Is the Daily Caller’s Michele Bachmann Migraine Story Sexist?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JUNE 17: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) speaks during the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference on June 17, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The 2011 Republican Leadership Conference runs through tomorrow and will feature keynote addresses from most of the major Republican candidates for president as well as numerous Republican leaders from across the country. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Photo: Justin Sullivan/2011 Getty Images

Michele Bachmann might give some people a headache, but supposedly she gets plenty of her own: Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller ran an anonymously sourced piece alleging that the Minnesota congresswoman suffers from frequent and severe migraines, so bad that she is "incapacitated" by them.

Sources who spoke to The Daily Caller said they did so because they are terrified about the impact the condition could have on Bachmann’s performance if she actually became president. They also worry that the issue could blow up in the general election campaign, giving President Obama an easy path to re-election.

The article cites an instance in July 2010 when Bachmann was briefly hospitalized, supposedly for a stress-triggered headache; that's the most concrete detail, although the sources say there were at least two other hospitalizations. What gives the piece the whiff of a smear against a spoiler candidate are the quotes about Bachmann's migraine-management techniques, and the headline that reads, in part, "heavy pill use alleged."

“When she gets ‘em, frankly, she can’t function at all. It’s not like a little thing with a couple Advils. It’s bad,” the adviser says. “The migraines are so bad and so intense, she carries and takes all sorts of pills. Prevention pills. Pills during the migraine. Pills after the migraine, to keep them under control. She has to take these pills wherever she goes. [...]

Of particular concern to some around her is the significant amount of medication Bachmann takes to address her condition.

The former aide says Bachmann’s congressional staff is “constantly” in contact with her doctors to tweak the types and amounts of medicine she is taking. Marcus Bachmann helps her manage the episodes.

So those inclined to do so might imagine that perhaps Bachmann's doctor-husband is loose with a prescription pad. Tucker Carlson was quick to note on Twitter that it was their sources, and not the publication, who were suggesting Bachmann's unfitness for the job of president; he was clearly sensitive to the perception that the piece was a hit job. And yet — though FDR and JFK, for instance, both had fairly severe medical problems — as anyone who has ever had a migraine can attest, it would probably make governing difficult, if the incidents exist, are stress-triggered, and are as severe as the Daily Caller says.

The article also might trigger cries of sexism: Migraines happen to be overwhelmingly a woman's problem, and (though Bachmann's are supposedly stress-triggered), they are often linked to both menstruation and menopause — unavoidable biological side effects of being a woman. And so, just by the nature and associations of migraines, the story serves as a reminder of the cave-man argument from way back against women holding office — that they might be undone by their hormones in moments of great stress.

Migraines are also one of those diseases that can seem trumped up from the outside (Joan Didion wrote of them that "migraine headaches were, as everyone who did not have them knew, imaginary"), and it's an affliction that can particularly conjure a hysterical Victorian taking to her fainting bed.

Already, such unlikely Bachmann defenders as Mother Jones editors Clara Jeffrey and Monica Bauerlein have suggested on Twitter that, reading between the lines, the Daily Caller's article might be a little gender-biased: " 2 to 1 that Bachmann's pill popping = advil and estrogen. It's called menopause, people. Survived by powerful women all over the world," and "I think some of it was on the order of 'she's a girl.'" It's similar to the way "flake" isn't strictly a sexist ding but was read as one when applied to Bachmann.

So while, if a male candidate suffered from migraines, the story would surely have been reported in the same way, because Bachmann is a Lady Running for President, it will unavoidably be filtered through that lens.

Stress-related condition ‘incapacitates’ Bachmann; heavy pill use alleged [Daily Caller]