They summarized previous studies on the way that the media reported Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush and agreed with the observation that journalists tend to use one of four different “frames” for viewing the first ladies, namely as an escort for her husband, as a style-setter for fashionable society, in a “noblesse oblige” role doing charity works or taking a political role as a policy advisor. Earlier studies had shown that the more politically involved the presidential wife was, the less positive the new reporting was. Houchin and Winfield then analyzed media coverage of the wives of the presidential president and vice presidential candidates in the 2000 presidential election, hoping to establish what frame analyzed used and how the First and Second Ladies’ roles are evolving.
The data used in this study included personality profiles, new features, interviews, opinion columns, and campaign updates. It is clear that the wives were involved in the whole electioneering process. At first, the escort role was stressed, and then over time, an element of sacrifice was introduced, since some of these wives had given up high powered careers to support their electioneering husbands. By the end of the election campaign, the press had developed a new frame: “The Anti-Hillary.” What this study shows is that Hillary Clinton, a strong, capable politician in her own right, is seen as a negative asset to a president. One cannot help wondering what the situation would be if the roles were reversed, for example, if a woman were running for office and her husband came under press scrutiny. This is not a scenario which occurs very often, and when one looks at international examples, such as Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, and Indira Gandhi in India, one finds that the press is not interested in their husbands as much because they are either dead or seen as irrelevant.