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Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, and the Missing Op-Ed Writers

July 10, 2008

  Carol Jenkins Some Rutgers University researchers were astonished by their findings recently.  They were looking at a sample of 366 op-ed pieces written by academics in three major newspapers, and what they found "most astonishing" was that almost all of the opinions came from men: 97 percent in The Wall Street Journal, 82 percent in The New York Times, and 78 percent in the Newark Star Ledger. Addressing the subject of women writers recently, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote at the end of May"The 2008 numbers as of Wednesday: 654 op-ed pieces -- 575 by men, 79 by women and about 80 by minorities."  Howell blamed the numbers on the "tradition" of hiring white men to write and the failure of more women and people of color to submit. Overall, the figures on women syndicated opinion writers-people actually paid to write -- have been locked down under 25 percent for years now. This lopsided state of affairs was one of the reasons the WMC was created. While we work to change the numbers in mainstream media (and progressive media, which is not much better in women's by-lines), we have created a place for women to post their commentaries.  In fact, three times a week, we send out a WMC Exclusive that highlights global and local issues -- all written by women.  Through our Progressive Women's Voices program, our participants are given rigorous op-ed trainings which enable them to write and (with the WMC's help) place opinion pieces in major mainstream newspapers.  DONATE Which brings me to Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd, two women (out of twelve overall) high-profile opinion writers for The New York Times. Amidst howls of bias after the primary season, which included the WMC's "Sexism Sells, But We're Not Buying" video critique, many publications and broadcast outlets asked the question, "Were we sexist in our coverage?"  The Times examined the charge of sexism in the media in a major, front page story. The first three extensive quotes denying its presence came from men -- who concluded there was no problem. Clark Hoyt, the paper's Public Editor filed a subsequent story and concluded that, except for Maureen Dowd (28 out of 44 commentaries that skewered Hillary Clinton) the paper had been fair.  "Even she, I think, by assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column, went over the top this election season." Gail Collins, the gifted former editorial page editor of the Times, took the unusual step of writing a letter to the editor to defend Dowd. While sisterhood is admirable, we could use that voice to speak up for the hundreds of missing op-ed writers: women and people of color who seldom get the chance to defend their positions or friends. The true sexism in the media lies perhaps in this limited number women op-ed writers, emblematic of a media-wide problem. WMC VideoBe sure to go to our website to click on our new video -- it explains the work we do to make women visible and powerful in the media. Thanks for working along with us. Best, Carol Carol Jenkins WMC President