The New York Post's Women's Lib Problem
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February 12, 1970, Vol. XV, No. 7
Women's Lib & the Post: Sex & the Single Reporter
by Mary Breasted
The Women's Liberation Movement won a minor victory last week, and they won it up in the offices of an outfit owned by one of the most powerful women in New York City -- the New York Post.
The victory came out of a debate over the handling of an upcoming Post series on the Women's Liberation Movement. And if the powers that be at the Post, the male editors, that is, had remembered what happened to them the last time they offended some members of that movement, they might have avoided last week's problem altogether.
For they had two formidable Women's Liberationists in their own newsroom, reporters who had last fall demanded and gotten the right to withhold their by-lines on stories about the wives (appendages, as they saw them) of famous men. The Post editors had tried firing the two young women (Bryna Taubman and Lindy Van Gelder) for their defiance, charging them with "gross insubordination." But the union had defended the women, most of the other Post reporters had demanded the right to withhold their by-lines, and in the end the humbled Post editors were forced to re-hire the unmanageable young ladies.
Apparently unchanged by that experience, the Post editors recently asked a male and a female reporter (Jerry Tallmer and Pam Howard) to jointly compose a feature series on the Women's Liberation Movement. (The Post editors first asked another of the female reporters whether she would like to do the series alone. But she is the one female Post reporter who is decidedly hostile to the Movement. And she immediately turned down the assignment. "My heart wasn't in the subject," she told me. Understandably, she prefers to remain anonymous.)
Somehow word went out along the Women's Liberation grapevine that the sneaky New York Post was using a female reporter to do the leg work for the series and that a man would be writing it. Well, that wasn't exactly how the Post editors had set things up. Pam Howard was to interview women who would not talk to Tallmer, but she was also to interview some of the male sources for the series. And she was to get a by-line along with him.
A few more accurate details also leaked out to the Movement women, details such as the names of the men Tallmer intended to quote in the series. Joe Namath and Norman Mailer, two men whose displays of male chauvinism have not exactly endeared them to the Movement women, were included in Tallmer's list. (Among Mailer's offenses are his disapproval of birth control and his even stronger disapproval of abortion. Namath seems to have repulsed the Movement women by encouraging a public image of himself as a kind of one-man Playboy Club.)
Needless to say, the Movement women were not eager to cooperate with the Post.
Last week Pam Howard began calling the subjects of the series. Reliable sources told me that she tried "about 10" different women in about as many different organizations. None of them would talk to her.
The result of that "boycott," as the Liberationists called it, was an editorial decision to give Pam Howard half of the stories in the series -- each under her own by-line alone. That satisfied the Women's Liberation people, and on last report they had agreed to talk with Miss Howard.
The uncooperative women are probably aware that their victory was a small one. After all, Miss Howard can still hand some of her material over to Tallmer. But the boycotters did at least worry the Post editors by demonstrating that they were capable of the same kind of unified resistance that the blacks used to show at their Black Power conferences. And if they continue to make news that editors feel compelled to report, the Women's Liberationists can call up the memory of their little boycott to pressure the media managers into assigning women to cover them.
Of course, editors and television producers can always send women whom the Liberationists would consider Aunt Toms to cover such movements. But for the time being, the leaders of the New York Women's Liberation groups would rather speak to a female Uncle Tom than to a male abolitionist.
"We're not looking for good public relations," one of them told me last week. "We'd rather have an unsympathetic woman than a man writing about us... Really. Because 90 per cent of the women who interview us end up joining us... Any woman who's ever had to make it in journalism, you know, she's ripe."
At any rate, she's ripe if she works for the New York Post.
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