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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

For One Ed, Strong Op

Susan Estrich Addresses the Male

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page C01

Commentator Susan Estrich says she's just trying to get more columns by women into the Los Angeles Times.

Michael Kinsley, who runs the newspaper's opinion pages, agrees that's a worthy goal.


If you thought that Martha Stewart looked a bit too fit and trim on Newsweek's cover, you were right: It's her head, someone else's body. (PR News Foto)

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But the battle between the two longtime acquaintances has escalated to bitter warfare, with Estrich bombarding Kinsley with e-mails assailing him for "arrogance," "audacity," being a "jerk" and warning him before a charity event: "You want me to work that dinner about what an [expletive] you are?" Kinsley, in turn, accused Estrich of "blackmail."

The testosterone-laden nature of many newspaper op-ed pages is nothing new. In the first two months of this year, about 19.5 percent of op-ed pieces at the California paper were by women, 16.9 percent at the New York Times and 10.4 percent at The Washington Post. Only a handful of female columnists -- Maureen Dowd, Ellen Goodman, Molly Ivins -- are nationally known.

Gail Collins, the first woman to run the New York Times editorial page, says, "The pool of available people doing opinion writing is still tilted toward men. There are probably fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff, and they're less comfortable hearing something on the news and batting something out."

Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt says: "There ought to be more women on op-ed pages in general. Over time, I intend to make that happen." Hiatt notes that death has claimed two of his columnists in the past year, Mary McGrory and Marjorie Williams, leaving Anne Applebaum as the only regularly published woman. He says 80 to 90 percent of submissions, especially from such male-dominated bastions as Congress and academia, come from men.

When Kinsley joined the L.A. Times last year, replacing a woman, Estrich started pressing her old Harvard Law "friend" to run more pieces by women -- including her syndicated column -- over dinner and through a series of letters. "ONE LAST CHANCE BEFORE I GO PUBLIC," she warned in early February.

What really pressed Estrich's buttons was a Feb. 13 Times opinion piece by Charlotte Allen of the conservative International Women's Forum headlined "Feminist Fatale: Where are the great women thinkers? Thinking so much about women has shrunk their minds." Estrich, who teaches law at the University of Southern California and wrote the book "Sex and Power," called Allen "a feminist-hater I have never heard of."

When the correspondence leaked to Washington's new Examiner newspaper, Kinsley, a former editor of Slate and the New Republic, told the paper: "I think it may be possible to be a woman even if Susan Estrich has never heard of you. . . . If Susan wants to boycott media institutions that don't adequately reflect her progressive feminist values, maybe she should start by resigning from Fox News, where she is a commentator."

But the rhetoric started escalating even before the leak. On Feb. 14, Estrich told Kinsley she was surprised at his "rudeness" and "blatant hostility" in not getting back to her. On Feb. 15, Estrich wrote that "for a smart guy, you seem to have a real Larry Summers problem," referring to the Harvard president who questioned whether women are less adept at math and science.

Kinsley, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, wrote Estrich on Feb. 17 that her "mischaracterizations" of his position were "farcical" and her supposed concern for his health, expressed in one letter, was "disgusting." Her response: "You are being a bigger fool than I thought. . . . You are digging a grave for yourself. . . . People are beginning to think that your illness may have affected your brain, your judgment and your ability to do this job." She copied Internet gossip Matt Drudge on a similar letter.

That same day, Estrich sent Kinsley a letter signed by dozens of other women, and said if it didn't run she would launch a Web site, LATimesBias.org, the next day. Kinsley wrote back: "We don't run letters from 50 people, and we don't succumb to blackmail." He said she could submit her own letter in two or three weeks. Instead, Estrich told women in a mass mailing to urge advertisers to complain about the paucity of female columnists.

On Feb. 18, Times Editor John Carroll wrote Estrich to complain about "the extravagant malice of your comments about Mike Kinsley." Estrich responded by accusing him of "constitutionally impermissible libel" and said her attorney would contact him.

Kinsley says in an interview that "she is the one firing rockets" and he has sent few e-mails. "There should be more women" on op-ed pages, he says, and he is adding more, including Time's Margaret Carlson. But, he says, "this counting is a little silly. We've already gotten into Talmudic discussions about whether a co-byline counts as one or two. . . . If you're looking for women, blacks, Latinos, people from Southern California, it's a familiar argument that this discriminates against white males. The unfamiliar argument is that every time you add a category, it hurts the other categories, even the ones you're trying to help."

Estrich says that she never intended for the correspondence to become public and that "it's not personal" against Kinsley: "This isn't about egos. My only concern is that the L.A. Times opinion pages, unfortunately like too many in this country, are dominated by men, and I'd like to see that change." Saying that there aren't enough good female opinion writers is, she says, "a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Some papers have made things work. Keven Ann Willey, who runs the Dallas Morning News editorial page, says 41 percent of her contributors last year were women, and that she gets a monthly report broken down by gender, race, ethnicity and age, because "we want lots of diversity on our op-ed page."

Braying Online

The Boston Globe was often at odds with John Kerry during the presidential campaign. And one Globe reporter, it turns out, was no Kerry fan.

Hiawatha Bray reported on the campaign's technological aspects, such as a hackers' attack on an online bookstore selling an assault on Kerry by a leader of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The liberal group Media Matters found that Bray also criticized the senator in postings on blogs and Web sites.

In one, Bray wrote of Kerry's "moronic strategy" of basing his campaign on his Vietnam service: "But now we find that of the hundreds of men who served with him, nearly all hated his guts." As for Kerry's postwar behavior, Bray wrote: "From his own lips, we hear him claim that his comrades were little better than the Waffen SS. He even claims to have committed atrocities himself. Either he's telling the truth about this -- and should have been put in the cell next to William Calley -- or he's lying, and shouldn't be allowed to serve as commander in chief of the soldiers he so casually lied about."

After the election, Bray, who did not return calls last week, posted a note describing himself as a "Bush supporter" and telling Kerry backers to "suck it up."

Globe Editor Martin Baron says Bray "is a technology reporter and did not cover the presidential campaign, other than a minor technology-related story on very rare occasions. That said, his blog postings were inappropriate and in violation of our standards, and he was informed of that when we learned of them in November. Mr. Bray was instructed to discontinue any such postings, and to our knowledge he complied." Baron called the Globe's coverage of Kerry fair and accurate.

Creative Journalism

Newsweek has been taking a beating over its cover shot of a smiling Martha Stewart that looks to the casual reader like the real thing -- until you pause to notice that she happens to be pulling back some orange curtains when, at the time, she was in jail.

It's not even Stewart's real body. Inside, a tiny credit line says it's a "photo illustration."

Editor Mark Whitaker says he thought the "Martha's Last Laugh" cover was "clearly over the top enough that nobody would think it was the real Martha. It was never our intention to produce something anyone would mistake for the real Martha. But if it was too subtle at the end of the day, we regret that."


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