The American Woman in the Media: From Advice Columnist to Front Line Journalist

The American Woman in the Media: From Advice Columnist to Front Line Journalist
Martha Raddatz on the Front Lines

The American Woman in the Media

The American woman in the media before the feminist era was pretty much confined to her chair as an advice or gossip columnist. The best known advice columnists  were Eppie Lederer and her twin sister Pauline Phillips. Lederer, as Ann Landers, wrote for The Chicago Sun Times. Phillips, aka Abigail van Buren (Dear Abby) became one of America's most adored newspaper columnists. Both women helped transform the standard "lonely hearts" club column into a more profound and candid feature, and both played a role in changing America's moral conscience.

220px-Ann_Landers

In Hollywood, Hedda Hopper dished out not advice, but dirt. Her gossip column, "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood", debuted in the Los Angeles Times in 1938.  Hopper was known for hobnobbing with the biggest names in Hollywood and for being vicious with those she didn't like. In the McCarthy Era, she "named names" of suspected or alleged Communists to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Her frequent attacks on Charlie Chaplin in the 1940s for his leftist politics and his love life contributed to his departure from America in 1952. She loved revealing extra-marital affairs. When she published a blind item about the relationship between Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, Tracy confronted her in a nightclub and kicked her butt. Joseph Cotten pulled her chair out from under her at a social event when she printed a story about an extra-marital affair between him and Deanna Durbin.  Michael Wilding sued her for a libelous item about him and another man. He won the suit. ZaSu Pitts compared her to a ferret; and Joan Bennet once sent her a skunk on Valentine's Day. None of this deterred her. She kept writing gossip and people kept reading it.

Hedda Hopper, Gossip Columnist

Hedda Hopper, Gossip Columnist

With the advent of feminism, the influence of advice and gossip columnists diminished. Their white glove and acid-tongued approach to journalism was replaced by the more serious writing and reporting styles exhibited by such broadcast and print icons as Diane Sawyer and Martha Raddatz. Raddatz typifies the hard-news, fearless, female broadcast journalist of the 21st century who gets up from her desk and goes where the action is. She served as White House correspondent during the George W. Bush administration and went on to become ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent. She traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan dozens of times and to Iraq 21 times to cover conflicts there. She was on the last convoy out of Iraq and is the only television reporter allowed to cover a combat mission over Afghanistan in an F5 fighter jet. In 2011, she reported exclusive details on the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. In 2012, Raddatz moderated the only Vice-Presidential debate between Congressman Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden. After the debate, she was widely praised for asking pointed questions on a range of issues while maintaining control over the conversation.

Martha Raddatz on the way to the Vice-Presidential Debate 2012

Martha Raddatz on the way to the Vice-Presidential Debate 2012

The Pen Is Mightier: Then and Now

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Anti-slavery Advocate

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Anti-slavery Advocate

When Congress passed The Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe was outraged. She wrote to the editor of the anti-slavery journal, National Era, that she intended to write a story about the problem of slavery. "I hope that every woman who can write will not be silent", she said. Shortly thereafter, the first installment of Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. She used the subtitle, The Man That Was a Thing, which she later changed to Life Among the Lowly. The work was published in book form in March 1852 with an initial print run of 5,000 copies. By the end of the year, Uncle Tom had sold an unprecedented 300,000 copies. The book's emotional portrayal of the impact of slavery  added to the debate about abolition and slavery. That year, 300 babies were named "Eva" in Boston alone. A play based on the book opened in New York in November of 1852. When Stowe traveled to Washington to meet President Abraham Lincoln, he is reported to have said, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war", a greeting he may, or may not have made. But it makes for a good story.

Doris Kearns Goodwin at an Awards Ceremony for "Lincoln"

Doris Kearns Goodwin at an Awards Ceremony for "Lincoln"

Doris Kearns Goodwin is a Harvard-educated historian noted for her biographies of American Presidents, including Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream; The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys:An American Saga; No Ordinary Time:Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1995), and Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, part of which served as the basis of Steven Spielberg's film Lincoln. The book won the 2005 Lincoln Prize, for the best book about the Civil War; as well as the American History Book Prize given by the New York Historical Society. She is now working on a book about Theodore Roosevelt, focusing on his relationship with William Howard Taft and the election of 1912.

While Goodwin is best known as an historian, she is also an avid baseball fan and contributed to Ken Burns' award-winning documentary film Baseball. She wrote Wait Till Next Year, a book of stories the love she and her father shared for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Young Doris would listen to games on the radio and write down what happened. When her father came home, she would relay the events of the game for him. She said this was the beginning of her career as an historian.

Goodwin's career is proof that women can have it all. She is married to Richard Goodwin, an adviser and speechwriter to both Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy. They have three talented sons, Richard, an award-winning filmmaker;  Michael a high school social studies teacher and founder of a program designed to teach students about interdisciplinary relationships; and Joseph, a law student who won the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Kearns Goodwin served as White House Fellow during the administration of Lyndon Johnson, a government professor at Harvard, and a member of the Board of Directors for Northwest Airlines. In short, she is the very model of a modern American woman.

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