Young women more involved in campaign coverage
By: Ginger Gibson and Dylan Byers
January 12, 2012 06:27 PM EST
Before CNN reporters left for the campaign trail this cycle, the network’s Washington bureau chief, Sam Feist, gave each of them a copy of Timothy Crouse’s account of his romp across the country with the all-male 1972 press corps, “The Boys on the Bus.”
Half of those books went to women.
Forty years later, some of the gender imbalances in the campaign press corps have shifted. While the senior ranks of the political media are still largely dominated by men, young women — typically younger than 30 — now do a large share of the grunt work necessary to make campaign coverage hum during the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week news cycle.
As campaign “embeds,” they are the ones riding the candidates’ buses from state to state, event to event, recording every word out of the candidates’ mouths — good or gaffe — and filing endless daily stories about incremental developments.
It’s not exactly glamorous work. Embeds for the cable and television networks lug 40-pound equipment, plus their cameras, a tripod and a laptop, on and off the bus at every campaign stop to allow their stations to go live at any moment. But the drudgery could lead to a bigger, and better, job in the next election cycle.
“This was about ‘boys on the bus,’ this was the path — whether it was TV network or print publication — this was the path to a big career,” ABC News political director Amy Walter told POLITICO. “Now you have a generation of women who are coming out and know what they want — and they’re going to go get it, they’re not going to ask for somebody to give them what they want.”
“If you wanted to be a television correspondent, if you wanted to be an anchor, if you wanted to have a byline on the front page — it went through the campaign trail,” she added. “Everybody had to take their time — do their time — on the campaign trail.”
This cycle, CNN has as many female embeds covering the campaigns as it does men. Likewise, NBC has four female embeds to match its four male ones. Female embeds outnumber men on Fox News, ABC and CBS, the last two of which have five female embeds apiece covering the GOP field.
Some of the fresh female faces include CBS/National Journal’s Sarah Boxer, Sarah Huisenga and Lindsey Boerma, and NBC’s Jo Ling Kent and Alex Moe. Over on ABC, Elicia Dover and Emily Friedman are holding down the fort, while on CNN, Rachel Streitfeld and Shawna Shepherd are telling the inside story of the GOP campaigns.
And on Fox News, a trio of women — Joy Lin (who was also out on the 2008 trail), Faith Mangan and Nicole Busch — are tasked with capturing the Republican candidates’ every move.
Nowhere is the female presence more palpable than on Newt Gingrich’s press bus, where five TV network embeds, the AP, Washington Post and POLITICO reporters are female — a new reality that hasn’t been missed by Gingrich.
“As I look here, I sense the beginning of a women’s conspiracy, because just look at this group,” Gingrich said as a band of female reporters followed him at a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa. “My entire life is ‘The View’ — surrounded by women.”
“It’s a tremendous statement that no one noticed,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told POLITICO. “But who is playing Hunter Thompson?” he said, referring to the renegade male campaign reporter who wrote 1973’s book, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.”
The prevalence of women on the trail is hardly new — it was notable in 2008 as well. “I do notice that there are a lot of women, but there were a lot of female embeds last time, too,” said Shushannah Walshe, who was a 2008 embed and is now a contributing ABC political reporter.
Network directors say that the high number of female embeds came about organically and wasn’t part of a calculated move by the networks.
“It wasn’t intentional,” Feist said of CNN’s assignments. “We didn’t say, ‘We’re going to assign this amount of women.’ It’s just the state of the modern newsroom.”
But that ratio is felt very keenly on the trail, especially among the reporters themselves.
“Five months into the campaign, I looked around and realized all five networks and all the camera operators were represented by women,” NBC’s Kent told POLITICO. “To one side of me, it was Fox and CNN, the other CBS and ABC. … I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is remarkable because it is the norm.’”
But while that may be the norm out on the road, Walter says that things at the top look very familiar.
“The high ranks are still dominated by men,” Walter says, “and by white men, mostly.”
“As to the bigger point of what it all means, I think that’s what we’re going to have to see — and it’s a very important question,” Walter said. “These women who are out on the trail now, what is their next job? How many of these women are we going to see five, 10 years from now doing those big jobs, sitting as a correspondent or having their byline on the front page of the paper?”
“That is going to be a very big test for all of this: how successful will it be in actually populating a farm team of really talented women into the high political ranks.”