NYT Announces Adam Nagourney’s Replacement On The Politics Beat: Three Dudes
Changes afoot at the New York Times: Today Bill Keller sent out an email to staff advising them that Adam Nagourney was leaving the beat. “How do you replace Adam Nagourney, whose incisive judgment, boundless energy, fairmindedness, sharp prose and refreshing lack of cynicism have made him a Times byline to watch for since 1996?’ asked Keller, and then gave his answer: With three dudes. Three awesome dudes, to be sure — Jeff Zeleny will become lead day-by-day political reporter, Jim Rutenberg will do investigative reporting, Matt Bai as a political columnist — and their great work on this beat is well known. But still. Three dudes.
I know there are some of you out there who are eye-rolling at that first paragraph, maybe saying, “Gimme a break. This was the politics team anyway. And what about Kate Phillips and Kit Seelye at The Caucus? Come on.” And you would be quite right — this was the politics team, and while Nagourney’s exit gives Keller the opportunity to create his “politics triumvirate” where before there was just one man, the actual players have only been moved around on the chessboard. But still, it brings up a point. If you look at who covers politics in the MSM, especially at the higher levels, it still seems to skew male. Consider that there was almost a woman Democratic nominee last year (well, “almost” is in the eye of the beholder, but still). There is a female speaker, a growing number of female senators and governors. Why is this still being covered at the top levels almost exclusively by guys?
This also reminds me of a disparity I noticed at the beginning of the year between two political books. One was Notes From The Cracked Ceiling by Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post (and former colleague of aforementioned new triumverate), which looked at gender equality and the 2008 election. The other was Game Change by John Heilman and Mark Halperin. Which one did you hear more about? Okay, yes, Game Change was hotly-anticipated and eagerly-devoured, with juicy bits positively squirting out of it (eek, maybe not the best analogy in a campaign featuring John Edwards). But the dialogue I expected to come out of Cracked Ceiling didn’t really come. Yes Kornblut had her WaPo excerpt and lots of attention on the home front for her work, but I just didn’t see it resonate how I thought it would. (And disclosure – I’ve read juicy bits from both these books, but neither cover to cover).
This isn’t a case of dueling book reviews, though — it’s just a noting of two separate points, and then thinking: Might they be related? Kornblut documents how challenging it was for female candidates, with harsher standards (speaking of the NYT, who remembers “The Cackle?” I sure as hell do) and different challenges for women to navigate, like femininity vs. toughness (pantsuits!) plus the casual gender-based attacks (iron my shirt!). So: Might these two observations — that the NYT’s top politics team is all dudes, that a political book about gender issues in the 2008 didn’t really crack the discourse much — be related to how those female candidates were covered, and the norms within which that coverage was made?
On a larger level, might they be related to, say, Kathryn Bigelow winning the first Best Director trophy? Or Katie Couric being the first female anchor, or the ascendance of Tina FeyAmy Poehler et al to disprove the assertion that “women aren’t funny?” I’m currently at SXSW, and attended a panel last weekend about how men could be better allies to women in tech in order to bring more women into the industry (hashtag: #MoreGirlsInTech). As I sat and listened to the discussion, and the questions and comments from audience members, I was reminded of so many panels I’ve attended about “Women In X” — politics, media, comedy, tech, film — and how, while all the experiences and anecdotes and comments were personal, reflecting the fact that jobs and situations and candidates and the like are all individuals, there are still some common themes. One of those themes is that, hey, things are way different now — women are doing it all, so stop complaining and BE the change you want to see, girl! Well, as one of those complainers who knows that there will be grumbling and eye-rolling about this post, I just have to point out that this change remains an ongoing process, evolving up the chain. Since it reaches the top last, and since so many power positions are top down, it’s easy to see how that change is still gradual. While it may not earn me popularity points — heck I’m a woman, look at my platform! — I am still compelled to point out that while this decision to redeploy three NYT politics assets was probably done based on specific people and positions and qualifications without regard to the larger picture, it is individual appointments like this that, when taken in the aggregate, provide that larger picture. And that larger picture still shows more dudes floating to the top of MSM political coverage.
Bill Keller’s memo — complete with glowing language about Nagourney, Rutenberg, Bai and Zeleny — is on the next page.
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