Where the Women Aren't: Election Night Coverage and Election Issues

By Christine Cupaiuolo — November 9, 2006

Election night was heavy with pseudo-gravitas — as evidenced by the proliferation of white male anchors on cable and television networks. Alessandra Stanley nails it in today’s New York Times: “On a night that crowned Ms. Pelosi as the highest-ranking woman in United States government and Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic front-runner for the 2008 presidential race, Tuesday night’s tableau of men talking to men all across prime time was oddly atavistic, a stag party circa 1962.” Stanley continues:

On NBC, Brian Williams, Tim Russert and the emeritus anchor Tom Brokaw formed a triumvirate of pinstripes and percipience. Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC were so cozy and old-school across their giant, doughnut-shaped desk that they only perfunctorily turned, via satellite, to the network’s veteran Congressional correspondent, Cokie Roberts.

The four commentators that Fox News assembled to back up Brit Hume looked like a funereal barbershop quartet: William Kristol, Juan Williams, Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke. (Even at 6 the next morning, Fox reporters still seemed in denial: Steve Doocy, a “Fox and Friends” anchor, asked a guest what a Pelosi-led House would look like “if” she became speaker.)

CNN’s Anderson Cooper did turn for help to Candy Crowley, who was sandwiched between John King and Marcus Mabry of Newsweek, but the panel behind them, CNN’s “brain trust” (William J. Bennett, J. C. Watts, James Carville and Paul Begala) looked like a police lineup on Mount Athos.

Stanley writes that Katie Couric “was less stately than her male rivals,” incorporating some of her morning show informality, but she also appeared confident. CBS also gave female correspondents like political reporter Gloria Borger more air-time.

Ultimately, however, it appears most of TV news equated “serious” with testosterone:

Viewers no longer turn to network election-night specials for instant results and off-the-cuff analysis; all that can be found at any time, more speedily, on cable and the Internet. Election night on the networks is increasingly a performance piece: for the hour or so of prime-time coverage, the networks project grandeur and authority, seeking to show that they still count for more than counting up precincts.

To many, gravitas still comes in a necktie and cuff links. CBS is showing that sometimes pearl earrings and lipstick can also do the trick.

Plus: Writing in Women’s eNews, Caryl Rivers decries the lack of attention access to abortion and contraception received during the campaign season and urges newly elected women to bring these issues to the forefront.

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