MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday featured a tone-deaf discussion of Hillary Clinton's tone, which you can watch in full here.
"She shouts," journalist Bob Woodward said of Clinton. "There is something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating, and I think that just jumps off the television screen."
That kicked off an eight-minute, slow-motion train wreck of a conversation that used Clinton's alleged problems with volume to support arguments about how voters find her untrustworthy — and even to suggest that Clinton doesn't know or trust herself as a person.
"I'm sorry to dwell on the tone issue," Woodward said later, "but there is something here where Hillary Clinton suggests that she's almost not comfortable with herself, and, you know, self-acceptance is something that you communicate on television."
Host Joe Scarborough compared Clinton unfavorably to 1980s conservative icons Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, both of whom were apparently self-confident enough to keep the noise down.
"Has nobody told her that the microphone works?" Scarborough said. "Because she always keeps it up here." The "genius" of Reagan, Scarborough said while dropping into a deep baritone for emphasis, is that Reagan "kept it down low."
And Thatcher, he said, would often "find a man in her own party that she would reduce with little more than a whisper." Clinton, by contrast, is "always up here" (gesturing above his head for emphasis), and that's "just not natural."
Cokie Roberts pointed out, to little avail, that Clinton is speaking at rallies, where it's often loud and hard to hear yourself.
"When she’s loud and feisty, she’s trying to support this narrative that she’s fighting for us," Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson said.
Anderson added that Clinton's delivery, along with the perception that she often changes her positions, makes voters think to themselves, "I don't believe what she's saying." But, she added, "Say what you will about Bernie Sanders, he believes what he's saying." (Not "voters believe what he's saying." He believes what he's saying.)
"She could make a case for herself if she could just kind of lower the temperature and say, 'Look, this is what I've done, this is what I can do, this is what I believe in.' And kind of get off this screaming stuff," Woodward said.
There was also some back and forth about how much money Clinton had accepted for her speeches, after which Howard Dean defended Clinton, saying the person they were talking about didn't sound like the Hillary Clinton he knows.
Scarborough said he likes Clinton personally a lot but that "people at home have no idea how likable and how disarming she is in person."
"The most important part isn't that she's likable and disarming, it's that she's tough as hell and she'd make a great president," Dean said.
Then he said: "I'm gonna say this, and I'm gonna get jumped for it, but I gotta do it. If she were a male and she were making these kinds of speeches, would people be criticizing her?"
Dean did, in fact, get jumped for that. "Oh, my God, that's desperate," co-host Mika Brzezinski said during a flurry of crosstalk.
"Shouting" has come up on the campaign trail before
The Clinton and Sanders campaigns had a brief feud over this a few months ago, after Sanders accused Clinton of "shouting" about gun control during the Democratic debate and Clinton started talking on the campaign trail about how "when women talk, some people think we're shouting."
It was a small thing that Sanders almost certainly didn't mean to be a gendered comment. But it played into a longstanding sexist narrative about how Clinton is "shrill," as well as deeper stereotypes people have about women, especially those in power positions.
But this Morning Joe conversation took all of that noise and, well, turned it up to 11.
When women speak, people tend to mentally turn up the volume
Research shows that people perceive women differently based on their gender. This is true for Clinton, and it's true for women generally. That idea should be a lot less controversial than it often turns out to be, as evidenced by the explosion when Dean dared to suggest that maybe subtle sexism was at work.
Even though women are interrupted more often and talk less than men, people still think women talk more. People get annoyed by verbal tics like "vocal fry" and "upspeak" when women use them, but often don't even notice it when men do. The same mental amplification process makes people see an assertive woman as "aggressive," which gets in the way of women's personal and professional advancement. Women are much more likely to be perceived as "abrasive" and get negative performance reviews as a result — which puts them in a double bind when they try to "lean in" and assertively negotiate salaries.
These kinds of implicit biases are sexist, but having them doesn't make someone "a sexist" — or if it does, it makes all of us sexists. It doesn't matter how smart you are or whether you are a man or a woman; everyone has some implicit biases against women.
This includes the deep-down belief that women can't be trusted, which was also strongly at play in the Morning Joe conversation.
Sometimes these biases come out in subtle ways. Sometimes they are decidedly less subtle.
Correction: Bob Woodward said Clinton should "get off this screaming stuff." The piece originally lacked attribution for that quote, which made it look like Anderson said it.