Speaker addresses media biases
Megan O'Neil | Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Jennifer Pozner, founder and director of Women In Media & News (WIMN), spoke to a crowd at Saint Mary’s Tuesday about the exclusion of women from the news arena and about the American public being fed bias and sometimes false war coverage.In a lecture entitled “Media, Women and War: How does the Invisibility of Women’s Voices in War Coverage Shortchange America?” Pozner cited example after example of how women are underrepresented and stereotyped on network television and in newspapers.Pozner said no women sit on the boards of major media conglomerates FOX News, MSNBC and Clear Channel. Editorial rooms are equally male-dominated, Pozner said, and minorities fare even worse, composing “just three percent of daily newsroom jobs.” Pozner admitted that women have made strides in journalism and make up roughly half of all local news anchors. Still, the typical nightly news team consists of an older white man paired with a much younger, attractive woman, Pozner said.”We are not calling the shots in the media business,” Pozner said. “Progress shouldn’t be confused with equality.”Coverage of women’s issues and the portrayal of women in news stories are regularly manipulated to garner ratings, Pozner said. She said facts such as dress size and childhood personality are included in news reports about significant female figures such as Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. Pozner also cited the media blitz surrounding the capture and homecoming of U.S. army Pvt. Jessica Lynch. According to Pozner, Lynch made for great news coverage for the American press because of her blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl next door image. Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson, a black woman who endured the same trauma as Lynch, received virtually no attention when she returned to the United States. Lynch was celebrated as an American hero, Pozner said, and the negative details of the women’s story were purposely left out.”While the media used Jessica … to whip up support, what we didn’t know was that Jessica was raped,” Pozner said.Mass media, Pozner said, aided the Bush administration in its public relations campaign for the invasion of Afghanistan in the months following Sept. 11 and later in Iraq.The conflict in Afghanistan was presented by the government, and subsequently distributed by television, newspapers and radio, as a fight against terrorism and the liberation of Afghani women, Pozner said. Media outlets also played up the image of the burkha as a symbol of injustice and ignored more critical issues, she said.”What our media chose not to focus on was the serious and violent repression of women,” Pozner said. In Iraq, she continued, news programs continually picked up sound bites and news clips of the president indirectly associating the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with Saddam Hussein. “What is most disturbing, though, is the more people paid attention to broadcast news … the less they knew, the more misinformed they were,” Pozner said. Pozner cited a study that said 80 percent of those who watched FOX News held one or more major misconceptions about the United States invasion of Iraq. Viewers of other major networks followed close behind, she said.Dissenters, Pozner said, were slammed in the media as “unpatriotic” and “treasonous.” Women were especially subject to sexist and misogynist insults, she said.Pozner played a clip of the reality TV show “Wife Swap” in which two women, one a huge Bush supporter, and the other, a Bush opponent, switched homes and families for two weeks. When the topic of conversation turned to politics, the anti-Bush and anti-war wife was portrayed as a radical and a crazy person. The pro-Bush wife was presented as down-to-earth and loyal. Pozner encouraged audience members to turn to alternative news sources and to press for reform in the media. “Thinking critically about the media is our strongest tool against propaganda in our society,” she said.