Debra J. Saunders

Lucky me. No one can accuse me of being a token female columnist, because I'm the only full-time columnist writing for the San Francisco Chronicle's opinion page. (Editorial writer Ken Garcia writes a weekly column.)

 Last month, when syndicated columnist Susan Estrich went public with her feud with Los Angeles Times Editorial Page Editor Michael Kinsley for not running enough columns by women and local writers, she put the gender card back on the table.

 Credit Estrich for getting the pack journalists to find a big story in a phenomenon any rube can see. Stop the presses: Most opinion writers are men.

 It doesn't help Estrich that the Los Angeles Times is not the worst offender. In the first nine weeks of 2005, the Times reported, 20 percent of its op-ed pieces were written by women, while just 17 percent were at The New York Times and a mere 10 percent at The Washington Post. Editor & Publisher, the news industry's trade magazine, looked at eight news syndicates and found that 24 percent of their opinion writers are women.

 It also doesn't help Estrich that she went ballistic on this issue after the L.A. Times ran a piece written by a woman -- Charlotte Allen of the conservative Independent Women's Forum. Estrich explained on the phone that she wants to promote both liberal and conservative women, but "after you've been trying for years to get more women voices heard, to find one of the few women voices saying where are the women voices?" -- well, she found that "insulting."

 Estrich may say she wants to promote diversity of opinion as well as gender diversity, but I've been watching the diversity game for some years. In journalism, diversity is a club the left uses to increase the hiring of lefties. Feminists say they want more female columnists when what they really want are only more liberal female columnists. Or, in their lingo, they want "authentic" women. So when the left pushes for more diversity in a profession that is overwhelmingly liberal already, it really is pushing for less diversity of ideas.

 Why are there fewer female opinion-page columnists than men? It's funny: Opinion mavens -- who can chime in on everything from steroids to farm policy -- suddenly can't quite figure it out. Kinsley told his paper he can't explain it. New York Times Editorial Page Editor Gail Collins told The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, "There are probably fewer women, in the great cosmic scheme of things, who feel comfortable writing very straight opinion stuff." (Note: If Harvard University President Larry Summers had said what Collins said, feminist professors would be demanding one of his body parts.)

 In my career as a journalist, I've been on the receiving end of subtle sexism. Can I prove it? No, it's subtle. My conservatism, not my gender, has been the big issue. It is a two-edged sword, clearing the way at times, barring the way at others. And I've had to pay a price at times for not being conservative enough. I'm not complaining: It goes with the territory.

 When I speak in public, there are two questions people invariably ask: One is, "Why is journalism so overwhelmingly liberal?" Recently, a Bay Area journalism professor actually told me that conservatives shouldn't be journalists because conservatives are less likely to question the status quo.

 I disagreed with his definition, but I responded that this region is filled with liberals, so if you want reporters who will question the status quo, you should push Bay Area media to hire more conservatives. To this, he said nothing, and then left the room. There went his noble reason for muzzling the opposition.

 The other question I hear is: How do I survive at The San Francisco Chronicle? And that question has nothing to do with the fact that I am a woman.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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