Politico bosses answer gender question

June 18, 2013
John Harris, left, and Jim VandeHei of Politico. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)
John Harris, left, and Jim VandeHei of Politico. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

In late April, the Erik Wemple Blog wrote a post on the gender environment at Beltway journalism shop Politico. The post came in response to criticism of a Politico piece alleging that New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson was close to losing the support of her newsroom on account of her “brusque” nature. Such a portrayal, charged critics, fed off of sexist expectations about the conduct of women leaders.

Our post asked whether Politico, given its own gender history, was equipped to spot gender dynamics in its own published work.

Questions from the Erik Wemple Blog to Politico leadership on these matters went unanswered, until now.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Politico top editors Jim VandeHei and John Harris, Isaac Chotiner surfaces the topic in The New Republic.

Isaac Chotiner: I am sure you have heard the criticism that Politico is a tough place for women to work. Do you think that is a fair criticism?

John Harris: During our launch, we were starting from scratch—it was a tough place to work, period. Not just for women. The happenstance that the four co-founders were men was just that. It has become a better place to work. The place is now built for the long haul. I don’t view creating opportunities in a gender context.

IC: But there are statistics that I am sure you have seen. The departure rate for women at Politico is twice as high as it is for men. The Washington Post wrote about this. There were also statistics about how, when one of you guys publishes a piece that is co-bylined, it is almost 100 percent of the time with another male writer.

Jim VandeHei: Wait a second. I want to add to what John said. I find this critique both offensive and wrong. Go ask any of the women in the newsroom if it is a hard place to work. More of our leadership jobs are filled by women than men. The company is run as much by women as men. Three or four years ago, did some women leave? Did some men leave? Certainly. Certainly. We were a start-up. It is an intense culture. And I am sure you could find people saying, “I didn’t like it because I was a guy, because I was tall, because I was short, because my foot hurt.” I am sure some women felt like it was a macho environment. I don’t think women would say that today.

IC: The critique I’ve heard is that it’s an atmosphere rather than overt sexism.

JVH: You have heard it where?

IC: From people I have talked to.

JVH: Like who? I don’t mean to be combative, but talk to people who work at Politico now—

IC: I talked to people who worked at Politico.

JVH: How would you like me to talk to people at The New Republic who told me you guys don’t have any women? Why is that?

IC: I am not—

JVH: No, you respond to that charge. If you are going to make that charge, and you are going to make it on the record—there is no one here who would make that allegation now. It was offensive to me, just like it was offensive to you.

IC: If I had hiring power at The New Republic, that would be a fair question to ask.

JH: I think women would find the premise deeply condescending.

Henceforth, the Erik Wemple Blog will send all inquiries regarding the New Republic’s journalism, worldview, business model, hiring practices, general philosophy, web-design sensibilities and all other matters to one person: Isaac Chotiner.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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Erik Wemple | June 18, 2013