Via Sociological Images, three news writers -- one on the Fox News website (above), one at the Orlando Sentinel, and one at the Galveston County Daily News -- really, really wanted you to know that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded Saturday in a shooting that killed six, was married to an astronaut; they all mentioned it in the headline. The Fox story, which was later expanded, actually had a picture of her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, instead of her at the top.
There are certainly good reasons to mention Gifford's family in a news account -- it humanizes her, and thinking of her family gives the facts of the case emotional resonance. But most news stories mentioned the husband deeper in the story: The fact that her husband is also a noteworthy person is relevant but not central to the story, as these headlines would suggest. (In fairness, the Florida and Texas papers are near communities where NASA have headquarters and where employees are likely to live.) But something else is going on here, too. Rep. Giffords is one of the few women in Congress, and, for a pretty big slice of the population, who she is as a wife is as important as -- or even more important than -- who she is in her own right.
As Sociological Images points out, though, the facts of the case are newsworthy enough without bringing the astronaut husband into the headlines:
But really: a woman had a person walk up to her in a crowd and shoot her in the head, also shooting other people and killing some of them. I would hope that, even if she weren’t a member of Congress, that in and of itself would be sufficient material for a headline, regardless of who the victim’s husband was.
But I actually think the fact that she's a member of Congress helps explain why those news organizations were mentioning her husband. The fact that she's a successful woman and a public figure needed to be qualified by the press in some way. It shows that we're still not comfortable with the idea of an independent female politician -- one prominent and important enough to be the target of violence.
-- Monica Potts
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