Tina Brown continued her belittlement campaign against Hillary Clinton today, telling Morning Joe that Clinton "needs to get back in the gym." Will this "tide of trivialization," as the Times' Judith Warner calls it, keep Clinton from doing her job?

In a battle for who can say the most undermining thing, Joe Scarborough suggests that Bill Clinton travel to Africa on a "mission of mercy" and rescue his wife, just as he rescued Laura Ling and Euna Lee. Because getting criticized in the media for standing up for yourself (all this analysis is apropos of Clinton's comment that "my husband is not the Secretary of State, I am") is just like being captured by dictatorial regime, and being rescued by her husband is exactly what Secretary Clinton needs to help the world take her policies more seriously. But Tina Brown interrupts this already offensive suggestion to basically call Clinton fat. How is Clinton supposed to make good on her promise to make women's issues "central" to foreign policy, if the US media keeps making her looks and her husband central to her policy?

In her latest 'Domestic Disturbances' column, Times opinion writer Warner writes,

As she circles the globe in coming years, making the case for women's empowerment, starting with their basic right to be taken seriously, Clinton really has her work cut out for her. And it isn't just because the situation of women around the world is so dire, and the ocean of problems confronting them - maternal mortality, sex trafficking, domestic abuse, malnourishment, lack of education, lack of adequate medical care, just for starters - is so wide and so deep. [...] It's also because the tide of trivialization that washes over all things "Hillary" is just so powerful. That tide threatens to drown out anything of substance Clinton might attempt for a population whose problems have long been obscured in the androcentric world of diplomacy. And that's a huge pity.

Both Scarborough and Brown imply that Clinton needs to make us respect her, either by "being careful what [she says] in front of cameras" (Scarborough) or, by working out more (Brown). But why is "trivialization" our default mode? Of course, Hillary Clinton isn't our first female Secretary of State, and her current position as figure of fun may have to do with her longstanding role in the Clinton media circus. Because of her husband's indiscretions, people got used to making jokes about her personal life and appearance long before she ran for President or held a Cabinet position. But those jokes weren't acceptable then (remember all the scrutiny of her thighs?), and they're even less acceptable now that she's trying to be an ambassador for women's rights around the world.

In fact, today, Clinton will visit the African nation of Liberia, where she will meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first female head of state. Yesterday, she told a Nigerian talk show host,

From a moral perspective, we?re in the 21st century; all human beings, no matter what religion or ideology you reference, have the right to develop to their God-given potential. And too many women in too many parts of Africa are not being developed fully.

Will anyone pay attention to this message, much-needed not just in Africa but throughout the world? "Maybe," says Warner, "if we stop viewing everything Clinton does as entertainment."

Hillary Fights A Tide of Trivialization [NYT]
Clinton Heads To Liberia To Show Women Power [AFP]