She was targeted in a media storm after converting her tenancy into a condominium – not illegal but a breach of her party’s political line and a circumvention of a controversial housing tenure law she had fronted.
In 2006, Sweden's Minister of Culture, Cecilia Stegö Chilòs, suffered a similar fate. The media discovered that Stegö Chilòs hadn’t paid her TV license fee for years and also had a housecleaner whom she paid in cash − dodging Sweden’s tax system.
After studying the media’s coverage of 92 such scandals from 1997 to 2010, Tobias Bromander concluded that women in politics who break the rules are generally treated more harshly than their male equivalents.
“The men don’t always fare better than the women. Gender doesn’t explain everything, but it’s such a key factor that it should be given more emphasis than it has in the past,” the researcher says in a press release from Linnæus University.
Bromander analysed 4,345 newspaper articles from Sweden’s major newspapers: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet and Expressen.
He asserts that all in all, the media writes more about women’s scandals than about men’s. The dailies are also more likely to call for the resignation of female politicians, and do so more frequently.
The researcher thinks there is a certain gender disparity in the types of cases that trigger a media onslaught aimed at politicians.
The men’s scandals are more often directly related to their jobs, such as the unnecessary use of the Swedish Government’s official Gulfstream jets or other forms of misuse of the taxpayers’ money.
The women’s trangressions often relate more to their personal roles than their public performance, such as withholding information when filing taxes or using black market hired help at home.
Although he also found many similarities between the coverage of scandals involving politicians of either sex, Bromander thinks her research testifies to a democratic problem in the media’s treatment of such cases.
“The media finds it difficult to recognise its own mistakes. A self-image is maintained of being non-partisan, neutral and gender equal.”
But Bromander thinks newspapers are spreading an inaccurate image of reality. The result in the long run may be that fewer people will be willing to work in the political system, because the personal price can be too high.
“Old skeletons in the closet have no expiration dates,” he says.