Sadly, my column this week starts with an apology on behalf of the news media everywhere. Journalists often are maligned for their coverage of stories, and for once, I will contribute to the complaining.
The international news media messed up by not devoting more coverage to the video of President Bush rubbing the German chancellor's shoulders and neck at the G-8 summit in Russia last week.
The encounter certainly bothers me more than Bush slipping up and using the S-word at the same conference. Cursing I can handle. But sexually harassing a head of state sends a message that women, no matter what they do, will not break through the glass ceiling. Yet, the one foul word received more coverage, and more serious coverage, than the story about what happened to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The video is readily available on the Internet if you haven't seen it. It shows Bush walking by Merkel and briefly massaging her neck and shoulders. She shrugs her shoulders and throws up her arms. But upon realizing who it was, she then appears to smile.
When Bush went to massage the chancellor, it cannot be mistaken for anything but harassment. Why did Bush touch the only female at the table? He certainly wasn't giving back rubs to Tony Blair or Jacques Chirac. If it is laughable that the president would massage the shoulders of a male world leader, why is it less offensive, or even funny, that he should do it to a female world leader?
Today in America, all politics is divisive. Some people see the video as confirmation that Bush is an idiot, like they always suspected. Others will see it as an innocent gesture of a friendly president that has been overblown. We all have our own opinions of the president, but what bothers me is what this means for Merkel and women everywhere.
When the incident first was reported, the stories mentioned how Merkel seemed to smile after the incident. And after that, coverage of the story died away. What's worse, that this powerful woman has to endure the president's shoulder rub because he is in a position of power, or that people believe that her smiling makes it OK?
It's a smile and a laugh that a lot of women know. It's the laugh and smirk women do when someone touches them when they don't want to be touched, but aren't in a position to make a big deal about it. It's the same face I used to make as a young reporter when a certain male police officer would put his hand on my arm and call me "sweetheart" when I tried to do my job. The chancellor's chagrin is no justification for what happened.
Pioneering women in the last two generations have endured unspeakable harassment in hopes of rising through the ranks of power so that someday they would have the authority to prevent their daughters from having to endure such abuse. The Chancellor of Germany, man or woman, is one of the most powerful people on Earth. If a woman who rises to that level of power still is mistreated because of her gender, is there any hope for women around the world? If Merkel hasn't broken through the glass ceiling, what hope do the rest of us have?
So I'm writing this column as an apology on behalf of the news media. I have control over this small piece of newsprint each week, and today I'll use it to bring attention to a story that was overlooked. Women shouldn't be laughing about it; we should be outraged.
Jennifer Martikean is the south bureau editor for the Northwest Herald.
© 2006 Northwest Herald