clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Trump’s Fed pick wrote that women should be banned from March Madness

The fact that Stephen Moore’s comments became an issue only now is an indictment of the media industry.

Stephen Moore in his Washington office on August 31, 2016.
Stephen Moore in his Washington office on August 31, 2016.
CQ-Roll Call,Inc.
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

Stephen Moore, one of President Trump’s planned nominees for the Federal Reserve Board, once said women should be banned from the March Madness basketball tournament — and a prominent magazine paid him for that opinion.

“Here’s the rule change I propose: No more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer venders, no women anything,” he wrote in a 2002 column for the conservative National Review, recently unearthed by CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Paul LeBlanc.

Moore, who now says he was joking, also suggested that female athletes should be paid less than men and mocked women’s political opinions (“sooo malleable”).

Moore’s columns helped launch a successful media career; he went on to serve on the Wall Street Journal editorial board. He later became a contributor at CNN, where he’s been a fixture during the Trump era, defending the president on all kinds of matters (he once said that Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit against Trump was merely “a porn star” trying to “call attention to herself”). Moore left his position with CNN last month.

It’s no surprise that Trump, who once bragged about his ability to grab women “by the pussy,” would nominate someone with views like Moore’s to a position of high authority. Another one of Trump’s picks for the Fed, Herman Cain, is facing accusations of sexual misconduct from four women.

But the fact that Moore’s comments became an issue only now, after his long career as a political commentator, is an indictment of the media industry.

One effect of the #MeToo movement has been to shine a light on how powerful men in media who do not respect women have shaped the narrative of American politics. It’s no coincidence that our attitudes toward women and power are still so far behind where they ought to be.

As journalists continue to grapple with questions of gender and power and how best to cover these issues in the 2020 presidential race, Moore’s story is an important reminder that the media is overdue for a reckoning of its own.

Moore’s story is one of sexism, not sexual misconduct. But the fact that he could remain a commentator on a prominent cable news outlet for years despite having complained that there’s no place in American life where men “can take vacation from women” is a reminder that when it comes to representing all Americans fairly, the media industry still has a long way to go.

Moore had a long history of sexist “jokes”

Trump announced in March that he would nominate Moore, a former campaign adviser who is now a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, to a position at the Federal Reserve. The announcement has gotten less attention than Trump’s plan to nominate Cain, which he walked back this week after Republicans said they would not support the nomination.

But on Monday, Kaczynski and LeBlanc of CNN published excerpts from a series of National Review columns by Moore, written from 2001 to 2003, in which he complains about women doing a variety of things, such as playing sports, selling beer, and voting.

“This year they allowed a woman ref a men’s NCAA game,” Moore wrote in a 2002 column devoted to March Madness. “The NCAA has been touting this as example of how progressive they are. I see it as an obscenity. Is there no area in life where men can take vacation from women?”

He then proposed that women should be banned from the NCAA basketball tournament unless they looked like Bonnie Bernstein, a CBS sportscaster at the time. “The fact that Bonnie knows nothing about basketball is entirely irrelevant,” he wrote. He also suggested she should wear a halter top.

Moore told CNN that his writing about women “was a spoof. I have a sense of humor.” He has not responded to Vox’s request for comment.

In the same column, Moore listed “another travesty: in playground games and rec leagues these days, women now feel free to play with the men — uninvited in almost every case.” And he opined, “I have never in my life met anyone who actually liked watching women’s basketball.”

In a November 2000 column titled “My Wife Canceled Out My Vote,” Moore wrote that his wife had voted for Virginia Sen. Chuck Robb, a Democrat, because of a campaign commercial focused on environmental issues.

“Women are sooo malleable!” he said. “No wonder there’s a gender gap.”

And in another piece, Moore wrote that female tennis players “want equal pay for inferior work.

“If there is an injustice in tennis, it’s that women like Martina Hingis and Monica Seles make millions of dollars a year, even though there are hundreds of men at the collegiate level (assuming their schools haven’t dropped the sport) who could beat them handily,” he wrote.

His comments reflect on the media outlets that give him a platform, not just the Trump administration

Trump has a long history of mocking women and defending men accused of harming them, so it’s not a shock that he would nominate someone who’s written about women in a contemptuous way.

But the revelation about Moore’s previous writings is also an opportunity for a gut check at media outlets. Allegations of sexual misconduct against Mark Halperin, Charlie Rose, and other journalists have prompted some reexamination of the way the media covers women: If the people who write the history don’t respect women’s personal space, the thinking goes, the history itself may be tainted.

As Rebecca Traister wrote at the Cut in 2017, “the men who have had the power to abuse women’s bodies and psyches throughout their careers are in many cases also the ones in charge of our political and cultural stories.”

There has been, however, perhaps less of a reckoning around sexism — how many men in the higher ranks at CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere spent the 2000s making jokes about female journalists wearing halter tops or women not knowing how to vote? How many still harbor some of those views today?

Moore’s comments are a scandal for the Trump administration, to be sure. But they’re also a scandal for the media outlets, including CNN, that employed him until very recently, despite the fact that his “sense of humor” has long been public for all to see.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.