Women reporters reporting for duty

I wonder: Would women new reporters being playing such a prominent role had it not been for the Republican Veep candidate? And I also wonder: What must be going through the minds of Katie Couric and Gwen Ifill.

Consider, these are women who have broken through into the elite ranks of journalists. They are still path breakers, and they know it. They know that they are scrutinized in a way that male reporters are not. For example, would a stunningly good looking male reporter have to fight an assumption that he is not also smart and capable.

And yet this stunningly good looking female reporter was successful in getting an interview from the Republican president and vice-president candidates when they were shutting the rest of the press out. Not only did she get the interviews, the transcripts now emerging show that she has broken news and made an important contribution to public knowledge, exactly what a reporter is supposed to do. The interviews also show her to have been persistent and patient, moving the discussion along to get information from the interviewees or let them demonstrate that they are unwilling to be open to the public.

She has shown us enough to let us ask: What do they have to hide that they cannot give a straight and honest answer.

And for Gwen Ifill there is the double breakthrough of gender and race. She knows that everything she does – everything – related to this debate will be viewed through the lens of gender and race.

Take the faux controversy over her new book, “Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama”, due out in January. The rightwing is full of tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing over this book. So here we have an intelligent, knowledgeable reporter who can provide useful information to the public, and, for this, they attack her. link

And everyone assumes they know what she is thinking and feeling, because, after all, all her views must be mediated through the lens of race and gender. I started to write this piece, something I’ve been thinking about for days, and only discovered the exact problem I foresaw as I was writing it.

“I’m in great demand — everyone wants to talk to me — but I’m not speaking for the whole race,” Ifill said. “My job is to be a reporter. I cannot be the great interpreter. It’s not my job to be on someone else’s air telling them what black people think.”

Ifill told Kurtz that as Obama accepted his party’s nomination for president, a white television reporter asked her: “Aren’t you just blown away by all of this?” She said she was not.

Kurtz also points out that “on one level, Ifill says, she views this moment as the daughter of a black minister who marched in civil rights demonstrations and who she wishes were alive to see what Obama has achieved.”

Ifill told Kurtz, “I still don’t know if he’ll be a good president. I’m still capable of looking at his pros and cons in a political sense.” Besides, Ifill says, “no one’s ever assumed a white reporter can’t cover a white candidate.”

Ifill also discussed the upcoming book in the Kurtz interview.

She said her book would cover new black political leaders such as Obama, Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

“We’re very lazy when we think about race in this country. We try to put it in a box. It’s Jesse [Jackson] versus Al [Sharpton], or Jesse and Al versus everyone else,” she told Kurtz. “We love simplistic conflict.

There’s a whole group of people who have Ivy League degrees and immense accomplishments who actually benefited from the things their parents were fighting for.”

The standard is male. White male. All else is measured against that norm of supposed professionalism and neutrality.

A white male reporter moderating the debates – say from last week – would be criticized over whether his questions were good ones or not, whether he moderated well.

But Ifill and Couric are assessed by how their gender and race affect their performances. And because they know that this is how they will be assessed, they have to take that into consideration.

So, Gwen and Katie, thank you for doing your jobs.

But more than just thanks, I want to enjoin on each of you what you already know – a lot is riding on what you do. Our democracy hangs in the balance. So do well, despite the annoying artifact of being scrutinized – heavily – through the irrelevancies that others bring to the table. Go out there and show them why we have a First Amendment.

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