Inside Media: Fighting Sexism in the Newsroom

Inside Media: Fighting Sexism in the Newsroom



well good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Newseum night TV studio and another edition of inside media I'm your host John Maynard on March 16th 1970 Newsweek hit the newsstands with a cover story titled women in revolt which explored the fledgling feminist movement of the time that very same day women working at Newsweek were quite literally in revolt as 46 female employees of the magazine filed a lawsuit against the magazine charging them with sexual discrimination in hiring and promotions this landmark class-action lawsuit the first ever by women journalists proved to be a dramatic turning point in the entire industry inspiring other women in the media world to quickly follow suit today we are so pleased to be joined by Lynn Povich a ringleader of those 46 women involved in the lawsuit Lynn has chronicled the days leading up to and following the seminal case in the fascinating new book which you can see here the good girls revolt how the women of newsweek sued their bosses and changed the workplace lynn began her career at newsweek as a secretary in 1970 and in 1975 became the first women senior editor in the magazine's history since leaving newsweek in 1991 she has been editor in chief of working women magazine and managing editor and senior executive producer for msnbc.com and in 2006 she edited a number of columns by her father the legendary Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich for the book titled all those mornings please welcome Lynn Povich then as we were talking about in the green room earlier Duluth oh the landmark mark lawsuit was against Newsweek was filed over 40 years ago what inspired you to write this book just this past year yeah well I had taken the legal papers home with me when I left Newsweek in 1991 and the Radcliffe library had requested them for their archives and I was going to send the papers when I realized that I needed to actually explain the story and when I looked at it and I started to write about it I thought you know this is a legacy that has been lost no one knew that the new women at Newsweek were the first to sue they kind of heard about the New York Times women or maybe NBC but we were the first and I felt that it deserved to have a book right right tell us we're gonna get into the lawsuit in just a moment but tell us how you came to join Newsweek and what were your kind of expectations when you when you did join for your career you know and I graduated college in 1965 and I wanted to go to Paris and I knew as a history major that the only way I could get a job was as a secretary so at night I walked to Dutchess County Community College to take shorthand and that allowed me to get a job for Newsweek in the Paris Bureau so I started as a secretary but when women came to Newsweek in the 60s we were told if you want to write go someplace else women don't write at Newsweek so after a year and a half in Paris I came back as a researcher and Newsweek was a system where all the reporters the writers and editors were men and only women were hired as researchers and so I started as a researcher right right yeah tell us a little bit about the pecking order I mean you had the when you joined the executive editor and there's a famous quote in there that that was just what tradition that was a newsmagazine tradition going back 50 years which was true but it sort of underscored the institutional sexism of Time and Newsweek the news magazine separated the functions unlike a newspaper where a reporter goes out talks to somebody writes the story and is responsible for the accuracy of the story the news magazines be created by Henry Luce when he started time separated the function so that the news reporters in the field would interview someone and send files to New York and the writers would write the story and the researchers would fact check the story and the reason was that Henry Luce wanted to create a kind of national voice that reflected his conservative values I know this is a family show but I did want to talk about the the atmosphere of Newsweek in the 1960s and maybe early 1970s I've read one account review the book that the magazine world of vocht madmen on steroids care to comment on some of the going on well you know it was the 60s mid to late 60s and and there was there were certainly a lot of single people there were a lot of married people there was a lot of sex and I have to say a lot of it was consensual it wasn't necessarily bad but there were also instances that went across the line I mean there were bosses that were having affairs with their people who reported directly to them and in one case promoted the researcher that one of the editors was having an affair with and and one of the researchers was actually stalked by her boss and was told that if she didn't marry him she would have to leave Newsweek so there were it's issues of sexual harassment but there was also just a lot of fooling around how did the idea of suing the bosses that first come up was there a specific tipping point there was you know we all were raised to believe that you know we were gonna have jobs until we got married and had children this was pretty much the role expected of women after the war and one day a researcher named Judy Gingold who had been a Phi Beta Kappa at Smith College and a Marshall scholar and ended up as a fact checker at Newsweek was having a discussion with a friend of hers who was a lawyer and the woman said tell me about your job and she said well all of the reporters and writers and men and the women are the researchers and the woman this was 1969 so it was five years after the 64 Civil Rights Act which banned discrimination based on gender and the woman said you know that's illegal and Judy didn't believe it we sort of didn't realize it and so the woman's had called the EEOC in Washington which Judy did and the woman at the other end of the line said yes it's illegal and Judy said you know I don't think the men know it's illegal I think we should just tell them and the man and the woman at the other end of the line said if you tell them they will just promote two women and that will be the end of it people in power don't want to give up power you have a very good case you should sue and without getting into too much legalese tell us really what the lawsuit specifically charged the lawsuit charged that we were being kept from being promoted which we were out of the research category into being reporters and writers simply because we were women right I understand that almost up to the day of the announcement your bosses really had no idea this was coming out of 46 women in a newsroom keep this a secret well you know we were terrified that if they found out they would fire us because until you you know once you file a complaint you are protected from being fired but until then if they find out they would probably have fired all of us we were the lowest on the masthead though you know and we were all like 20 between 25 and 32 and so one by one we spoke to one other woman and where did we organize in the ladies room and of course the timing was timed with the with the cover yeah as we were organizing we found out that the editors of Newsweek realized that the women's movement was a big deal and they should do a cover story on it they had a problem however they had no women to write it so I had just been promoted to a junior writer to write kind of fashion and trends and shorts and I was not experienced enough but for the first time in their history they went outside and hired a woman from the New York Post to freelance the story right right so let's fast-forward a little bit the result of the the first lawsuit was a Memorandum of Understanding that stated that newsweek executives were committed to substantial rather than token changes and a victory for sure but things certainly didn't change overnight and tell us about those first you know weeks months after the memo yeah you know it was very difficult the men we worked with every day the writers and the reporters were supportive of us but there were certainly a lot of men who were against affirmative action thought we were only being promoted because we were women even though we were all college-educated as equal to a lot of the men they were hiring the editor-in-chief Osborn Eliot who has three daughters I think realized he told me later he knew right away that the women were right and he was committed to do something about it but there were editors top editors one said just let's just fire them all there were certainly a lot of tension in the office afterwards and in fact the first women to try out as writers after the lawsuit all failed even though several of them had written for major magazines and published cover stories so we felt that you know as in a lot of companies the discrimination happens in middle management sometimes even when the boss wants to do the right thing it happens on a kind of middle level right there's about two different lawyers in the book who took on on your case first is a recognizable name here certainly here in DC Eleanor Holmes Holmes Norton DC delegate tell us about her and her approach when you know when we were looking for a lawyer there was no such thing as employment rights so we realized it was kind of a civil rights case we went to the American Civil Liberties Union in New York and Eleanor Holmes Norton was the assistant legal director and I remember I remember I we all four of us went to talk to her about it Eleanor at this point was 32 she was about five months pregnant she had an afro out to here and she was fierce the way she is today and as we were telling her about Newsweek she grabbed the magazine out of our hands and said opened it to the masthead and said well the fact that they're all men from the top to the second to the bottom category and they're only women at the bottom means there's a pattern of discrimination the problem was Eleanor was pregnant and she was also offered a job as the Human Rights Commissioner for the city of New York very soon after our case and so she wanted to wrap it up pretty quickly and our first agreement didn't have a lot of specifics it did have the commitment to promote and hire but we hadn't nailed down a lot of the specifics and so when nothing happened after the agreement for about a year and a half we hired another lawyer and her name was Harriet Rabb and Harriet was a professor at Columbia Law School and she was teaching employment rights law and so she knew how to litigate these these issues and by then quotas were illegal but there was such a thing called goals and timetables and our demands the second time around we filed suit again second suit in May 1972 and this time our demands were very specific we asked that a third of the reporters and writers be women by the end of 1974 a third of the researchers to be men it was very important to integrate the research category and show that it was an entry level job not just a woman's job and the final demand was a woman senior editor by 1975 right and did those were those reached they were reached and I was appointed the first female senior editor in September of 1975 tell us about Harriet Raab a little bit what was what was her style in the shooting of Harriet Harriet is very petite you may remember her she was the general counsel to Donna shillelagh when when Donna was the Secretary of HHS here she was also five months pregnant well I don't know we had pregnant lawyers maybe that flummox but guys I'm not sure she has a very soft voice but she has a steel trap mind and she just it was very interesting when we filed the second suit Katherine Graham the owner of Newsweek because of the Washington Post realize that this Newsweek thing was not being settled and at the time the Washington Post was being sued by the blacks the metro seven and the women were not happy at the post they ended up suing in 1974 and so this time Katherine Graham sent her corporate lawyer to negotiate with us and with Harriet and that was Joe Califano who came Secretary of hgw under Lyndon Johnson so we had Joe Califano and Harriet Raab and it was really interesting I'm glad you mentioned the Katherine Graham because she of course was at the time of the first complaint was president publisher of Newsweek and I think people might be surprised at her kind of reaction to the to complain you write in the book that she was at first flummoxed yes tell us about you know the Monday that we filed which was March 16 1970 the editor of Newsweek Osborne Elia called her to tell her that the women had sued Newsweek and as she famously wrote in her marvelous autobiography she said to him as which side am I supposed to be on on the one hand she was the owner of a company that was being sued on the other hand she was one of two women who owned national news magazine national news organizations the other being dolly ship at the New York Post and she had been treated pretty shallowly herself among the male publishers we asked of course that she attended negotiations after all she was one of the few women that owned news magazines and she refused she said the men would negotiate for her and she really as she explained in her own book she really didn't understand the women's movement and didn't really like it she thought the women were aggressive she didn't like their style and it was only after she met Gloria Steinem in 1971 and Gloria sort of talked to her about the women's movement that she began to understand women's issues as she herself admitted in her book and so by the time we sued in 1972 she realized that something should be done although when I interviewed Joe Califano for my book a couple years ago I said to him do you think Katharine Graham was a feminist and he said no she was a businesswoman hmm he said she was certainly a moral person she would never do anything she didn't think was right but it was good business right I do want to get the question just a minute so if you do have one please just raise your hand and again we'll have someone bring over a microphone but um I want to ask you about the the domino effect of your of your lawsuit and how other news organizations followed well it was interesting you know because it was in the media because we sued on the day that Newsweek had this cover story the pic story got picked up everywhere and the next day a reporter called a friend of hers at Fortune magazine and said while the women at Newsweek have sued are you all going to do anything and the woman said oh you know that's a really good idea and so three months after we sued the women at fortune the women at Time magazine the women at Sports Illustrated sued and then the doors just open I mean the Reader's Digest The Associated Press NBC the New York Times who hired Harriet Raab because of our lawsuit they all suit and because it was the Mediate got covered and it had an impact beyond journalism a woman came up to me a couple months ago and said you know I remember your lawsuit because it put every company on notice that if you didn't hire and promote women you were gonna get sued and she didn't even work in a media company right so had he went beyond industry yeah so everything so at the time of either of the lawsuits was your father still writing for The Washington Post and what was your brother doing at the time what was his view you know my father wrote for the Washington Post until 1998 and we soon in 1970 so he was very much alive in writing a lot I had to call my dad obviously to give him a heads up that I was suing his boss Katherine Graham and his good friend he was very close to the Graham family because he was at the post when Eugene Maier bought the post in 1933 and as you know as Washingtonians my father was somebody who believed in justice and fairness and he certainly took on George Preston Marshall the owner of the Redskins who refused to have blacks on them on the football team for many many years and so when I explained to him that this was unfair that women were being oppressed he certainly understood and supported it I believe my brother at the time was probably still in Washington doing either panorama or sports and and he also understood he's always been a big supporter that's Maury Povich first because I know that's okay I want to ask you about the title of the book the good girls revoke who who are the the guy to come the good girls well you know I mean I love the troublemakers and the rebel browsers but we really were good girls I mean we were the kind that we got out of school and you know we wanted to please and we wanted to do a good job and we were working for a company we were very proud of and very excited to be part of we just wanted it to be better for women and so we were the ones who wanted to change from within and I think one of the points of the book is that you can make change from within that you don't know you need the pressure from outside to help and we certainly had the women's movement on the outside which was a great supporter and energizer for many of us but you know you can organize and you can make changes within organizations if you do it smartly and I think that is the lesson of the good girls revolt it's curious today when you talk with other news women who are in various news organizations how do they how do they look at this story that they did they see that it's very relevant that in fact there's still a lot of sexism going on or is it something that's an interesting past issue for them you know I worried about that that I was writing something from 40 years ago but three years ago in 2010 I got a phone call from three young women at Newsweek they were all writers and reporters that no researchers there and they were doing very well in their careers until they began to notice that suddenly guys like them were getting better assignments and a little faster and getting paid a little bit more and what was interesting is they didn't identify it as a gender issue because they've been told the sex wars are over we're all equal now it's a level playing field and it wasn't until they found out about our case and started talking to us that they realized that like us they felt it was just them they weren't good enough to succeed and so by finding out about our lawsuit and talking to us it has changed their lives two of them didn't want to be called feminists they now do they're very interested in women's issues they realize that it's not them it's the system still and while they're not told the way we were you know you can't write if you're a woman because there's not the kind of overt discrimination there continues to be a lot of subtle discrimination in a lot of companies that's kind of hard to distinguish is it you or is it really the system and so it's emboldened them and I found that not only women of my generation resonate with this book but young women do too and that they really long to know about this history because they don't know about it and I encourage everybody to talk to you know your young daughters or sons or nieces and nephews because they don't really they're really smart but they don't really know about these foundations that have been laid before them and I'm very interested in helping young people sort of coalesce around their issues to do something to affect change because they are fairly apolitical they didn't have the social movements we had they didn't have a women's movement didn't have the civil rights movement to question equality they didn't have an anti-war movement to question authority and so even though they're not happy they don't really know how to organize and make changes we just have a few minutes left but I want to ask you about the process of putting this book together what is it where is everyone willing participants you know I mean one thing I'll say is it's hard to interview people about what happened 40 years ago yeah the memories are often conflicting but everyone was happy to talk about it only one person asked not to be quoted but luckily I got to almost everyone including us Elliot before he died Katherine Graham had died I didn't get to her but she wrote a lot about the books about it in her book so people were really excited to finally have something and when you write a book even if it's an e-book it's out there and I realized that it has a kind of life that an article or a movie sometimes doesn't and it was really worth doing the last print edition of Newsweek came out I believe earlier this this year and is now strictly digital how'd you feel personally to know that you know Newsweek will never again live as a as a print magazine yeah this was a really sad day if many of you remembered Newsweek was a really important magazine force from the 60s to 2000 I mean it was the first news magazine to call for civil rights and to be against the war and it mattered what was on the cover of Newsweek so it was really sad that it doesn't exist as a print edition anymore and many of us we call it the Newsweek magazine alumni have established a prize for Newsweek somebody a magazine journalist at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism to keep the name alive you think we'll be reading magazines in 10 years 15 years you know we may not be reading a lot in print certainly my children don't read very much print they read everything online so it's certainly a transition that most magazines and newspapers will be making I think well the book is the good girls revolt I want to thank Lynn Povich for joining us here today on inside media and thank you all for being here again if you're interested link we will be selling books right outside the studio and when will be the signing copies at you if you brought your own also thank you thank you very much Thank You Jacqueline this is easy always nice when it's easy yeah well it's a 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