Not enough women opinion writers

There aren’t enough women opinion writers — or at least not enough of them make it onto the pages of America’s newspapers.

That’s the issue, not what Susan Estrich thinks about Michael Kinsley or how he has responded to her, entertaining as all that might be.

That dustup between a couple of high-profile Harvard grads has used up some ink lately, if for no other reason that its escalating nastiness. Here’s the essence of it as recounted in a Los Angeles Times article by James Rainey this week. Estrich is a law professor at Southern California, the campaign manager for Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign, and a syndicated columnist. Kinsley is the former editor of Slate.com, a former host of CNN’s Crossfire, and currently the editorial page editor of the Los Angelese Times.

And both are adults.

When Kinsley was appointed to his current position nearly a year ago, Estrich emailed him demanding that more women appear on the Times’ editorial page. The Times does not carry Estrich’s column, something that is said to irritate Estrich, but she apparently did not bring that up. Kinsley’s response was not satisfactory, and more emails followed.

In one, Estrich referred to Kinsley’s Parkinson’s disease saying, “people are beginning to think that your illness may have affected your brain, your judgment and your ability to do this job.” It was a cheap shot, later retracted by Estrich in a way that only made it worse. She said she was simply trying to “warn an old friend what was being said about him around town.”

Kinsley shows no evidence of his illness affecting his brain. His columns remain as sharp and perceptive as ever.

He should have been sharp enough to ignore what Estrich said about him, but the temptation to respond was too great. He did so with hurt defensiveness that heaped coals on Estrich’s head. At one point, he called her “a jerk.” And despite her apology, Estrich has refused to concede the field.

Now we have a high-level catfight that obscures the real issue: Not enough women are making it onto the nation’s editorial pages.

Rainey reports the following figures (although no source is cited):

In the first nine weeks of this year, women penned 20.5% of the paper’s [The Los Angeles Times] op-ed columns, not including staff editorials, which do not carry bylines. That compared to the New York Times, with 17% women writers on its op-ed pages and the Washington Post with 10%.

If those figures are correct, that’s the point. Despite their many strides in the field of journalism, women have not yet take a prominent place on the nation’s editorial pages.

It would be interesting to know why this is the case. It would be better to see this situation corrected.

Jim Stovall (Posted March 12, 2005)

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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