In my continuing exploration of what, exactly, it is that holds women back, I have had to confront some ugly truths. This is a necessary process for anyone interested in advancing their own cause and interested in the politics of self-preservation. For a long time I agreed with conventional feminist notions about what the problems were that women faced, and who was responsible for them. Several years ago I began to undergo a profound metamorphosis in these areas.
In addition to questioning the hallowed ground of abortion and reproductive rights and whether such extreme defensiveness was even necessary anymore, I began to explore other areas in which women had not made progress. These other areas had been ignored by both traditional feminists and those political players who insisted they were there to help women. I began to understand that professional and economic opportunity, and parity in power needed to be the focus of an emerging feminist transformation. To help with the latter we began to see a shift on the right as more and more women entered the conservative mainstream and electoral politics. But what about that latter? What are the causes of women’s unequal opportunity, and how do we address those issues of inequity?
This electoral season has offered the opportunity for tremendous insight into some of the problems women face in the workplace. And in the last few weeks it has become apparent to me that there is a kernel of truth in the old adage that “women are their own worst enemies.” I’ve often heard some women say they do not have many women friends because of the petty, back-stabbing nature of women in general. And I’ve often heard it said that women will not make progress until they can manage their emotions better. I never wanted to believe those staples of common thought, even though I have seen threads of them over the course of my life. This year we got a close look at these dynamics in action with the women who wield power in the professional world of media.
First up we have Jill Abramson, who was appointed the executive editor of the New York Times in September of 2011. With her tenure, the very tenor of the New York Times reporting has changed. While the New York Times has for some time been known as a stalwart of the “liberal media,” the change it has taken this year under her leadership has been pronounced. This is most evident recently in the handling of the events in Libya and subsequent Congressional investigation. The handling of both has been questioned by other media outlets, and by the NYT Public Editor.
On September 12, the day after the Benghazi attack that killed a sitting Ambassador and three other Americans, the New York Times added heft to the Obama administrations reporting of this as a result of a YouTube video in this article. They reported (via a “contract reporter” on the ground in Benghazi) that there were militants and unarmed protesters on the ground in Benghazi and were saying this was a response to the YouTube video. We have since found out that this was not the case at all, and there were no protester on the ground that day in Libya, which makes their reporting fabricated at the very least, a calibrated, coordinated lie in the worst case. Yet the New York Times stands by their report, even as they refuse to identify the “contract reporter” so the information can be verified.
When congressional investigations began two weeks later, the New York Times buried the story on page 3. On the front page were stories about “affirmative action at universities, one on Lance Armstrong’s drug allegations, two related to the presidential election, one on taped phone calls at JPMorgan Chase, and one on a Tennessee woman who died of meningitis.” Every other major news source in America led with the story of Congressional hearings, in which an amazing amount of information was revealed and the Obama narrative of the video began to be effectively dismantled. When asked by the public editor what happened with the New York Times reporting, Abramson acknowledged that she “she may have set in motion [the decision] while running the morning news meeting on Wednesday,” and has this to say:
“I said that I wanted us to weigh the news value against the reality that Congressional hearings are not all about fact-finding,” she said. In other words, they are often deeply politicized.
She described The Times’s Libya coverage in recent weeks as “excellent and very muscular,” and she said that for her and the managing editor Dean Baquet, “it’s been one of the absolute key stories – getting to the bottom of what happened and why.”
She suggested that she puts more emphasis on The Times’s original reporting. “We have done a lot on the security issues in Libya and will continue, with our own reporters, to pursue this,” she said.
Clearly Abramson, in contrast with every other major news source in America, was choosing what she wanted to be news, not what was actual news. And in so doing, she set back the cause of women’s professional opportunity. When a woman can’t be trusted in a position of power because her vision is muddied by her desires instead of her job, it feeds the narrative that women aren’t in positions of power because they can’t be trusted in them. It shows it to be true. Yet while Abramson’s choices hurt the opportunity other women have to move into a positions of power and perform with competence and excellence, she is hardly alone.
Raddatz & Crowley
In the presidential debates this year, two women were chosen to moderate two of the four debates, an extraordinary development of gender balance for the first time ever. Continue reading