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Election 2000: Do Male Reporters Shortchange Women Candidates?
The White House Project Education Fund

A study of five national newspapers shows a continuing and disturbing trend in coverage of women running for elected office, according to a report from the White House Project Education Fund. Style Over Substance Newspaper Coverage of Female Candidates: Spotlight on Elizabeth Dole, covered the Dole campaign from August through October 1999. It studied coverage of Dole in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Des Moines Register.

"Reporters covering this year’s presidential race publicized Elizabeth Dole’s personal traits more than they publicized her policies," says White House Project president and co-founder Marie C. Wilson. "This new research echoes what we found in our study of newspaper coverage of five women running for governor in 1998."

The study analyzed 3,900 paragraphs from almost 500 stories. Of the articles studied, only 14% of Dole-related paragraphs written by male reporters covered her position on issues, while Bush-related issue coverage written by male reporters was 34%. McCain and Forbes issue-related coverage was each over 20%. The study, authored by James Devitt, a senior public affairs officer at Columbia University, and Sean Aday, an assistant professor at the George Washington University, found that male reporters devoted significant coverage (39%) to Dole’s personality traits, close to what Bush received in issue-related coverage.

In contrast, female reporters covered Dole, Bush and Forges equitably. With the exception of McCain, women reporters wrote the same proportion of issue paragraphs about Dole (25%) as they did about Bush (27%) and Forbes (28%).

Male reporters, wittingly or unwittingly, continue to demonstrate bias in their coverage of female candidates, say the authors. This is especially hazardous for women on the campaign trail, since men still make up the majority of the political press corps," notes Marie Wilson. Of the stories analyzed, male reporters wrote 5% of the examined paragraphs compared to 23% for women. The rest of the coverage focused on the candidates’ campaign tactics.