Donald Trump, sexist bully: Calling a female journalist "beautiful" at an interview isn't a compliment

A Washington Post deputy editor gets slimed by Trump after his meeting with the paper's editorial board

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 22, 2016 6:50PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Donald Trump (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

I know it's hard to keep up with all the different manifestations of Donald Trump's terribleness — especially in a week when he's got a massive tragedy in Brussels to sputter incoherently about. But let's take a moment anyway for an object lesson from a master in condescension and both casual and overt sexism in how not to talk to women.

On Monday, Trump met with the the Washington Post's editorial board for a conversation that was as pointless, rambling and flat out weird as one would expect. It should have been a clue that Trump's mind was beginning to wander when he responded to publisher Fred Ryan's remark, "This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?" with the totally normal and helpful answer, "I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?"

Then, as deputy digital editor Karen Attiah revealed Monday evening, things were winding down when she tried to press Trump on matters of racial inclusion. Attiah is a Ghanaian-American journalist, a Fulbright Scholar with a master's in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Trump, who claims to get along famously with "the blacks," is a man who's won the support of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. 

So Trump informed Attiah that "If you look at some polls that have come out, I’m doing very well with African Americans. I’m doing, actually if you look at the polls, a lot of the polls that came out, in the, um, what do they call it? Exit polls, like from Nevada and other places, I’m doing very well with Hispanics." When Attiah challenged that "Some of the polls are saying you're doing [in the] negatives," Trump volleyed back, "We do, if it’s illegals." He then added that "With the Muslim thing I think it’s a serious problem. I've had Muslims call and tell me you’re right with the Muslim thing." Really, he just never stops with the charm.

Then, Attiah says, as they were leaving, "I thanked Trump for taking my question. He turned to me and said, 'I really hope I answered your question,' and added casually with a smile, 'Beautiful.' I was stunned…. I stayed in the conference room for a few minutes as it sunk in that the potential GOP nominee for president thought it was okay to comment on my appearance. Did he just say that?"

Before publishing her story, Attiah hinted at what went down in a Monday tweet in which she said, "So. I got hit on today by Donald Trump." One can argue that a single word doesn't necessarily constitute "hitting on," but it is undeniably gross and unprofessional. And as Attiah sys, "At least now I know, firsthand, that the sexism that Trump puts on display against Megyn Kelly under the lights of national TV is not that much different from how he is in real life toward female journalists."

Trump's history with the ladies is so exhaustive and well documented that Monday's comment seems almost pale in comparison. As a recent spot from Our Principles PAC points out, he's referred to other women as "Bimbo. Dog. Fat pig." Look how he's treated Kelly alone. 

But the thing about a sexist creep-o like this is that even when he's being nice, he's still being a jerk. And a professional, educated journalist asking a legitimate question of — oh God, I can't believe this is really happening — the leading Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States should be able to reasonably expect that he will answer her questions accurately and respectfully. She should be able to expect that he will not patronize her on the way out the door with a reminder that she exists in his mind to be appraised for her looks. Because that's not a compliment. It's actually hostile.

It's not that men and women — even very high-powered men and women — can't ever make observations. Three years ago, President Obama came under fire for referring to California Attorney General Kamala Harris as "by far the best-looking attorney general in the country" and later apologized for it. But let's note that he was talking about someone who's an old friend of his, and that he made the comment after already calling her "brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law." Trump, in contrast, was doing what he always does — sizing up a woman entirely on her aesthetic value to him personally. And Attiah — just like any other woman who's ever been on the receiving end of a dismissive, smarmy remark while she's just trying to do her job — saw right through it.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Elections Donald Trump Sexism Washington Post