Speaking of Change: Women Broadcasters Deliver
| October 8, 2008
Two thirds of the way through the male-moderated presidential debates, history has turned in this election when women broadcasters played a role.
In the 1980s musician Don Henley had a big hit with a song that described the public’s fascination with broadcast news. He sang: “We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five. She can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye.”
In this presidential cycle, female broadcasters have dramatically shaped the public’s perceptions of the candidates for president and vice president. Several women have played prominent roles in broadcasting news in this election, including the vice-presidential debate moderator Gwen Ifill, MSNBC show host Rachel Maddow, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, and CNN political correspondents Dana Bash and Candy Crowley. Two powerhouse women broadcasters—Oprah Winfrey and Katie Couric, with an endorsement and a series of interviews respectively—may in fact, shape its outcome.
The politician is supposed to be the message and the broadcaster the messenger. But the women broadcasters have sent their own signal to viewers, telling us that women in television news have moved far beyond Henley’s stereotype and are making a vast impact.
Oprah Winfrey, who looms above everyone else in broadcasting, endorsed Barack Obama early in his campaign. She explained why when she said, “Because I know him personally, I think that what he stands for, what he has proven that he can stand for, what he has shown was worth me going out on a limb for—and I haven’t done it in the past because … I didn’t know anybody well enough to be able to say, I believe in this person.” Shortly after Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement, Barack Obama surged ahead of Hillary Clinton in the polls.
And while many wonder about Sarah Palin’s qualifications, there is no question in the minds of most viewers who watched her series of interviews with the vice presidential nominee that Katie Couric knows her job well. Of the handful of interviews Sarah Palin has participated in, it has been the Couric interviews that have caused the most concern in minds of voters about whether or not Palin could effectively lead as vice president.
In America, women have had a slow start in broadcasting. They are held to a different standard of appearance and historically were relegated to such “women-related” topics as cooking and decorating. Not that long ago, armed with identical educations, women in broadcasting often started out as office receptionists while their male counterparts zoomed to positions of on-camera prominence.
Change has come in this election, and not only for women in politics. Demonstrating undeniable clout and interviewing prowess, women broadcasters have made prospects brighter for those who follow in their industry. And this, indeed, is “cha