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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

Too Many Opinionated Men?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 16, 2005; 8:28 AM

Online men are having a fine old time writing about online women.

The topic: Why aren't more female bloggers in the "top tier," or what was known in high school as "most popular"?

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Some women, naturally, are weighing in too.

This argument surfaced some time ago, but it's been kickstarted again by the Susan Estrich-Mike Kinsley fuss and the debate about why there aren't more women on the nation's op-ed pages. Which pretty naturally leads to pronouncements on the male-dominated nature of the blogosphere.

What's great about this topic is that everyone has an opinion and the argument can never really be settled. So the debate could go on for, say, a century or two.

I've been surfing a number of blogs by women and (attention: this is not a generalization) and have found a fair number in diary form that deal with families, literature, cooking and other personal reflections--engaging stuff, to be sure, but sometimes out of the echo-chamber warfare over media and politics that gets the most attention.

Newsweek columnist Steven Levy helped spur the latest round with a report from a Harvard blogging conference that featured a comment "from Keith Jenkins, an African-American blogger who is also an editor at The Washington Post Magazine [a sister publication of NEWSWEEK]. 'It has taken 'mainstream media' a very long time to get to [the] point of inclusion,' Jenkins wrote. 'My fear is that the overwhelmingly white and male American blogosphere . . . will return us to a day where the dialogue about issues was a predominantly white-only one.'

"After the comment was posted, a couple of the women at the conference -- bloggers Rebecca MacKinnon and Halley Suitt -- looked around and saw that there weren't many other women in attendance. Nor were the faces yapping about the failings of Big Media representative of the human quiltwork one would see in the streets of Cambridge or New York City, let alone overseas. They were, however, representative of the top 100 blogs according to the Web site Technorati -- a list dominated by bigmouths of the white-male variety.

"Does the blogosphere have a diversity problem?

"So why, when millions of blogs are written by all sorts of people, does the top rung look so homogeneous? It appears that some clubbiness is involved. Suitt puts it more bluntly: 'It's white people linking to other white people!'"

That posting brought a somewhat indignant response from Jeff Jarvis at the Buzz Machine:

"First, what's wrong with being a white male? I'm white and male. Not much I can do about it. Not much I want to do about it. I'm sure as hell not going to apologize for it. I'm white. I'm male. I blog. You got a problem with that? Tough.

"Second, I hate to break the news to you, Steven but . . . you're white and male, too! And you sit there in a Big Big-Media Job that is not held by someone unwhite and unmale. Should you ask why that is? Should you feel guilty? Should you quit? Should someone ask these questions of you?

"Third, anyone can blog. Anyone. If you're not white or not male or not American or not powerful or not rich or not anything, you can still blog. This is not like Big Media, where there's a gate to keep and a ceiling to hit. This is a wide-open medium where anyone can blog. This old quota talk is outmoded and irrelevant . . .

"Fourth, in the blogosphere, nobody knows you're a dog . . . or unmale . . . or unwhite. There are plenty of bloggers I read who are demographic mysteries to me. I honestly don't know the race or gender of many bloggers and commenters I read and -- listen carefully now -- I don't care."

Jarvis concludes: "OK, OK. I'm white. Very white. Pale white. Pasty white. Wonder-Bread white. Gray-haired, white-bearded white. Never-in-the-sun white. Just white. That picture up in the corner is color-corrected to give me the appearance of a healthy tone. It's a Photoshop lie. Actually, I'm vampirish. Bloodless. Practically transparent. Colorless. Odorless. Tasteless (just ask the FCC). White."

Say it loud and proud!

Chris Nolan raises the question of the nerd factor:

" 1)This medium was first taken up by techies. Most of them are men. It's not worth going into the statistics on men and women in tech, and the reasons and whyfors. There are more men, that's all you need to know for this conversation.

"2) Those men prefer to link and read men like them. As it was in the beginning so shall it ever be. When they wonder where the women bloggers are what they're really saying is 'I don't read any women bloggers.'

"3) Even though the 'blogosphere' has gotten much larger, most of these men are still reading the guys they started out with three years ago., linking to them and talking among themselves. There's talk of broader horizons, but it's pretty much that: Talk. Glenn Reynolds, however, is an exception to this trend. And since he got slapped around last month, Kevin Drum has started to link to more women. Josh Marshall rarely links to women writers. . . .

"4) Ana Maria Cox. She's prettier, younger and more entertaining than most other writers -- male or female -- on the web. And she spends most of her time writing about sex. Her male readers -- and that's her audience, trust me on this -- think that's really cool. It's a cheap trick but it builds an audience. Since she's got an audience, Big Media think of Cox as 'the' girl blogger. Since they've got one girl blogger in their rolodex, they don't think they need any more. Particularly since she's pretty and she talks about sex which makes them all feel better about how bloggers aren't really a serious threat to Big Media."

Ann Althouse provides the female perspective:

"It takes a lot nerve to put your harsh, straightforward words down on paper. You can feel entirely squelched and intimidated, yet still have those things inside you, and you could say them if somehow someone managed to give you the go-ahead. I know I've found myself able to write a lot of things down in this blog, but I've also gone many, many years holding my tongue. There may be a lot of men clamoring to speak first, easily finding a way to talk over the women who have just as much to say. It may take a little something more to unleash what women can say.

"Maureen Dowd doesn't explain how she was able to let loose. Someone saw she had it in her and gave her the forum, and from there she had to force herself to do it. But clearly, she could."

As for this column, I encourage female bloggers (and others) to drop me an e-mail when they have a posting on media or politics that they'd like to see picked up.

The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum brings the conversation back to the op-ed pages:

"In the past 72 hours I've discovered that I am not just an ordinary journalist or an ordinary columnist. No. I am a token.

"That, at any rate, is what I conclude from the bumper crop of articles, columns and blogs that have, over the past few days, pointed to the dearth of women on op-ed pages. Several have pointed out that I am, at the moment, The Post's only regular female columnist. . . .

"None of the ones I know -- and, yes, I conducted an informal survey -- want to think of themselves as beans to be counted, or as 'female journalists' with a special obligation to write about "women's issues." Most of them got where they are by having clear views, knowing their subjects, writing well and learning to ignore the ad hominem attacks that go with the job. But now, thanks to Estrich, every woman who gets her article accepted will have to wonder whether it was her knowledge of Irish politics, her willingness to court controversy or just her gender that won the editor over."

Here's another guy who got into trouble for his remarks on women:

"Members of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences passed a vote of no confidence yesterday in Lawrence H. Summers, dealing a stunning rebuke to the president of one of the world's top universities," says the Boston Globe.

Apparently, running the Treasury Department is easier than running Harvard.

Now that WorldCom's Bernard Ebbers has been convicted in the biggest corporate fraud ever (here's the NYT, LAT and USA reports), I'm sure he'll be getting as much coverage as Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson, right?

Speaking of Jacko, is the case against him falling apart? The star witness certainly didn't hold up well:

"After about 14 hours on the stand," says the Los Angeles Times, "the boy who is the heart of the case against Michael Jackson completed his testimony Tuesday, saying he had denied he was molested by the star because he feared that he would be taunted by his classmates. "Completing more than seven hours of cross-examination, defense attorney Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. worked hard to cast doubt on the credibility of the boy, now 15, who testified he was masturbated twice by Jackson at the star's Neverland ranch in early 2003. "During questioning by Mesereau, the boy acknowledged that he told a school administrator that he was never molested by the pop singer. . . .

"Last week, the boy testified in detail that Jackson twice molested him at the star's Neverland ranch in early 2003. But he has also acknowledged that he lied on a video prepared by the Jackson camp. He blamed Jackson aides for the falsehoods."

A few readers have complained that I failed to mention, in Monday's column about a Project for Excellence in Journalism report, the finding on pro-Kerry bias last year. Frankly, I wrote about much better studies on the subject in 2004 and the finding consumes a paragraph of the 617-page report because the group's sample was small. Nevertheless, here it is:

"When it came to the campaign, on the other hand, the criticism that George Bush got worse coverage than John Kerry is supported by the data.2 Looking across all media, campaign coverage that focused on Bush was three times as negative as coverage of Kerry (36% versus 12%) It was also less likely to be positive (20% positive Bush stories, 30% for Kerry). That also meant Bush coverage was less likely to be neutral (44% of Bush stories, 58% for Kerry)."

Gary Condit (now there's a name from the past) is back in the news, as the Modesto Bee reports:

"Former Rep. Gary Condit on Monday settled his $11 million defamation lawsuit against author Dominick Dunne, just as it was entering a crucial and potentially embarrassing phase.

"With the settlement, Condit secured an apology, the payment of an undisclosed sum and the freedom from further intimate questions about his friendship with the late intern Chandra Levy.

"'I did not say or intend to imply that Mr. Condit was complicit in her disappearance, and to the extent my comments may have been misinterpreted, I apologize for them,' Dunne said in a brief statement."

You can just imagine the lawyers haggling over that one.

As for what Dunne claims was subject to misinterpretation: "In bringing the lawsuit to an end, Dunne renounced a story he had told on the nationally broadcast 'Laura Ingraham Show' in December 2001. On that radio show, and at fancy dinner parties, Dunne had cited a man called 'the horse whisperer' as a source for claims that Condit had frequented Middle Eastern embassy sex parties.

"Dunne said the man told him Condit had 'created the environment that led to (Levy's) disappearance,' through complaints that Levy was a 'clinger' that the then-congressman 'couldn't get rid of.' Dunne cited his horse whisperer source as indicating Levy had been kidnapped and dropped into the Atlantic Ocean."

Some final thoughts on Dan Rather from Jeremy Kahn in the New Republic

"Beyond being awkward and strange, Rather was described as a narcissistic reporter who made himself the center of every story. Even Walter Cronkite, CBS's beloved anchor emeritus, joined the anti-Rather chorus, telling The New Yorker's Auletta that he worried about Rather's 'showboating.' Cronkite also revealed that he had long ceased to watch Rather, preferring NBC's former anchor Tom Brokaw instead. Then he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Bob Schieffer should have replaced Rather long ago. Ouch.

"Now, I'll accept that much of what Rather's critics have said is true. (Although I don't believe Rather was guilty of liberal bias, I won't defend his Memogate decisions, and his occasionally self-pitying attempts to portray himself as some sort of martyr are pathetic and unseemly. So too was his claim to the BBC that compared the chilling effect Bush's war on terror was having on the news media with the 'necklacing' of political dissidents in South Africa.)

"Did Rather put himself at the center of his stories? Yes. Was he stiff and uptight? Much of the time. Was he sometimes sentimental and often downright bizarre? Absolutely. And all of these things made him by far the most enjoyable network anchor to watch. If you wanted stoicism and predictability, tune in Jennings or Brokaw. But if you delighted in the frisson of watching someone who might at any moment completely lose it in front of millions of viewers on live television, then Dan was your man."

If you've watched the "CBS Evening News" since Bob Schieffer took over, you've noticed that correspondents billboard their own stories at the top of the show and that the newscast has gotten more conversational:

"Schieffer does live, spontaneous interviews with correspondents," reports Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Gail Shister. "In the past, such segments were taped and reporters knew questions in advance, says executive producer Jim Murphy. . . .

"'I want to stop this business of having people do these rehearsed stand-ups,' Schieffer says. 'I want to try to talk like normal people talk, not just stand there and bark at the camera.'

"The new 'talk back' approach suits Schieffer, says Murphy, because 'he's a clear conversationalist, and I'm playing to that.' Rather preferred using that time for more stories, he adds."

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