularly difficult to discuss, and more importantly, difficult to understand. If you’re not part of the group that is experiencing challenges, you have no frame of reference. In order to gain insight you’d either have to research the issues, which many times we don’t do, or use your imagination to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. In the past the media has done a great job shining the spotlight on events in order to make this an easier process.

We cannot turn back.

– Martin Luther King

During the Civil Rights era of the 50’s and 60’s the media did an exceptional job of highlighting abuses that had been in place in the south since the end of the Reconstruction era. I grew up in New Jersey, but spent summers in Alabama. For me this is not history. It is a part of my life experiences. I experienced first hand in the segregated south, restricted use of public transportation, not being able to eat in most restaurants, stay in hotels or motels while we traveled south, not being able to use rest rooms, water fountains, and not even being able to go into the lobby of a movie theater to buy candy. You had to stand outside the door, and when they felt like it, someone would come and ask you what you wanted, take your money and go get it for you.

Image Civil Rights era

I also remember media coverage in 1963, when Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in front of the University of Alabama to prevent Vivian Malone and James Hood from enrolling, vowing to uphold segregation to the end. Alabama is now my favorite college football team. There have been many times I’ve watched games in tears as I remember how far we’ve come and how much has changed. Their team is totally integrated and African American members have even won college football’s highest honor, the Heisman trophy.

Media coverage of these great injustices allowed the American public to walk in the shoes of another. I have always felt that the civil rights movement would not have succeeded if the majority of white America had not understood what was happening, and felt the situation needed to be corrected. The media provided a spotlight and balanced coverage.

In contrast, media coverage of this election cycle has been abysmal. The National Enquirer on steroids. No offense to that journal, I’ve been known to read and enjoy it, but it makes no pretense to be anything other than tabloid journalism. Mainstream media has been masquerading as responsible journalism, when in reality it has not been.

I first became concerned with media coverage during the Republican primary season. I had thought there were laws in place that if a candidate was running for office, media outlets were required by regulation to provide equal air time and coverage to all of the candidates. I was wrong and as is known, Donald J. Trump dominated the media. Coverage was unfair to both the candidates and the public.



After the primaries, horrible coverage continued. Trump again dominated the news cycle. To be fair, the media did cover the good, the bad, and the ugly concerning Trump. For Hillary though, it’s mostly the ugly. More often than not, the first thing mentioned about Clinton is the ugly, and if anything else is covered, it’s usually comments she’s made about Trump with very little about the nuts and bolts of her policies.

Some may say “Gail! What are you talking about? You’re a Trump hater! Hillary is a very flawed person, has broken many laws, and should be in jail not the White House.”

I voted for Hillary Clinton not because she’s a woman, but because I believe, as President Obama has said, that she is one of the most qualified individuals to have ever run for this office.

How did I come to this decision? Simple. I looked past the hyped up negative comments and researched her history. Politically, I’m an independent and have voted for candidates of both parties. I simply feel neither party has the corner on the best solutions to all issues. I tend to vote for presidential candidates based on their national security policy.

Hillary Clinton first came up on my personal radar while she was First Lady. I was still in the military, and many of my peers and co-workers disliked her. For some, it went beyond dislike to outright hatred, and they could give no specific reason for it. I decided to look up Clinton’s background to better understand where they were coming from. The reason for the dislike and hatred became very apparent to me: she was a smart, accomplished woman, with a law degree from Yale, who worked on children’s issues, civil rights issues, health care issues, women’s issues and a myriad of social issues designed to help the less fortunate in our society.

image Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton would go on to serve with distinction in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State. There are still some who have problems with that, some who dislike and hate Hillary Clinton despite her achievements. Many don’t really have credible reasons for such contempt.

I empathize with her struggles, having served 28 years in the U.S. military, I was usually the first Black and/or woman in each of my jobs. I often dealt with demeaning attacks that ignored my performance and instead insulted my character. I’ve shared some of these experiences in previous Lima Charlie News articles. You can also read more about these experiences in my book, A Woman’s War: The Professional and Personal Journey of the Navy’s First African American Female Intelligence Officer. My military career had a happy ending. But it was not always easy.

My favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton has grown over the years. I’ve seen her speak at events and even ran into her at an R&B concert. In person she’s warm, friendly, and very charismatic. That’s not just my impression. Friends and family members who have worked with and/or interacted with her over the years have said the same thing. Through my travels and work, I’ve also encountered many people who worked in the State Department during her leadership, and they’ve had nothing but great things to say about her. Many in the military who have worked firsthand with her have expressed to me how impressed they are with her understanding and grasp of military related issues. During this current campaign she met with military families. She didn’t give a speech; instead she broke out a notebook and a pen and said she was there not to speak, but to listen and document their problems and concerns.

I’ve also looked closely at Donald Trump. Red flags immediately stood out. First, no one should run for President if they’ve never served in government. The simple reason is, if you don’t understand how government works, you have a hard time getting things done. I’m sure Donald Trump wouldn’t hire someone to run one of his companies if they had no business experience.

Second, I have wondered about his business experience. Trump has filed for bankruptcy six times. Numerous businesses of his have failed, leaving many stiffed with the bill. He has also refused to produce his tax returns.

A third red flag was his comments about Senator McCain: “He’s a war hero because he was captured … I like people that weren’t captured, OK?” That’s not the attitude I want from a possible Commander-in-Chief.

The fourth and final red flag for me was when Hillary Clinton made a major foreign policy speech in San Diego a few weeks ago. I planned to write about it, comparing her policy with Trump’s. I went to his campaign web pages and found he had no information on his proposed foreign policies. Typically, each candidate has policy papers available to read, digest and decide if they agree and will vote for them.

That was it for me.

Image Trump McCain

When you add Trump’s well documented comments about women, fat people (of which I’m a proud card carrying member), Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, etc., which, intentionally or unintentionally, has made white supremacy mainstream again, I can’t vote for him.

Lastly, as a Cold War Warrior, the fact that Russia has put such an effort into discrediting Clinton is also a HUGE red flag for me. This week even North Korea’s state controlled media endorsed Donald Trump. This was after he earned the official endorsement of the KKK.

Yet, despite all of this, Trump still holds sway over many, and he enjoys constant 24/7 media coverage.

Image Kim Jong Un Trump


Is there a double standard?

When not covering Trump, the media is fixated on Hillary Clinton’s emails. Here are some of the worst examples of what I believe to be a double standard:

Marital Fidelity

Trump: Has five children from 3 wives, he cheated on his first two wives, (and likely his most recent), and yet still receives very little blow back, even from Evangelical Christians.

Clinton: Chose to forgive her spouse, honor her marriage vows (which do say “for better or for worse”). Many have told me they hate her because she set a bad example for women by remaining in her marriage. Does this apply to Jacqueline Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt who also stuck with cheating spouses? I don’t agree that someone should be disqualified from office because they’re unfaithful, only that if it’s an issue for you, it should be an issue across the board.

Those Damn Emails!

Trump: According to a Newsweek report:

Over the course of decades, Donald Trump’s companies have systematically destroyed or hidden thousands of emails, digital records and paper documents demanded in official proceedings, often in defiance of court orders. These tactics—exposed by a Newsweek review of thousands of pages of court filings, judicial orders and affidavits from an array of court cases—have enraged judges, prosecutors, opposing lawyers and the many ordinary citizens entangled in litigation with Trump. In each instance, Trump and entities he controlled also erected numerous hurdles that made lawsuits drag on for years, forcing courtroom opponents to spend huge sums of money in legal fees as they struggled—sometimes in vain—to obtain records.

The media rarely covers this.

Clinton: A private server for unclassified email while she was Secretary of State is the gift that keeps on giving. Never mind that previous Secretaries of State used their private email accounts. The main problem I’ve had with this story is most of the reporting exaggerates the seriousness of this offense.

One of the more challenging things for a military intelligence officer is that, probably at some point in your career, you’ll get stuck having the additional job of being the Security Officer for your command. Let’s just say unfortunately, I know far more about these things than I’d care to.

All incidents are investigated. The first thing investigators look at is whether you have proper procedures in place, and whether a training program is in place. The second step is to determine if the person(s) who committed the violation knowingly violated rules and procedures. The last step is to determine whether there was any damage to national security.

The initial FBI report concluded that while Clinton was careless, she had not done anything warranting charges. I’d also add that many government communication systems have been hacked, including the White House and the Pentagon. Clinton’s private server was not. That tells me she had some good security procedures and practices in place for that system.

I should mention, there is a lot of wiggle room in setting up security procedures, and that security procedures are often highly convoluted. Some organizations allow you to leave classified information on your desk out overnight. Some don’t. Some organizations require two people to be present in a room at all times. Some don’t. Some facilities must have a 24 hour armed guard and be fenced in with security alarms and cameras in place. Some don’t. Government security agencies monitor security practices by conducting periodic inspections to ensure the level of procedures and regulations used are the best for your particular organization.

As pertains to the handling of classified information, most organizations maintain separate computers and communications systems for classified and unclassified traffic. The classification level of an email is determined by the person that originates it. In the case of a situation like Clinton’s, another part of the investigation is to look at the emails to ensure they contained no classified information. As part of this, it’s my understanding that the FBI sent copies to other intelligence agencies and asked them to comment. Apparently, a handful came back as determined to contain information some considered classified. As a general rule, the next step is to look at that information and see if the same information is available in open source information. If it is, it’s not classified.

Some may say, “Gail that’s a crock.” Actually it isn’t.

While I was stationed in Europe, one young sailor was under arrest for attempting to sell classified information to the Russians. This was obviously a very serious crime. I was asked by the Admiral who was in charge of the European JAG community to be an expert witness for the defense. My job would have been to review the data and see if any of it was already available in open sources. Even such a serious crime as this could be mitigated if the information was available in open sources. I refused on principal. I did not in any way want to help someone get off for such an offense. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I made some powerful enemies because of that. But that’s another story.

Some say Clinton is getting off light. She certainly didn’t try to sell classified information to the Russians, as that young sailor did. Her opponent has likely shared more information with the Russians than her. The real question is, how many other security violations have you seen investigated by the FBI? Overwhelmingly, most are handled within the organization they originated in. Most also do not end up as a consistent part of the news cycle. But here we are.


The media consistently reports that the two most unpopular candidates in history are running for President. The polls for this campaign have been all over the place, but I’ve noticed Clinton consistently beats Trump with women and minorities. Trump beats Clinton with white males. White males are now a minority in the U.S. Yet, the media is consistently skewed that the opinion of white males is what counts. Wait. Is that because the media is run predominantly by white males?

The Woman’s Media Center, in a 2014 study, found that overall, men generated 62.1% of news, while women generated only 37.3%. In evening broadcast news, men were on camera 68% of the time, while women were on-camera 32% of the time. And in print, men wrote 62% of all stories in 10 of the most widely circulated newspapers, while women wrote just 37%. That’s some perspective.

Image Woman's Media Center

Who’s the crook?

#CrookedHillary #CrookedTrump

Trump: 3,700 plus lawsuits, including alleged rape and fraud, and according to recent reports, an FBI investigation.

Clinton: The FBI email investigation may be reopened. As mentioned, the media has been all over this, but not much about Trump’s legal issues. According to an NBC Report:

The FBI has been conducting a preliminary inquiry into Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s foreign business connections, law enforcement and intelligence sources told NBC News Monday.

Word of the inquiry, which has not blossomed into a full-blown criminal investigation, comes just days after FBI Director James Comey’s disclosure that his agency is examining a new batch of emails connected to an aide to Hillary Clinton.


Multiple investigations have all come to the same conclusion: Hillary Clinton was not at fault.

The Republican led, Benghazi Select Committee, the 8th congressional committee to investigate the attacks, spent two years and approximately $7 million in tax-payer dollars to come to the conclusion, detailed in the 800-page Benghazi Report, that there was no evidence of wrongdoing or culpability by Secretary Clinton.

Don’t Boo, Vote!

I’ll end by saying what I’ve said to friends and family many times during this election cycle. If you dislike Hillary Clinton, make sure you’re evaluating her with the same standards you’re using for her male counterpart. I believe Hillary Clinton best represents and shares our core American values. Objectively, she is one of the most qualified candidates to run for our highest office. Yet, our media has focused on the circus that Donald Trump perpetuates, rather than focusing on the issues and experience Hillary Clinton brings to the table. Evangelicals ignore Trump’s moral shortcomings, basing their vote on one or two hot button conservative issues. And the double standard that exists in the media and modern political culture, has allowed this to be the only dialogue the American voter sees. And we deserve better.

As always, my views and opinions are my own.

Gail Harris, Lima Charlie News

Captain Gail Harris (U.S. Navy, Ret.), was the highest-ranking African American female officer in the US Navy at the time of her retirement in 2001. Her 28 year career in intelligence included hands-on leadership during every major conflict from the Cold War, to El Salvador, to Desert Storm, to Kosovo, and she was at the forefront of one of the Department of Defense’s newest challenges, Cyber Warfare. Gail also writes for the Foreign Policy Association, is author of “A Woman’s War”, serves as Senior Fellow for the George Washington Center For Cyber & Homeland Security and is a Senior Advisor for the Truman National Security Project.

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