former journalists discuss a profession in crisis

Posts Tagged ‘women’

Post Op-ed Gained Attention but Not Respect

In Blog on September 4, 2013 at 11:33 am

I guess if The Washington Post was attempting to provoke strong reader reaction to an op-ed questioning whether sexual relations between teachers and minor students should be criminalized, the paper got when it sought. My daughter brought my attention to the opinion piece, published August 30th, and by the time I looked at it on September 1st, it had more than 3,000 reader comments.

But surely attention shouldn’t be the only goal for the opinion pages of what is still considered one of the nation’s most prestigious papers.  I often read Post op-eds and disagree with them, but this op-ed was written by someone who seemed to have no actual data or expertise around which to marshal her pretty outrageous arguments.

The news peg of the op-ed was the very light sentence a Montana teacher, who pleaded guilty to non-consensual sex with a 14-year-old student- or what many would call a rape- received in August.  Two years after the assault that student committed suicide, an event her mother felt was brought on by the trauma of the rape.  The teacher, who had failed to follow through on a plea deal that included mandatory treatment for sex abusers, was hauled back into court and the Montana judge gave him a 30-day sentence.  The judge averred that since the sex didn’t involve extreme violence or a stranger, it really didn’t count as a “forcible beat-up rape,” and implied that the 14-year-old in question may have been  more Lolita  than an innocent victim. (The judge did apologize for some of his remarks, but stood by his sentence.)

The judge received much criticism, including a very good editorial from the Washington Post, calling for the judge’s resignation.  For reasons I can’t fathom, The Post then decided to give very valuable column inches to a non-expert, described as a “writer and former lawyer” to rebut its editorial position. She opined that she had lots of friends in the sixties and seventies who had sex with teachers in high school, college and law school, and they’re in her estimation, just fine. To be a law student and have sex with a professor is unwise, but surely it can’t be compared to being a 14-year-old having sex with a teacher.

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THE BLOG: Dear Aaron, about your “woman problem”…

In Blog on September 2, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Dear Aaron,

I have been entertained by The Newsroom these past weeks.  I could overlook the fact that The Newsroom did not, in fact, resemble any newsroom I had ever worked in.  But then again, my experience had been in print journalism, not broadcast.  So perhaps broadcast newsrooms have more paper hearts for Valentine’s Day than a typical day care center, and people in broadcast share their life secrets and dating history spontaneously and almost continuously.

I grew somewhat fond of the plot lines, and could tolerate the endless references to Don Quixote, when I would have preferred H.L. Mencken. I could even suspend disbelief and imagine a news environment entirely devoid of cynicism and black humor.

But what I can’t forgive is the mess you make of your women journalists.

I realize that young women bloggers were on to this sexism long before I was.  My daughter opened my eyes, and referred me to posts on The Hairpin like this one.

But now that I’ve been sensitized, I have gotten more and more angry.

Sexism in journalism has had a long and storied history. It still is not entirely dead, so how you portray women in the news matters.  We haven’t achieved that level of professional security where we can just laugh it off.

Early in my own career, I was turned down for a reporting job in a very small town in upstate New York because the editor said he “wanted to replace a man with a man.”  By then, there were laws in place that would have permitted me to sue that editor for sex discrimination.  But what would have that gotten me in the long run?  Damages, maybe, but also a reputation in the news business for being “difficult.”  So I didn’t sue.

When I interviewed women journalists for my book, Out of the News, I realized how prevalent the gender discrimination has been.  While some benefited by being mentored by women who were pioneers in the field, others still bore the brunt of unequal treatment with men into the 1980s, 1990s and even the 21st century.   Beverley Lumpkin is a good example of a talented reporter who faced sexism her entire career.  Although she’d done extensive investigative work for congressional oversight committees and ABC’s 20/20 newsmagazine, Lumpkin was stuck on stakeouts when she took a job with ABC’s Washington news bureau, waiting to shout a question to newsmakers as they emerged from their homes or offices.  It was nearly a year before she got substantive news assignments.  Her reportorial skill and expertise covering the Department of Justice never earned her an on-air reporting position on the prime-time network news shows, and after more than 20 years of service, when the bureau was cutting costs, she was one of the “older” women journalists who were let go.

Just last month, a survey revealed that about 75 percent of the print stories about the 2012 presidential campaign have been written by men, during an election when the voting bloc most dear to the candidates of both parties is the “women’s” vote.

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