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The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics

http://hij.sagepub.com Winning Coverage: News Media Portrayals of the Women's Movement, 19692004
Maryann Barakso and Brian F. Schaffner The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 2006; 11; 22 DOI: 10.1177/1081180X06293069 The online version of this article can be found at: http://hij.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/4/22

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Winning Coverage

News Media Portrayals of the Womens Movement, 19692004


Maryann Barakso and Brian F. Schaffner

Contemporary feminist scholars and activists often criticize the womens movement for focusing on a narrow agenda that does not represent the true needs of American women.Yet a review of the agendas of womens movement organizations reveals a broad concern for many of the issues that they are criticized for ignoring. What explains this disconnect? The authors argue that the news media plays a crucial role in shaping the perceptions of social movements by choosing to cover some agendas and not others.Analyzing coverage of womens movement organizations in television and print news media, the authors find that reporters have exercised a great deal of discretion over which womens movement issues they have chosen to report on during the past three decades. In particular, this has led to overrepresentation of the abortion issue in news coverage of womens movement organizations and an underrepresentation of issues that women believe should be more of a priority for the movement. The authors findings underscore the importance of the news media not only for bringing attention to social movements, but also for how they portray the issue agendas of these movements. Keywords: womens movement; news coverage; second wave; National Organization for Women; social movements; New York Times; network news

The close of the campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1982 also marked the highpoint of the second wave of the U.S. womens movement. Hundreds of thousands of women had been mobilized by well over one hundred feminist organizations. Those organizations were, as a result, more flush with resources than ever before (Boles 1982: 576). Public opinion of feminists and womens equality grew increasingly positive during the course of the ratification drive. For example, the National Election Study measured how warmly (on a
Press/Politics 11(4):22-44 DOI: 10.1177/1081180X06293069 2006 by the President and the Fellows of Harvard College

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scale of 0 to 100) Americans felt toward feminists during this period. In 1970, the average thermometer rating among individuals surveyed was 32.3; just ten years later, it had increased more than 20 points to 53.6.1 Ironically, although steadily increasing numbers of women surveyed claim that they support feminism, ever fewer agree that the contemporary womens movement is now essential.2 In addition, few women report participating in a womens rights organization (Huddy et al. 2000: 31213). Reports of the feminist movements demise are not a new phenomenon by any means. However, many of the major womens rights organizations, including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Womens Political Caucus (NWPC), are unquestionably poorer today both financially as well as in terms of adherents than they were in the mid-1980s (Barakso 2004). By 1982, for example, NOW was able to raise $1 million per month for its causes; in 2002 its entire budget is approximately $4 million (Barakso 2004: 87; and NOWs 2002 IRS Form 990). In 1983 the group had more than a quarter of a million members.Within three years that figure had dropped by approximately eighty thousand (Costain 1992: 107). One set of explanations for the feminist movements struggle to capitalize on its success in the early 1980s centers on weaknesses of the womens rights agenda in the post-ERA period. For example, the movement has been castigated for being too focused on middle-class concerns, such as employment and affirmative action, at the expense of the problems faced by impoverished women and women of color (Barakso 2004). Similarly, Costain (1992: chap. 7) has argued that the adoption of an egalitarian agenda (an agenda that centers on obtaining legal equality for women), rather than on special-needs issues (addressing the particular problems of women, such as child care and parental leave) has hampered further political and economic successes for the movement. Crittenden also argues in The Price of Motherhood (2001) that the special needs approach must become more central to the womens movement. The vast majority of women become primary caregivers of one sort or another, whether of children or of elderly parents or inlaws; as a result women bear significant social and economic costs that are still not adequately compensated for by society (see also Hewlitt 1986). The publics lack of identification with and participation in the womens movement today may reflect its sense that the movement does not address contemporary womens problems.Yet public opinion is significantly shaped by the media, which serve as a critical link providing the public with information on the activities of social movements.The question, then, is how well are the priorities of womens movement organizations captured by the news media? In this article, we examine coverage of the womens movement in national media outlets from 1969 to 2004 to determine how well coverage of womens movement activities corresponds to the issues that womens groups seek coverage on. We establish that coverage of womens movement organizations has declined since the 1970s. We find that, by favoring some issues over others, the news media
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plays an important role in determining how the womens movements agenda is presented to the public.This article begins with our description of the agenda of the womens movement during the second wave.We then discuss the importance of the news media for social movements and how reporters make decisions that can affect which issues win coverage. Following this discussion, we turn to our description and analysis of our data. We follow with a brief case study of NOW and conclude by discussing the potential importance of the medias presentation of the movements issue agenda for winning public support.
The Agenda of the Second Wave Womens Movement

While no one agenda can adequately describe the interests and activities of an entire movement, scholarship allows us to make general statements about the issues womens rights groups have attended to during the past four decades.The earliest target of the first major organization of the second wave of the womens movement, NOW, was employment discrimination, though the group revealed a much broader agenda shortly thereafter (see http://www.now.org/history/ purpos66.html).While NOWs 1966 Statement of Purpose heavily emphasized occupational and educational equity, task forces soon emerged to take on such issues as marriage and motherhood, reproductive and abortion rights, and womens image in the media. New organizations such as the National Womens Political Caucus (NWPC) soon emerged to work on attaining equity for women in federal appointments and in legislatures. Despite being poorly financed, haphazardly managed, and, at times, conflict-ridden in these early years, womens rights organizations worked toward changes such as a universal child care initiative during the Nixon administration (which ultimately failed) and ending pregnancy discrimination in employment (which passed in 1978). Organizations such as the National Council against Domestic Violence (NCADV) formed to raise womens and mens consciousness regarding familial aggression and rape. By the late 1970s, leaders of NOW and other womens rights organizations seized a mobilization opportunity presented by the extension of the deadline for ratification of the ERA. NOW in particular, began to devote increasing amounts of , energy and other resources to the campaign (Barakso 2004).Although vaguely formulated as public policy, part of the appeal of the campaign for the ERA for movement leaders was that it was a potent vehicle for raising the publics consciousness regarding a host of issues.The ERAs capaciousness also served the womens movement in that it allowed groups to mobilize large numbers of volunteers and funds, affording leaders flexibility in appealing to varying audiences and interests.3 As the ERA campaign wound down, the amendments near certain demise spurred leaders of NOW to redirect their activists toward an electoral strategy. Women needed to become legislators to truly effect change (Barakso 2004:
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chap. 6; Costain 1992).At the same time, the growing countermovement against abortion rights pressured feminist leaders to pay increasing amounts of attention to the issue. In fact, the post-ERA period is marked by continuous threats to Roe v.Wade. Bolstered in part by the rising power of the religious right and the successful mobilization against the ERA, numerous conservative organizations began to wage potent campaigns to raise public awareness of the pro-life stance, to physically prevent the entry of women into clinics providing abortions, and to raise barriers to obtaining the procedure at the state level (Staggenborg 1991). While many womens rights groups formed in the 1960s and 1970s had dissolved by the end of the ERA ratification drive, many others survived, including NOW, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), MANA (a national Latina organization) and NARAL, a pro-choice organization. In addition to working to maintain womens reproductive rights, womens rights organizations also continued to combat sexual harassment in the workplace and discrimination against gays and lesbians, to support affirmative action, to secure economic protection for poor women and their children, and to recruit and train and fund women as candidates for elective office. But to what extent has this agenda been reflected in news coverage of the movement? As we discuss in the following section, while news coverage is critical to the success of social movements, this coverage is often difficult to attract and even harder to shape.
Social Movements in the News Media

News coverage is a critical component to the success of social movement causes in the public sphere (Gamson and Modigliani 1989; Gamson and Wolfsfeld 1993; Hilgartner and Bosk 1988; Kielbowicz and Scherer 1986; Molotch 1979; Olien et al. 1992). Social movements primary goals are to attract attention to and demand action on problems or injustices; the news media provide the most obvious and effective arena to accomplish this goal. Not all of a movements concerns, however, are equally covered by the media. Walter Lippmann (1922: 229) famously likened the press to the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of the darkness and into vision. Where the searchlight falls, and how long it lingers, matters because when the media focus more attention on a particular issue, citizens are more likely to view that issue as important (Iyengar 1991; Iyengar and Kinder 1987; McCombs and Shaw 1972). Social movements that can successfully attract media coverage may be more likely to garner public attention and support to their causes. Yet social movements often struggle to attract and maintain attention from the news media. Journalists face several constraints in producing the news, and they tend to use routines and guidelines as rules for determining where their limited resources are devoted. One way of dealing with pressures of limited time and
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space is to rely on conventional news sources, known as beats (Gans 1979).These beats tend to focus on centers of economic and government activity and lead to an overwhelming concentration on news initiated by elected and appointed government officials (Graber 2006). Social movements and interest groups tend to intersect with these beats only insofar as they address an issue already deemed newsworthy (Gans 1979; Ryan 1991).Thus, the medias routine emphasis on official sources is one barrier faced by social movements seeking to win coverage.This bias makes it harder for movements and organizations not only to win coverage but also to stay in the news for a prolonged period (Hilgartner and Bosk 1988). How do social movements overcome this bias? One method they use is to appeal to the medias sense of newsworthiness (Molotch 1979). Graber (2006) outlines five criteria that journalists generally use to determine what is newsimpact, conflict, familiarity, proximity, and timeliness. Activists tend to understand these criteria and attempt to appeal to these values in order to generate coverage (Gamson and Wolfsfeld 1993; Salzman 1998). Tactics activists employ to attract media attention include organizing large events and framing the movements goals in a way that emphasizes impact and discord. These efforts often pay dividends as the news media devote more coverage to protests that are larger and involve more conflict (Oliver and Maney 2000; Oliver and Myers 1999). Once a movement has overcome the barriers to coverage, it faces a second challengestaying in the news. As Lippmanns (1922) searchlight analogy suggests, the medias agenda is continuously searching for new issues or problems to publicize. Downs (1972) describes this concept as the issue-attention cycle. The cycle has several stages, beginning with the preproblem stage, which occurs before the publics attention has been directed to a particular issue. This is followed by alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm, which happens when some event brings the issue to the attention of the media and public and the public is resolved to solve the problem. Eventually, however, the issue begins to fade from the media and publics attention as the cost of making progress on the issue is realized and the public is unsure of whether it is willing to pay those costs. Social movements that successfully bring a problem to the attention of the media and public must then face the challenge of keeping their movements issue(s) on the medias agenda. Indeed, public attention is a limited resource that a wide array of groups, movements, and actors compete for (Hilgartner and Bosk 1988).The irony is that social movement success makes the movement less newsworthy to the news media. Once a movement has been highlighted in the media, it is no longer novel, which may undermine its news value. In addition, successful resolution of even some of the issues raised by the movement may lead to the reduction of conflict associated with the movement, a characteristic that originally made the movement newsworthy. Paletz and Entman (1981) highlight this dynamic with the civil rights movement, noting that the movements
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legislative success in passing the 1965 Voting Rights Act was also a barrier to sustaining its presence in the news media. The authors argue that while economic and social conditions changed little after passage of the act, What have changed are the conditions provoking favorable and extensive media coverage of black grievances (p. 129). What has been the fate of the womens movement in the news media? In its early years, between 1966 and 1971, the movement had only limited success in garnering the notice of the news media, despite the fact that numerous founders of the second wave of feminist activity were journalists and/or had experience in working with other movements (Tuchman 1978). Reporters are accustomed to covering events, not issues, and early calls for increasing gender consciousness were not viewed as newsworthy. Rather, reporters covered events such as the trashing of undergarments during the 1968 Miss America Pageant since the story was both sensational and included conflict (Paletz and Entman 1981). In fact, most early coverage of the second wave of the movement appeared on the womens pages of the newspaperthe New York Times reported the founding of NOW between a recipe and an announcement about a hairstylist (Tuchman 1978). Within a few years, however, Costain (1992) shows that coverage of womens events rose substantially and continued until the early 1980s. This denotes a period in which womens equality gained some prominence in the media and publics consciousness. How has coverage of the womens rights movement evolved since the movements concerns entered the medias issue attention cycle? We propose that the relationship between social movements and the media passes through two phases. During the first phase, coverage follows closely with the issue attention cycle outlined by Downs (1972). The movements cause is discovered by the media and the public and successfully wins substantial coverage over a period of time. However, as the movements cause fades from the cycle, the movement is no longer newsworthy in and of itself. Rather, its propensity to win coverage is a function both of the extent to which the movements issues intersect with traditional beats covered by the media and the ability of the movement to appeal to the medias standards of newsworthiness. In essence, the social movement becomes no different from the numerous other actors (political and otherwise) struggling to gain attention in the news. As Oliver and Myers (2002: 13) note, The result is the media attention cycle which has been shown to underrepresent movements at the beginnings and ends of their cycles, and overrepresent them in the middle, when the issue is hot. The news medias bias toward beat reporting may mean that the amount and content of coverage of a movement is driven by the extent to which issues connected to that movement are being addressed by typical sources of news such as the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court (Gans 1979).When legislation in Congress or a case before the Supreme Court addresses issues relevant to the
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womens movement, the movement might win more coverage as a result (Oliver and Maney 2000).When these issues are not being addressed, the organizations associated with the movement may find it difficult to win coverage of their causes. However, the movement may also try to appeal to the medias standards of newsworthiness, potentially by promoting issues that generate conflict or that have a wide impact on society. In the following sections, we examine coverage of the womens movement for thirty-six years to understand the dynamics of how the media have covered the movement. We use these data to determine the extent to which patterns of media coverage follow the process outlined above.
Data

We examine news coverage of womens movement organizations from 1969 to 2004 in two venuesthe New York Times and nightly network newscasts. We began with a list of associations that are members of the National Council of Womens Organizations (NCWO).The NCWO is a coalition of associations that represent women. As such, it provides a useful way of conceiving of the organizations that constitute the national womens movement in the United States. However, there is an important drawback to using the NCWO organizations the organizations that are currently members of the NCWO may not be representative of the groups that have comprised the womens movement since 1969. In fact, womens movement organizations that were part of the movement during the earlier part of our period may have dissolved. While this may be problematic, we have two reasons for believing that this bias is minimal. First, the most recently formed organizations are seldom mentioned compared to the groups that have existed for the duration of the period for our study. In fact, well over half of the stories cover six organizationsNOW, Planned Parenthood, the League of Women Voters, NWPC, Hadassah, and the YWCAthat have existed for most or all of this period. Second, the bias involved in selecting groups in this way would lead us to find less coverage in the earlier period than actually existed and more coverage during the later period. However, as discussed below, we find the opposite for New York Times coverage and fairly equal coverage for television news stories.Thus, if anything, a different selection method would have led us to find even stronger patterns than we discuss here. We captured coverage of these organizations from two sources. First, we searched for each organizations name, and variants on those names, in the NewYork Times abstracts database available through Lexis-Nexis. Each abstract was coded and those that did not actually mention the organization were discarded.This left 2,266 abstracts from 1969 to 2004. Second, we used the Vanderbilt Television News Abstracts to search for mentions of each organization in the nightly newscasts of ABC, NBC, and CBS.After coding the abstracts and discarding stories that
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did not actually mention the organization, we were left with 932 abstracts from 1969 to 2004. Not surprisingly, newspaper coverage of womens organizations was far more frequent than on television newscasts, where the news hole is much smaller. We use abstracts for this project for two reasons. First, full-text news coverage was not available electronically for either format for the 1970s.Abstracts permit us to capture coverage of this period, which was of central importance to the movement. In addition, as brief synopses of the central focus of news stories, abstracts facilitate coding.While we have likely missed many secondary mentions of social movement organizations with this method, abstracts capture most of the articles in which one of the organizations was central to the story.These stories provide a more accurate accounting of the presence of the movement in the media than counting each instance where an interest group spokesperson was asked to comment on a story not primarily focused on the womens movement. Abstracts were coded according to several criteria. For this article, we are interested in the issues being addressed by the organization in the news abstract. While the abstracts present only limited information for the news stories they summarize, this information was typically sufficient to describe the issues that the group was involved with in the story.We organized the coding scheme along nine major issue areas, with thirty-six subissues. For this article, we primarily used five major issue area codes and include all remaining issues in an other issues category. Information on the five major issue codes we use is presented in the appendix. Each abstract could be coded for up to four issues.Two research assistants coded each story and when they disagreed on issue codes, a third research assistant resolved the conflict. When research assistants disagreed on issue codes for a story, it was typically because one coder listed more issues than the other or the disagreements occurred by sub codes, but not within the major issue areas.
Results

We begin by examining how frequently the womens movement organizations were covered during our time period. Figure 1 presents the number of NewYork Times and network news abstracts mentioning womens movement organizations during each year from 1969 to 2004.4 Several patterns are evident in Figure 1. First, not surprisingly, the New York Times devoted more coverage to womens movement organizations than all three network newscasts combined during every year except 1991 to 1994.This finding may be largely attributed to the differences in the constraints of newspapers and television newscasts. As Hollihan (2001: 82) points out, Television news is essentially a headline service.While television news is able to cover the major stories of the day, the news hole for a
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150

100

Stories
50 0 1969 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 Year 1992 1996 2000 2004

NYT Stories

TV News Stories

Figure 1

TV News and NewYork Times Coverage of Womens Movement Organizations, 19692004

newspaper like the NewYork Times provides for a much greater breadth of coverage.Thus, womens organizations are far more likely to get themselves onto the pages of the NewYork Times than they are onto the networks evening newscasts. However, it is notable that newspaper coverage far outpaced that of the networks during the 1970s, but the gap was smaller during the 1980s and 1990s.We expect that there are two possible reasons for this. First, earlier television news abstracts in the Vanderbilt archive may be less complete, thus leading us to miss some of the coverage of womens movement organizations in them. Second, as noted above, early coverage of the womens movement often appeared on the womens pages of the NewYork Times. Since there is no comparable outlet on nightly newscasts, coverage of the movement would have been far less during this time. A second notable pattern from Figure 1 is the substantial decline in newspaper coverage since 1976, eventually reaching a low point during the early 1990s. Since that period, coverage of womens movement organizations has increased to some extent, but the rise in coverage has not been substantial and may be caused by the bias in our sample from including newer organizations.The pattern of a steep decline in coverage in the late 1970s and early 1980s is consistent with the issue attention cycle dynamic to the coverage of social movements.The womens movement was initially newsworthy in its own right as the media and the public
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became attentive to the groups causes. This decline is particularly interesting because it coincides with the largest postsuffrage movement mobilization of womenthe mobilization for the ratification of the ERA, which reached its peak between 1978 and 1982. However, after the several years of substantial coverage in the NewYork Times in the mid-1970s, coverage subsided and it has not returned to these high levels since. Contrasting with newspaper coverage is television news coverage, which appears to remain fairly level over time, with a slight decline in coverage since the early 1990s. In fact, newspaper and television coverage of the movement seems to be not just unrelated, but negatively related, with a correlation of .41. This finding is surprising but suggests the primacy of decisions made by the news media. Often, as the NewYork Times devoted more coverage to womens movement organizations, television news was devoting less, and vice versa. Thus, what was covered in newspapers may not have been news on television and what was newsworthy to television newscasts was not always as important to the Times.The amount of coverage of the movement in media outlets is not necessarily an objective view of how active or successful the movement was, but rather of when reporters and news editors deemed the movement to be newsworthy. Furthermore, newsworthiness appeared to vary significantly depending on the outlet. We will discuss this point with regard to coverage of issues in more detail below. A third important point from Figure 1 is that news coverage did appear to reflect important moments in the womens movement during this period. For example, newspaper coverage of womens movement organizations increased sharply from 1971, when these groups were covered in 58 stories, to 1972, when they were covered in 126 stories.This increase resulted largely from the successful passage of the ERA in Congress in 1972. Television coverage also increased substantially in 1984, the year that Geraldine Ferraro ran as the first major party vice presidential candidate. Finally, both newspaper and television coverage also increased significantly in 1992, coinciding with the Year of the Woman in which more women ran for and won seats in Congress than ever before. However, the key finding from Figure 1 is that the womens movement has faded substantially from the New York Times agenda since the mid-1970s.While womens movement organizations still appear in the news, they tend to do so far less frequently than they did during the height of the movements second wave. Occasionally, coverage of these organizations increases during important moments such as the Year of the Woman in 1992, but mostly the womens movement is far less present in the national news media than during the 1970s. This suggests that the movement has moved past the initial issue attention cycle to a phase where the organizations compete for dwindling coverage by appealing to the medias sense of newsworthiness whenever possible.We discuss how this affects the issue coverage of the movement in greater detail below.
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Issue Coverage

While examining the amount of coverage received by womens movement organizations over time allows us to understand the presence of the movement in the news, we also seek to understand how the movements agenda is portrayed in the media.Table 1 provides a first look at this aspect of coverage by presenting the prevalence of several issues in the media coverage of these groups. The most common issue for both newspaper and television news coverage was gender equity, which made up more than one-third of all coverage of the movement. Given that this issue is at the heart of the womens movement, it is not surprising to find that it was the most frequently covered issue.The second most prevalent was abortion and reproductive rights. However, this issue was far more prevalent in television news coverage (35.2 percent of stories) than in the New York Times (22.3 percent). In fact, more than 70 percent of the coverage in television news stories focused on either gender equity or abortion, leaving little room for coverage on other issues. On the other hand, New York Times coverage was not as overwhelmingly centered on these two issues, which allowed for more coverage of social programs (16.5 percent) and other issues (20.7 percent). As noted above, because newspapers have a larger news hole for stories than television newscasts, they are able to cover a wider range of issues with regard to the womens movement. Nevertheless, it is notable that in both outlets, coverage of gender equity and abortion made up more than half of all coverage of womens movement organizations. A brief review of the documents and policy statements of several of the largest multi-issue organizations suggests that their agendas are far more diverse than the media coverage they receive. NOW, for example, currently has six official priorities in addition to other ongoing issues, including the passage of the Constitutional Equality Amendment and reproductive rights, but also racism, lesbian rights, violence against women, and economic justice. The NCWO domestic issue agenda is similarly expansive, covering global womens issues, womens health care, and economic justice, for example. The NCWO sponsors task forces on corporate accountability, the ERA, global womens issues, social security, younger womens issues, the Augusta National Golf Club, the long-term health of women, political action, and women and diabetes. Many of these issues go far beyond the scope of gender equity or abortion and reproductive rights issues that make up more than 50 percent of the coverage of womens movement organizations. One of the issues that womens movement organizations receive the least coverage on includes family issues. In fact, several scholars and activists have argued that the womens movement has not adequately emphasized family (or special needs issues), though providing for the care of children and the elderly is arguably one of the most critical problems women face (Costain 1992; Friedan 1998). It may be, however, that womens rights organizations are working on
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Table 1

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Issue coverage of womens organizations (in percentages) Issue Gender equity Abortion Social programs Family issues Other issues NewYork Times Stories 35.11 22.26 16.49 5.40 20.74 Network News Stories 36.32 35.24 13.62 6.45 8.37

these issues but have been unable to achieve coverage of those activities. For example, family and parental issues have been highlighted in Hadassahs annual policy statements seven times since 1985. The NCWO formed a task force on child care; achieving paid parental leave is one of the priorities highlighted in its domestic policy agenda. In addition to NOWs top six priorities, the organization also specifies twelve others, including child care, custody and family law issues. The organization issued twelve bulletins on the child care/family leave issue alone since 1995 and twenty-five press releases dealing with child care since 1998.5 Despite the attention to family issues by these organizations, coverage of them is exceedingly sparse. As indicated in Table 1, only 5.4 percent of all New York Times stories covering the womens movement during this period focused on family issues, while only 6.5 percent of television news reports did so. Since 1985, womens rights organizations have won coverage on family issues in an average of 2.7 New York Times articles and 2.1 television news stories per year. If the womens movement has focused attention on family issues during the past two decades, the point would likely be lost on anyone relying on the NewYork Times or network news for political information. Of course, the limitation of looking at the distribution of issue coverage during the entire period is that it fails to capture the dynamic aspect of the issue agenda. Indeed, coverage of the womens movement may have shifted over time with some issues becoming more prevalent and others becoming less so. In fact, we would expect that after the initial issue attention cycle that womens movement organizations would find coverage more difficult to attract and control. The media are more likely to be selective about which issues they cover during this period, following their usual news routines and standards of news worthiness. As a result, social movement organizations are less able to win coverage of the agenda they want to present and more likely to be governed by what the media want to cover. While it is difficult to pinpoint the end of the initial issue attention cycle, we use the failure of the ERA to win ratification in 1982 as our point of departure.
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Table 2

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Issue coverage of womens organizations pre and postEqual Rights Amendment (ERA), ratification deadline (in percentages) NewYork Times Issue Gender equity Abortion Social programs Family issues Other issues 196982 34.85 17.37 16.15 3.65 27.99 19832004 35.44 28.19 16.91 7.52 11.95 TV Network News 196982 48.04 23.46 12.29 5.59 10.62 19832004 33.13 38.45 13.98 6.69 7.75

Table 2 presents the distribution of issue coverage in both news outlets before and after the failure of ERA ratification in 1982. Note that abortion coverage was far more prevalent after 1982 for both the New York Times and television newscasts. In fact, abortion was the most commonly mentioned issue in television news coverage of womens movement organizations after 1982 while gender equity coverage was far less frequent. On the other hand, gender equity coverage was just as common in the New York Times after 1982 as it was before. The increase in abortion coverage in that outlet was offset by a substantial reduction in coverage of the other issues category. The increase in coverage of womens movement organizations on the abortion issue after 1982 may have been caused either by a shift in the issue agendas of these organizations or by the news medias interest in covering some issues over others. As noted earlier, reporters rely on news routines and official outlets to determine what is newsworthy.Thus, court cases such as Webster and Casey may have led reporters to focus more on the abortion issue during this period.With this issue already on the news medias agenda, womens groups may have sought coverage by commenting on these cases and on the abortion issue in general, even if the issue was not their top priority. In addition, the abortion issue involves a great deal of conflict, which makes it more newsworthy than other potential issues that the movement might focus on.The issue involves a clear dispute between the pro-life Republicans Party and pro-choice Democrats (Adams 1997; Layman 2001). In addition, abortion is an emotional issue that is characterized by drama and personal relevance. For these reasons, the news media find the abortion issue to be more newsworthy, which leads the womens movement to win more coverage on the issue than other issues that are part of their agenda. To further underscore the importance of decisions made by the news media in affecting how the womens movement is presented, Figure 2 presents the yearly percentage of New York Times and television news stories covering the womens movement that mentioned each of four major issue areas. The important point
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Gender Equity
100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 1969 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004

Reproductive Rights

100

90

80

70

60

Percent

40

30

20

10

1969 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004

Percent

50

r = .08
TV News Stories NYT Stories

year r = .35

year
TV News Stories

NYT Stories

Social Programs
100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0

Family Issues

100

90

80

70

60

Percent

40

30

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20

10

1969 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004

Percent

50

1969 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004

Figure 2

35

TV News and NewYork Times Coverage of Womens Groups in Four Issue Areas Note: Correlation coefficients presented for each issue area.

36

Press/Politics 11(4) Fall 2006

from this figure is that coverage of each issue varies substantially over time but that this variance does not seem to be the same for television news and NewYork Times coverage. In fact, there seems to be little relationship between how the New York Times covers womens movement organizations and how television news does so. To further examine this point, we correlated the percentage of coverage in each outlet for each of the four issue areas across the thirty-six years of our study. The correlation coefficients are also presented in Figure 2. For the most part, these coefficients confirm what the patterns in Figure 2 suggestissue coverage of the womens movement in the NewYork Times is not closely related to issue coverage on television newscasts. The highest correlation is for the abortion issue, where coverage is moderately correlated at .35, but for the remaining issues, there appears to be little if any association. The fact that the NewYork Times and television newscasts cover different issues in the same year is important since it indicates that choices made by journalists have an important effect on which issues the womens movement is associated with in national news coverage. If news coverage accurately reflected the issue agenda of the womens movement, then we would expect television news reporters to be covering the same issues as newspaper reporters.Yet examining coverage over time indicates that this is not the case.This suggests two possibilities. First, one of the outlets may be providing an accurate representation of the womens movements issue agenda while the other is failing to do so. Second, and more likely, both news outlets are exercising a great deal of discretion in selecting which issues to cover the womens movement organizations on and which to ignore. Because newspaper and television news reporters operate under different routines and face different constraints and incentives, they are led to make different choices. The prevalence of the abortion issue on television news is a good example of this dynamic. As noted above, the conflict produced by this issue is particularly appealing to television newscasts where time is sparse and imagery is also important.The abortion issue provides high levels of conflict (the existence of a strong countermovement) and often dramatic imagery of abortion clinic bombings in addition to emotional, graphic, and sometimes violent protests. The issue is also highly familiar to viewers, thus conserving precious time during a thirty-minute broadcast that may otherwise be necessary to provide background on a story. Thus, it is not surprising to find womens movement organizations frequently winning coverage on the issue on television newscasts. But to what extent are these organizations actively publicizing this issue? We briefly investigate this question below with a case study of NOW.
NOW: Agenda versus Coverage

NOW is the flagship organization of the womens movement. Until the early 1980s, when abortion opponents began to gain strength, NOWs agenda ranged
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especially widely. Increasingly, however, and particularly after the Webster decision in 1989, NOW, along with many other feminist organizations, appeared to devote more attention to abortion rights.This shift drew a great deal of criticism both from within NOW and from feminist leaders outside of the organization. For example, Betty Friedan called for an agenda that focused less on abortion and more on family issues and was joined in this appeal by Eleanor Holmes Norton and Ann Richards (Dionne 1989). But had NOWs agenda focus actually changed, or was this largely a perception created by the medias heavy focus on the abortion issue? After all, leaders and members continued to address a wide range of issues at national conferences held by the organization (Barakso 2004; Carabillo et al. 1993). Nevertheless, the perception of NOW among many women is of an organization overly focused on abortion rights to the detriment of other causes.6 To what extent does the medias coverage of NOW provide a realistic representation of the organizations agenda? To answer this question, we coded NOW press releases from 1995 through 2004 in the same manner that we coded the newspaper and television abstracts.We also coded the full text of all stories appearing in the New York Times that mentioned NOW.7 During this period, NOW issued 597 press releases on varying topics. Releases mentioning gender equity issues accounted for 47.24 percent, 25.13 percent focused on reproductive rights, 13.40 percent dealt with social programs, and just 2.68 percent mentioned family issues. In comparison, 55.47 percent of the 256 New York Times stories reported on NOWs activities on gender equity issues, 21.09 percent focused on reproductive rights, 11.72 percent covered social programs, and 5.08 percent dealt with family issues. Thus, across the entire period, NewYork Times coverage of NOWs issue agenda was comparable to the agenda promoted by NOW through their press releases. Nevertheless, aggregating coverage across the entire time period may mask the fact that media coverage of NOW does not actually reflect the issues that NOW is publicizing at a particular point in time. Indeed, the issues promoted by NOW through press releases varied a great deal across this time period.To what extent did NewYork Times coverage reflect this dynamic agenda? Figure 3 presents the percentage of press releases and NewYork Times stories focusing on each of the four issue areas during each quarter of the ten-year period.8 Correlation coefficients for the relationship between the press releases and news coverage are also presented in the figure.The clear pattern in these figures appears to be a lack of congruence between NewYork Times coverage of NOW and the issues that NOW is promoting. During many quarters, NOW was promoting particular issues (such as reproductive rights or gender equity) in a majority of their press releases while the New York Times coverage of the organization largely ignored those issues. In other quarters, NewYork Times coverage focused largely on issues that NOW was not promoting. Overall, the NOW agenda being presented by
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Percent of Stories/Releases on Gender Equity

0 2002q3 NYT Stories r = -.15 Press Releases 2005q1 1995q1 1997q3 2000q1 Quarter

Percent of Stories/Releases on Reproductive Rights

Percent of Stories/Releases on Social Programs

Percent of Stories/Releases on Family Issues

38
Reproductive Rights
100 80 60 40 20 0 2002q3 NYT Stories 2005q1

Gender Equity

100

80

60

40

20

1995q1

1997q3

2000q1 Quarter

r = -.04

Press Releases

Social Programs
100 80 60 40 20 0 2002q3 NYT Stories 2005q1 r = .10 1995q1 1997q3

Family Issues

100

80

60

40

20

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1995q1

1997q3

2000q1 Quarter

2000q1 Quarter Press Releases

2002q3 NYT Stories

2005q1

r = .30

Press Releases

Figure 3

National Organization for Women (NOW) Press Releases and NewYork Times Coverage in Four Issue Areas (Quarterly) Note: Correlation coefficients presented for each issue area.

Barakso, Schaffner / Winning Coverage

39

the New York Times was largely distinct from that being promoted by the organization itself. In sum, our analysis of news coverage of the womens movement agenda reveals that the media exercises considerable discretion in determining which issues it covers. Since the end of the ERA ratification campaign, news coverage of womens organizations has focused more on reproductive rights issues. In addition, we find that NewYork Times coverage was largely unrelated to television news coverage throughout the period of our study, lending support to the conclusion that the media play a critical role in determining issue coverage. Finally, our case study of NOW underscores this point by demonstrating that New York Times coverage of the organization during a quarter was largely unrelated to the issues that the group was publicizing at that time. In the following section, we conclude by suggesting why the media fail to cover the spectrum of issues womens organizations are engaged in and we consider the implications of these findings with regard to public perceptions of the womens movement.
Conclusion:The Disconnect between the Movement in the Media and among Women

Why do we find a disconnect between the issues news outlets cover and the issues womens groups focus on? Reporters rely on routines in covering the news. After 1982, as we have seen, reproductive rights issues dominated news coverage, although womens organizations agendas were broadly defined. It is likely that reporters association of the womens movement with abortion and reproductive rights during the ERA campaign significantly influenced their routines in covering the movement thereafter. Reporters routines for covering the womens rights movement are reinforced by the fact that they enjoy regular access to multiple legal and legislative sources regarding abortion rights issues. In addition, abortion rights issues engender conflict, which, as we noted earlier, is attractive to news reporters.The issue also presents reporters with access to a ready set of countervailing opinions from pro-life organizations. As a result, womens organizations face an uphill battle in attempting to change the way the media cover them. Such change would not only entail transforming the way the news media see and understand what the womens movement is about but also disrupting newsmakers reporting routines. As a result, strategically speaking, womens organizations are less likely to attempt to change reporting frames and instead play into current routines to attain some coverageeven if that coverage only focuses on a fraction of their activities and interests. This may explain why NOW devoted such a large share of its press releases to the abortion issue despite its broad issue agenda. However, if news coverage of the womens movement does not entirely reflect the full issue agenda of that movement, what is the consequence of this disconnect?
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Table 3

Press/Politics 11(4) Fall 2006

Issue agendas of women and womens movement coverage in 2003 Percentage of Womens Organization Stories Covering Issue NewYork Times 49 0 6 20 71 stories TV News 28 0 16 53 32 stories

Issue Gender equity Family issues Social programs Abortion N

Percentage of Women Indicating Top Prioritya 36 35 11 3 1,000 adult women

a. Question asks respondents which issue should be a top priority for the womens movement.

We began this article by describing the criticisms of the womens movements presence and issue agenda in recent years.We examined the extent to which this criticism may be a function of the type of coverage womens movement organizations receive rather than a reflection of what womens group are actually doing. At the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003, the Center for Advancement of Women sampled adult women and asked, among other questions, what should be the top priority for the womens movement.We categorized responses to this question into the four broad issue areas we have focused on in this article gender equity, abortion and reproductive rights, family issues, and social programs.Table 3 compares responses to this question with the coverage received by womens movement organizations in these issue areas during the same year.A plurality of women said that gender equity (such as equal pay and equal opportunities for women) should be the top priority for the womens movement. Gender equity issues did receive a great deal of coverage in the NewYork Times and somewhat less coverage in the network newscasts. For this issue, both women and the news coverage seemed to indicate that the issue was a priority. However, the disconnect between what women believed the movements priority should be and what the movement won coverage of was clear in two areasfamily issues and abortion. More than one-third of the respondents to this survey rated family issues as the top priority for the womens movement, yet womens movement organizations did not win coverage of family issues in a single story in the NewYork Times or on the nightly news during 2003. On the other hand, only 3 percent of the respondents to the survey ranked abortion rights as the top priority of the womens movement, yet 20 percent of the stories in the NewYork Times focused on this issue and 53 percent of television news stories did so. Very few women appear to see the abortion issue as a priority for the womens movement, yet one-third of the movements coverage focuses on that issue. At the same time, more than one-third of women view family
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issues as a top priority for the movement, yet news coverage would suggest that the movement was hardly concerned about these issues. Even if family issues are squarely on the agenda for the womens movement, women might not realize it because they are much more likely to see feminist organizations on the news talking about gender equity and abortion rights. Women may feel that the movement is ignoring an issue that is very important to them, but it may be the case that womens movement organizations are simply unable to win coverage of that issue. Ultimately, the publics sense that the movement is out of touch may have as much to do with what the news media choose to cover as it does with the priorities of the womens movement itself. Appendix Issue Codes for News Abstracts
We used only the major issue codes for the analysis in this article, but we present the subissue codes here to provide information about what was subsumed under each major issue category.
1. Reproductive Rights

All issues relating to reproductive rights, abortion, and so on.


2. Gender Equity Issues

Employment issues such as pay equity, glass ceiling, gender-related discrimination in workplace, sexual harassment; nomination issues involving gender such as support or opposition to a nominee based on his or her position or history on womens rights issues or calls for parity in nomination of women; Equal Rights Amendment; gender equity in sports including Title IX; gender discrimination in military; gender-related human rights issues; gender equity in electoral politics such as calls for parity in elected offices, in the recruitment and funding of women candidates; sexual assault; gender equity in health care issues.
3. Non-Gender-Related Civil Rights Issues

Ethnic minority and/or racial group discrimination, gay rights, age discrimination, handicap or disease discrimination, voting rights issues, freedom of speech issues, right to privacy.
4. Family Issues

Divorce, including child support and child custody issues; domestic violence issues; teenage pregnancy issues; child care issues including the Family and Medical Leave Act, child care assistance programs, parental leave, and other child care issues.
5. Social Programs

Education issues such as those relating to primary, secondary, and higher education; health care issues such as health care reform, health care costs, Medicare, Medicaid,
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prescription drug costs, childrens health care, womens health care, health care research, and other health care issues other than reproductive rights issues; housing/ community development issues including those dealing with the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), economic development of urban areas, housing assistance for homeless, other issues dealing with the homeless population; Social Security issues; welfare issues including food stamps, Women Infant and Children programs (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), poverty assistance and aid to low-income families. Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Bill Leogrande and the School of Public Affairs for funding this project.We would also like to thank our research assistants, Anna Olsson, Ali Yanus, and Lenora Stiles. We are grateful to Rebecca Mae Salokar and Kira Sanbonmatsu for comments on earlier versions of this work.
Notes
1. 2. 3. 4. Note, however, Mansbridges (1986) caution regarding the interpretation of this survey data on womens roles. In a 1992 Time/CNN poll, 57 percent of women said that there was still a need for a strong womens movement. In a 2005 CBS survey, only 48 percent said there was such a need. Of course, this very ambiguousness is also likely to have contributed to the ERAs failure (Mansbridge 1986). In our initial figure, we noticed that coverage increased dramatically during the 1976, 1980, and 1984 presidential campaign years. Nearly half of the coverage in these years was related to the sponsorship of the presidential debates by the League of Women Voters. Since these mentions were not central to the story, Figure 1 presents the data with the debate sponsorship stories removed. Information obtained from the website of the National Organization for Women (NOW), www.now.org. Ironically, some NOW activists express frustration that the group does not focus more heavily on reproductive rights issues. Note that for this analysis, the measure of NewYork Times coverage is not based on abstracts but on full-text searches of the actual news articles.This was possible since full-text New York Times coverage is available during this period from Lexis-Nexis. We also examined coverage on a monthly basis and found a similar disconnect between NOWs press releases and their NewYork Times coverage.

5. 6. 7. 8.

References
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Biographical Notes
Maryann Barakso is an assistant professor of political science at the American University and a research fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in Washington, D.C. She received her doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her research interests include women and politics, social movements, and interest group politics. Address: Department of Government, School of Public Affairs, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20016; phone: 202-885-6239; fax: 202-8852967; e-mail: barakso@american.edu. Brian F. Schaffner is an assistant professor of political science at the American University and a research fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in Washington, D.C. He received his doctorate from Indiana University. His research interests include identity politics and media coverage of congress and congressional campaigns. Address: Department of Government, School of Public Affairs, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW,Washington, D.C. 20016; phone: 202-885-2944; fax: 202-885-2967; e-mail: schaffne@american.edu.

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