Governor Bev Perdue (D) of North Carolina and Governor Chris Christie (R) of New Jersey are two very interesting political figures. Though divided in their political leanings, both leaders seem to have garnered the reproach and criticism of news outlets across the nation. A brief look into the medias portrayal of these two governors show us the gendered ideas that frame how men and women are viewed in a time of disaster and crisis, and how leaders sometimes play to these ideals.
When it comes to the public image of former Governor Bev Perdue there are two contrasting pictures to choose from: one image portrays hers as a hardworking, multi-tasking mother-like figure, while the other paints her as an incompetent and ineffective leader. An example of this is seen in the news articles that arose during the time that Hurricane Irene hit North Carolina in 2011.
In the aftermath of the storm many news outlets commended Governor Perdue’s determination to see her state through such a trying disaster. Often praised for her ability to “shine in battle,” Perdue and her staff worked hard to create an image of the Governor as “a wired and multitasking chief executive…constantly juggling at least two mobile phones” in her attempt to stay updated on the areas that were most effected by the storm (Politico 2011). Although not necessarily a completely gendered image, this portrayal of the Governor seems to play up the idea of a busy, on-the-go mother trying to maintain balance in a chaotic world. In a time of great change and uncertainty it is interesting to see that the Governor and her staff play up an image that is welcoming and protective in a very feminine way.
Although many news outlets did praise the Governor Perdue for her work in the aftermath of the storm, these same outlets also criticized her for past performances in disaster stations and her seeming incompetence in her post. With a 30% approval rating around the time that Hurricane Irene hit North Carolina, some news outlets worried that the Governor could not “afford another screw-up,” in which they described Governor Perdue’s absence from the state during a pervious crisis when a tornado damaged several small towns (Politico 2011).
In a strange twist of logic, Governor Perdue’s effectiveness in handling the aftermath of storm was actually used as a way to criticize her handling of her more mundane. Analyzing her performance, one political strategist was quoted as saying, “Perdue likely espouses better leadership skills in a crisis than in typical day-to-day routine,” and that “she’s able to delegate to her emergency management staff a lot better than she’s able to delegate to her chief of staff” (Politico 2011). This strategist then goes on to indicate that the effective management of the crises had more to do with the “state’s nationally recognized emergency response operation team” than it did with any of Governor Perdue’s particular leadership skills (Politico 2011).
It is interesting to note that Governor Perdue’s accomplishments during the crisis were eventually ignored and replaced by criticisms of her overall leadership skills. In this instance the mom-on-the-go image did not help Governor Perdue, as her opponents and critics failed to see how her grace under pressure could effectively translate into everyday activities and issues.
Coverage on Governor Chris Christie’s handling of Hurricane Sandy was quite different form Govern Perdue, with most news outlets lauding his emergency preparation plans and his tough guy Jersey attitude. In the days before Hurricane Sandy hit, news programs across the state presented the governor’s plan for evacuations and emergency crews. In many instances, video from the Governors press conference would show Christie assuring his constituent’s that “at the state level, we are taking immediate steps to prepare for the storm’s impact and ensure that state, local, and county governments have the tools they need to manage and respond in a coordinated way” (Lehigh Valley Live 2012). Many outlets across the state used this image of Christie, as an assuring father figure, to encourage New Jersey citizens to follow the directions of local and state leaders and to assure everyone that the state would not let them down in this important time of need.
A few days later, just hours before Hurricane Sandy touched down, Governor Christie was shown behind the podium at a conference using his tough guy New Jersey attitude to try and reach those citizens who were refusing to leave their homes. In a very direct manner Christie warned people saying, “don’t be stupid –get out…I turn our right, you turn out to be dead… so clear out, youse wise guys” (MSN 2012). New outlets across the states praised Christies “always-straight-talking” style, saying that the use of “his state’s native tongue of tough-talk” may be the only thing to get through to “hard-headed folks” throughout the coast (MSN 2012) . Rather than criticize Governor Christie for a less than eloquent approach at a public service announcement, he was hailed a true hero for working within his culture and embracing the tough guy persona that supposedly many New Jersey citizens respond to.
Comparing the news coverage of these two Governors reveals how both used images as parental figures as a way to connect with their citizens and assure them of the state’s ability to handle the situation. However, in the case of Governor Perdue it seems as though many observers refused to see how her work during a crisis could translate to her everyday work. Part of this may have resulted from several political and sex scandals that were revealed in the months prior to Hurricane Irene which lowered many citizens opinion of the Governor, making it impossible for them to see her in the strong mother-like image for more than a few tense and uncertain day. In the case of Governor Christie, many observers were more than willing to accept his father figure role, accepting with this New Jersey boy needed to dish out some tough love. Because of a cultural image of tough Jersey men, Governor Christi was not only able to help protect the citizens of his state, but he was able to create a more positive and “authentic” image of himself throughout the media.
Cassi, Sarah. “Hurricane Sandy: Gov. Chris Christie declares state of emergency.” Lehigh Valley Live. October 27, 2012. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/breaking-news/index.ssf/2012/10/hurricane_sandy_gov_chris_chri.html
Catanese, David. “Hurricane Irene in North Carolina a big moment for Bev Perdue.” Politico August 26, 2011 http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0811/62155_Page2.html
MSN. “Chris Christie’s wise advice about Hurricane Sandy: ‘Don’t be stupid.’” October 27, 2012. http://now.msn.com/chris-christie-new-jersey-governor-says-dont-be-stupid-get-out
Robertson, Gary. “Hurricane Irene aftermath Boosts North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue.” Fayobserver September 5, 2011. http://fayobserver.com/articles/2011/09/05/1120527