What about the next great female pundit?

Respected Op-Ed pages may be getting young new blood, but they're still mostly made up of white men

Published April 12, 2010 11:01AM (EDT)

Late last week, Politico's Michael Calderone fretted over the fact that so many young, wonder-boy pundits were climbing to the top of elite publications like the Washington Post and the New York Times. In parsing whether journalists like Ezra Klein, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Chris Cillizza were "prodigies" or "pipsqueaks," Calderone spent most of his time fretting over things like Klein, at 25, having his own assistant (how dare someone who writes for the Washington Post and Newsweek, and who makes almost-nightly appearances on shows like "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" and "The Rachel Maddow Show" have an underling!).

What bothered me about Calderone's ranting wasn't so much whether any of these young men deserved to break into these famously stodgy, old-school institutions -- I find all their work refreshing and valuable; Cillzza, especially, is an incredibly tenacious reporter -- but that they were simply younger versions of what has long been an old boys club. Is it really that much of a surprise that pages typically populated with old, white men are now also occasionally featuring young, white men?

In addition to the big three Calderone focuses on, there's Ross Douthat, the first under-30 writer to nab a regular Op-Ed column at the New York Times; Brian Stelter, also at the Times, who was hired straight out of school at age 21; and Dave Weigel, a blogger recently hired by the Post to cover the conservative movement. In hiring the likes of Klein and Weigel, the Post seems to be actively turning a cold shoulder to the advice of one of its own, former ombudsman Deb Howell (herself one of the few women who managed to climb to a newspaper management position despite the handicap of having two X chromosomes) excoriated her colleagues in a 2008 Op-Ed, in which she wrote: "The Post's Op-Ed page is too male and too white. And there aren't a lot of youthful opinions, either. I have nothing against older white men; I'm married to one. And the nation's power structure, often represented in Post Op-Eds, is white, male and at least middle-aged. But a 21st-century Op-Ed page needs more diversity."

The Post had a chance to incorporate more diversity into its commentary when it held a gimmicky contest in which it invited people of all stripes to try and become "America's Next Great Pundit." Of the 10 finalists picked to compete for a weekly Op-Ed column, five were women -- and two or three were even under 30. Ultimately, though, the winner was yet another white guy, Teach for America executive Kevin Huffman.

It's hard not to be infuriated by this -- particularly when I find myself continually blown away by young female reporters like Dana Goldstein at the Daily Beast and Ann Friedman at the American Prospect. Combine that with the fact that journalism schools report overwhelmingly female enrollments, and you do have to wonder why no women are handed the big-time opportunities being doled out to the likes of Klein and Douthat.

By Sara Libby

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