As I've written before, the Washington Post Style section helped create the snark-filled, mind-reading style of narrative writing that has infected political journalism. One of its stars is Robin Givhan, who, to take just one example, wrote an entire article about Hillary Clinton's cleavage.
Givhan's latest contribution to American democracy is a 1000+ word analysis of Elena Kagan's clothes and body language. Characteristically, Givhan takes a superficial observation -- the idea that Kagan doesn't cross her legs -- as a pretext for psychologizing about the Supreme Court nominee's preference for comfort (my emphasis):
In the photographs of Kagan sitting and chatting in various Capitol Hill offices, she doesn't appear to ever cross her legs. Her posture stands out because for so many women, when they sit, they cross. People tend to mimic each other's body language during a conversation, especially if they're trying to connect with one another. But even when Kagan sits across from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has her legs crossed at the knees, Kagan keeps both feet planted firmly on the ground. Her body language will not be bullied into conformity.
She does not cross her legs at the ankles either, the way so many older women do. Instead, Kagan sits, in her sensible skirts, with her legs slightly apart, hands draped in her lap. The woman and her attire seem utterly at odds. She is intent on being comfortable. No matter what the clothes demand. No matter the camera angle.
The only problem, as Media Matters shows, is that Kagan was repeatedly photographed with her legs crossed during meetings with senators:
Here's Kagan at Sen. Daniel Akaka's (D-HI) office:
Here she is with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH):
And with Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR):
Here she is with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA):
And with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO):
And with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN):
And finally, Kagan with a former senator you may have heard of:
It's a great illustration of how little empirical support is needed when writers like Givhan are piecing together their desired narrative. And yes, she won a Pulitzer in 2006. Who needs Woodward and Bernstein anyway?
Update 5/25 11:10 AM: Newsweek's Jessica Barrett notes an amusing irony:
[T]he Post's own internal stylebook says that "references to personal appearance—blond, diminutive, blue-eyed—should generally be omitted unless clearly relevant to the story." It cautions to "avoid condescension and stereotypes." Yeah, this is a fashion story—we know. But still kinda funny, right?
CJR's Liz Cox Barrett also rounds up pictures of Kagan with her legs crossed.