Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Feminist (Non) Fiction Friday--the News Edition

Pauline Frederick c. 1955
When I was growing up, writing for school newspapers and thinking about going for a journalism degree, the three most visible women journalists were Barbara Walters, Pauline Frederick and Helen Thomas. (On the print side there was also Gloria Emerson and Frances FitzGerald, who both wrote fantastic books about the Viet Nam War.)
Later, there was Diane Sawyer, former beauty queen and Republican political strategist  (she helped write Nixon's memoirs), and Jessica Savitch, the weekend anchor at NBC who died tragically in 1983. I never watched the Today Show, so never had an opinion about Katie Couric one way or another. I never watched a single broadcast of her prime time news show. I just never really put her in the same category as other women journalists. But they came later.
The three women who shaped me were Barbar and Pauline and Helen.
I cannot tell you how completely betrayed I felt when beteran White House reporter Helen Thomas suddenly revealed herself to be an anti-Semite. I took it personally.
I remember Pauline Frederick as a UN reporter. I thought that sounded very glamorous. I could see myself doing that--using my French and maybe other languages I'd pick up on the side as I covered stories in far-off places.  The story is that when Pauline was first starting out, few men would agree to be interviewed by a woman so she approached their wives first.  She was the first female reporter to broadcast from China and she had an early interest in "electronic communication." She died more than two decades ago at the age of 82, but she would have felt right at home in the world of Twitter and FB and YouTube.
And then there's Barbara Walters. Every female journalist working today owes a big thank you to Barbara. She's always been an easy target for jokes about her questions ("If you were a tree what would you be?") but I've done my share of celebrity interviews and you know...sometimes questions like that are the only way to break through the wall and get something like a real answer,
Barbara. She worked her way up to that slot on Today and she paid her dues in a time when NO ONE would take a woman reporting hard news seriously.
That idea seems so quaint now.
Connie Chung was another journalist who was very visible in the late 20th century but she's kind of disappeared now. That's a shame.  Andrea Mitchell, another veteran reorter, is very visible right now, appearing at the RNC and DNC conventions, doing interviews from the floor while being virtually engulfed in balloons. She is a breast cancer survivor (this is Breast Cancer Awareness month) and a tough cookie who is in her mid-60s and shows no signs of slowing down.
When CNN came along it was thrilling because there was Bobbie Batista anchoring the news and just being awesome by her very presence. And then there was Christiane Amanpour, who was tough and beautiful and whip smart and reporting from war-torn countries. (I still had fantasies of being a war reporter myself.)

And now, here we are in 2012 and in this political season, it seems to be all about the women. In addition to Rachel Maddow reporting for MSNBC (and yes, I have a girl crush on Rachel, who is smart and funny and passionate), there are the women who have moderated two of the three debates so far, Candy Crowley and Martha Raddatz. I love these women so much.
Martha Raddatz
Candy Crowley  has been covering elections for more than two decades.  She is definitely not a cookie-cutter cutie when it comes to an on-camera presence, and her coolness under fire at the last debate was refreshing. (I also grew up watching the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour and Jim Lehrer was very, very disappointing in his turn as moderator of the first presidential debate. I idolized his colleague Charlayne Hunter-Gault.  I think she was the first African-American woman journalist I remember seeing on the air with any frequency. ) Martha Raddatz was just amazing to watch, which was no surprise given her background in news. Factoid: Barack Obama attended one of her weddings. (She's been married three times.)  Totally silly factoid:  She was born on Valentine's Day.
It is honestly thrilling to see so many women taking their places as newsmakers and reporters. I am from the generation that benefited from women fighting for women's rights. I know how hard my predecessors worked to break the glass ceiling and fight their way into the room.
I can't wait to see who's coming up in the next generation. 

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