Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bill Simmons Is No Freedom Fighter

Bill Simmons Is No Freedom Fighter

Bill Simmons Is No Freedom Fighter

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 11:16 AM PDT

Whenever we’d take chemistry tests in high school, the instructor would always take care to note whether the hypothetical reaction was taking place in a closed system. In a closed system, the products and reactants exist among themselves—nothing from the outside has any bearing on the reaction.

And so it always is, even when it appears otherwise, with Bill Simmons and his ESPN bosses.

News of ESPN’s three-week suspension of Simmons sent Twitter into a tizzy Wednesday night, with the #freesimmons hashtag so heavily posted as to signal the start of a movement, such as it is. (C’mon, Lena Dunham joined in!) Simmons had earned the suspension, ESPN said, for failing to “be accountable to ESPN … and operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards.” Namely, he had criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the Monday episode of his popular podcast, The B.S. Report.

His criticism: “I’m just saying it: He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail. For all these people to pretend they didn’t know is such f–king bullsh-t.” And then Simmons challenged his bosses to go after him. And then they did. (Through a publicist, Simmons declined to comment for this story.)

While Simmons has a thick personnel file in Bristol—he was suspended from Twitter in 2009, and again in 2013, for sniping at the network’s properties, and he had public beef with his editors about his column in 2008—this case seemed to many to signal something different. ESPN is one of the NFL’s major broadcast partners, and, coincidentally, the Goodell firestorm started with a suspension too.

Yet Simmons makes an imperfect freedom fighter. There were three parts to what he said: There was the substance of the accusation against Goodell, there was its coarseness, and there was the threat to go public if ESPN pressured him. (He said, “I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell. Because if one person says that to me, I’m going public. You leave me alone. The commissioner’s a liar and I get to talk about that on my podcast.”) The latter two must have dwarfed the first in significance within the network’s culture of coordinated collegiality. A tempered accusation would have offered a tighter test case—especially given that only ESPN’s most credulous blowhards seem presently inclined to trust Goodell. (Here’s where my editor makes me point out that I am reporter for Sports Illustrated which competes with ESPN in all kinds of ways.)

It’s a little surprising, though only a little, that Simmons hasn’t left his corporate-antagonist shtick behind. In recent years, ESPN has elevated him from a (terribly popular) web columnist to the editor in chief of an occasionally fantastic web magazine that employs nearly 30 people (Grantland), the executive producer of a strong series of documentary films (30 for 30) and a talking head on its NBA coverage. He’ll even be getting his own show this year. He led the effort to bring Nate Silver aboard (even Simmons’ father pitched in), and he is said to earn several million dollars a year. It’s hard to think any sports pundit has held so much sway over his bosses since the days of Howard Cosell. (Even Cosell, a onetime major in the Army, never had so many people working under him.) And one might expect Simmons to be even gentler with his bosses in light of his rise since, as Will Leitch wrote Thursday, ESPN doesn’t even need to be in the Bill Simmons business. Its website could be a still photo of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, and its NBA pregame show could be a loop of Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe” video, and Disney’s accountants would barely notice the revenue dip.

That’s part of the reason Simmons built his site in-house and encouraged Nate Silver to build his the same way. As Simmons told me earlier this year when I wrote about Silver, “The good thing about ESPN is that it’s a really smart company making a lot of money,” which was to say that ESPN’s smaller businesses face little pressure to turn a profit.

After all, ESPN makes the vast majority of its money not from web advertising or the DVD sales of its documentary series but from cable subscriber fees. And the programming that makes the network essential to cable companies isn’t College GameDay or Monday Night Countdown or the new Grantland NBA series; it’s the big DVR-proof games that follow those, exclusively on ESPN’s airwaves. And doesn’t that make their college-sports, NFL and NBA reporters irreparably compromised? You bet!

Which brings us back to Simmons, and the closed system. As Jeb Lund memorably put it in 2011 upon Grantland’s launch, “ESPN and Simmons exist to make each other look edgy.” Simmons gets to menace the suits and see where he stands, and ESPN gets to look like a shop that has the standing to enforce something it calls journalistic standards. It’s a stunt, which concerns the general public only inasmuch as it makes people curious about the promise of independent media. And maybe, just maybe, it has.

NFL Player’s Pep Talk With 4-Year-Old Daughter Before She Has Surgery Goes Viral

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 11:13 AM PDT

Devon Still, defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, has more important things on his mind than football. He posted a video on his Instagram account Thursday morning of him driving his four-year-old daughter Leah to the hospital to get a tumor removed.

“You ready to get this cancer up out you?” Still asks his daughter in the video. She nods.

“Let’s do it,” he replies. “Fist bump.”

Leah has neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer that has given her a 50-50 chance of survival, according to ESPN. Many of Still’s teammates took to Twitter today to show their support:

There’s Nothing Wrong with the Mommy Track

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 11:10 AM PDT

Before I became a parent, I was a bestselling author and speaker pounding up the escalators of a different airport every week. I worked insatiably, sometimes meeting three different contacts for a drink, dinner and dessert. When my daughter was born, I was thrilled — and anxious. I had heard the old adage, “You can have it all – just not at once.” On my first day back after maternity leave, I packed up my breast pump and parking meter quarters. I was ready for my life to change.

But here’s what I didn’t count on: feeling ashamed because I refused to put work above all else. Because I yearned to spend quality time with my daughter. Because I wanted actual work-life balance.

Instead of shutting down my laptop at 7 or 8 pm, I now relieved my sitter at 4:30. I rarely logged on after bedtime, or on weekends. But as I played with the baby on the floor, I was miles away in my head. Would my clients and colleagues write me off if I didn’t produce at the same pace? What would my next big project be? I read my daughter books in a toneless, distant voice, ruminating furiously.

I had plowed through a pile of work that month – finishing a grant, giving speeches, writing an advice column, teaching 60 high school students, answering countless emails – yet I still felt like a slacker. It never occurred to me that I was working, and working hard. Why?

Our culture sings in only two keys about how successful women manage motherhood and work: either you’re driving a hard line to the C-suite, parking the crib in your corner office, or you’re shredding the Mommy track.

But what about those of us who are still working hard, and who live and work somewhere between the two? I love being a mom, and I also love (and can’t afford not to) work.

So why do we speak in such crude terms about the nuanced, ever-changing dance of work-life balance? To begin with, the choices are rigged. To hear popular media tell it, the alternative to leaning in seems like a thinly veiled insult: the words “opt out” or “mommy track” suggest that the “in” – the standard of true success– is paid work.

In our million-mile-an-hour culture of never enough, working less is interpreted as working less well. This isn’t always the case. Parents quickly become expert at doing more work in less time, redirecting chit-chat and out-for-lunch hours toward getting the job done faster. Yet it’s mothers, far more than fathers, who are judged critically.

Perhaps even more galling, the suggestion that women can either elect to work harder or opt out demeans the nearly 50 million working mothers who maybe can’t afford the choice.

Brown University Professor Yael Chatav Schoenbrun knew she wouldn’t fit the mold. “I made a decision,” she wrote in the New York Times, “to back down, but not bail out.” She would work hard, just not as hard as she did before parenthood. Recalling her angst over choosing her own path, she shared a puzzling conclusion. “The real problem,” she wrote, “was me.”

But was it really? This kind of self-blame comes so easily to women. It recalls the self-flagellating angst of a generation that Betty Friedan profiled in The Feminine Mystique. The reality is more complex. New research has confirmed what many have suspected for a long time: moms are less likely to be hired for jobs, perceived as competent, or be paid as much as equally qualified male colleagues. But for men, having kids helps their careers. Dads are more likely to be hired than childless men and are more likely to earn more after they have kids.

Doesn’t some responsibility lie, too, with a culture that insists on pigeonholing its women into two extreme, unattainable ways of being? It is a familiar trope: We are to be nice, and liked by everyone; or else we are labeled aggressive. We’re humble or conceited; compliant, good girls or sluts. Rarely are women offered a middle road, one that imagines them as real, complex, dynamic beings.

When we frame women’s choices in terms of extreme work or extreme mothering, women think they have to define themselves in terms of a single goal, everything else be damned. Instead of having the chance to succeed in either realm, women committed to both work and mothering end up feeling inadequate in both. Mommy wars are the sad by-product of the drive to prove one’s worth in a contest where no one ever gets to feel like they are enough as they are.

Working mothers who feel inadequate, even as they continue to work hard, may suffer from what Brene Brown, author of the bestseller Daring Greatly, calls the “never enough” problem: a persistent, self-defeating belief that we will not be worthy or lovable until we are richer, thinner, more powerful, more successful, and so on. We are made to feel, she writes, “that an ordinary life is a meaningless life.”

Perhaps this is why working women are inducted into motherhood being warned that we will never feel like good enough moms or good enough professionals. Ruthless perfectionists that we are, we drink this kool-aid without question.

But what if it’s precisely that juicy, flawed mix of experiences that adds up to a life well-lived? What if by trading in the fruitless drive to be perfect, we inherit a richly textured self?

Besides, the endless diaper changes and tantrums give way, soon enough, to the first day of kindergarten – and a lot more time to devote to a career.

I have spent my life in fear of being average. But the joy I experience as a parent is driving me to face that fear in a way I never thought possible. As I bumble through paving my own third way, I am learning to lower my standards when I need to: to prep last minute; to write bullet points instead of full paragraphs; to say no. At first, I was sure the bottom would literally fall out of my career – and therefore my world. Slowly, I saw that no one really cared. They may not have even noticed. (It’s often said that we are our own worst judges. In some cases, we may also be our only worst judges.)

Waves of anxiety about my career still find me, often in the middle of the night. It is an ongoing struggle to remember that I am enough as I am. But now, when I sit on the floor with my daughter, I see our time as anything but a detour from my ambition. She is the passion project I was waiting for.


Congress Divided on Eric Holder’s Legacy

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 11:09 AM PDT

Lawmakers were divided Thursday in their reaction to Attorney General Eric Holder’s impending resignation, underscoring his divisive tenure as the country’s top law enforcement official.

On TV, on Twitter and in public statements, Democrats were as quick to praise the nation’s outgoing top cop as Republicans were to vilify him.

“I hate to see Eric Holder leave,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, told NBC. “I remember the day he was sworn in and the huge cheers that echoed throughout the Department of Justice—throughout the building—because they were finally getting somebody who actually knew how the Justice Department worked, who cared about law enforcement, cared about the rule of law.”

“I’ve been here through a lot of attorneys general and nobody has done it better than he has,” added Leahy, who was elected to the Senate in 1974.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said Holder has “led the fight to protect the right to vote for all citizens.”

And Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights hero who gave a glowing tribute to Holder for the TIME 100 this year, was taken aback when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced the news at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event.

“Oh wow,” said Lewis. “Why? That is so bad. … That is so sad.”

“His resignation is a great loss for any American seeking justice in our society,” Lewis said in a statement later. “He became the symbol of fairness, an embodiment of the best in the federal government. He has been a persistent and consistent leader in the struggle for civil and human rights. That legacy is in his bones. It is written on his heart, and his intelligence and committed leadership will be hard to replace.”

Republicans didn’t share in the Democrats’ grief.

Rep. Darrell Isssa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee and perhaps Capitol Hill’s most vocal Holder antagonist, cheered the news, tweeting that Holder has the “dubious distinction” of being the first Attorney General held in contempt of Congress. Issa led the drive for that 2012 House vote after Holder declined to hand over documents related to the so-called Fast and Furious scandal, in which federal law enforcement agents allowed the sale of weapons so they could track the flow of them to Mexican drug cartels. One of the weapons was found at the scene of the shooting death of an American border patrol agent in 2010.

“Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history,” Issa tweeted. “By needlessly injecting politics into law enforcement, Holder’s legacy has eroded more confidence in our legal system than any AG before him.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said in a statement that Holder had “repeatedly refused” to enforce U.S. law and that his resignation is “great news” and long overdue. Brady said his record includes the following: “Ignoring the clearly unlawful behavior of IRS employee Lois Lerner, illegal gun-running to Mexican drug cartels and being held in contempt by the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said in a statement no other Attorneys General had “attacked Louisiana more than Holder.”

“He’s tried to defund a Louisiana youth program because students prayed, sued to block voucher scholarships going to poor kids in failing schools, and threatened the release of Louisiana voters’ personal information,” Vitter said. “I’m proud to have voted against this Senate confirmation.”

Eric Holder Will Leave a Legacy of Civil Rights Activism

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 11:05 AM PDT

Attorney General Eric Holder showed in his second week in office that he planned to approach the job of top law enforcement officer differently.

“In things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” he said, in prepared remarks to Justice Department staff on Feb. 18, 2009. “Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must—and will—lead the nation to the ‘new birth of freedom’ so long ago promised by our greatest President.”

The remarks earned a backlash from the West Wing staff around President Barack Obama, but Holder’s attitude never changed, nor did his determination to use his office to highlight the injustices that continued to exist under his tenure. “We’ve got to have the guts to say that these are issues that need to be fixed,” he told a group of black journalists during a meeting at the White House last year.

As news broke Thursday of Holder’s decision to retire after almost six years in the job as the first black leader of the Justice Department, civil rights activists were quick to praise him. “No attorney general has demonstrated a civil rights record that is similar to Eric Holder’s,” Al Sharpton, the head of the National Action Network, told reporters in Washington.

“Attorney General Holder never shied away from the issues that greatly affect us all,” Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain activist Medgar Evers, said in a statement.

Through his tenure, Holder often referred to the portrait of his predecessor Robert F. Kennedy, which hangs in his office, as a guiding light for him. Like Kennedy’s efforts to address civil rights issues in the 1960s, Holder’s department made criminal justice reform a priority, and has worked aggressively to continue to challenge limits on voting rights after the Supreme Court overturned parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Holder has also launched a number of high profile investigations of the conduct of local police departments in about 20 cities, often obtaining consent agreements that change police conduct.

In a major address to the American Bar Association in August of 2013, Holder did not just lay out a set of reforms to reduce prison terms and improve rehabilitation efforts, but he also challenged the country for what he saw as moral failures. “One deeply troubling report… indicates that in recent years black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes,” he said. “This isn’t just unacceptable—it is shameful. It’s unworthy of our great country, and our great legal tradition.”

Before speaking those words, he had given a draft of his remarks to Obama during a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. In an interview with TIME earlier this year, Holder recalled Obama’s reaction. “It’s a gutsy speech,” the President told him, encouraging him to deliver the speech.

Holder also spoke multiple times about the discrimination he believed he had experienced as a black man. “I am the attorney general of the United States, but I am also a black man,” he said during a visit to a community meeting in Ferguson, Mo., this year, where he recounted his anger at being stopped by police while running down the street in Washington, D.C., and while driving on the New Jersey turnpike. “I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”

Like many other efforts, he spoke these words not just as a cabinet secretary but as a social activist, urging the country to be better. “The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the Attorney General of the United States,” he said in Ferguson. “This country is capable of change. But change doesn’t happen by itself.”

Twitter Chief Trolls Iranian President on Twitter

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 10:56 AM PDT

Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, has a bone to pick with Iran: you can’t use Twitter there.

And on Thursday, Costolo tweeted at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani—currently in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly—with a Twitter burn for the ages:

With access to Twitter and Facebook officially banned in the Islamic Republic, Iranians have to find other ways to bypass the state’s Internet filtering system. That’s if they’re not the country’s president, who is a prolific tweeter and apparently has unfettered access to the social network. But Costolo’s tweet isn’t just a muted form of digital social activism; it’s a pragmatic defense of his company’s business interests in Iran.

Rouhani doesn’t appear to have responded yet to Costolo’s tweet, which may be because it’s just too hard to come back from a tweet like that.

Civil Rights Leaders Want Feds to Intervene in Ferguson Probe

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 10:50 AM PDT

Civil rights leaders called Thursday for the federal government to intervene in criminal investigations into the deaths of two unarmed black men killed by police.

Officials from the National Urban League, the National Action Network and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People condemned the law enforcement response to both the cases of Michael Brown, who was shot by a Missouri police officer on Aug. 9, and Eric Garner, who died after being held in a chokehold by New York police earlier this summer. Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr., the parents of Michael Brown, joined Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.

Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network said police offers need to be held accountable for the deaths of both men.

“Whether they wear blue jeans or blue uniforms, criminals must be held accountable,” Sharpton said. The news conference took place as Police Chief Thomas Jackson of Ferguson, Mo., publicly apologized to Brown’s family, weeks after often violent clashes in the St. Louis suburb over the shooting drew national attention.

Brown’s parents did not publicly comment on the police chief’s apology, but Sharpton said Thomas’ response was “too little, too late.”

“The answer is justice for this family,” Sharpton said. “Now to come with an apology when the family is here asking for the Justice Department to come in is suspect at best.”

A grand jury has been convened in Ferguson to determine whether or not charges should be brought against the officer responsible for Brown’s death. The grand jury proceedings have been wrought with uncertainty, and local civil rights leaders have suggested an indictment may not be coming. The Department of Justice is also investigating, looking into whether there were any civil rights violations at the time of the teen’s death.

But civil rights leaders said Thursday they want more. While they are in Washington, the families of Garner and Brown are set to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have convened for their annual legislative conference about federal legislation to end racial profiling and better monitor police activity. The leaders also announced an upcoming march to bring the “Hands Up” protest movement sparked by Brown’s death to the nation’s capitol.

Diane, Katie and Catfights: The Problem With Claws-Out Depictions of Women

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 10:48 AM PDT

Aggressive, talented opponents in intensely high-stakes jobs tend to get, well, competitive with one another. To take the passive road is both career suicide and company malpractice. Proof? TV news, the topic of my new book, The News Sorority. But when certain columnists plucked zippy items from the book about competition, in-fighting and high-stakes rivalries, they used only tidbits about squabbling women, including a snarky, obviously non-literal, mildly off-color quip Katie Couric made about Diane Sawyer when they were morning-show rivals, and an obviously hyperbolic eyewitness report of Sawyer and Barbara Walters trying to “literally wipe each other off the face of the earth.” The negative items went viral, appearing in outlets from the Drudge Report to Us Weekly. And the headlines often included the word “catfight.”

What about some so-called dogfights? Back in the 1990s, Dan Rather “wanted to kill Peter [Jennings] and Tom [Brokaw],” one of his fellow CBS newsmen told me. Figuratively, of course—and Brokaw and Jennings felt that way about him; the quality of their shows benefited from the rivalry. In the ’80s, when rising star Sawyer was Rather’s substitute anchor, Rather would cancel family vacations at zero hour just to keep Sawyer from displaying her talent in his anchor chair. Along with competitiveness goes self-regard and, sometimes, bombast. So it’s not surprising that Rather’s predecessor, the revered Walter Cronkite, possessed “an ego as big as an elephant,” his producer Sandy Socolow told me. Other sources for The News Sorority recalled how ABC news icons Ted Koppel and the late Jennings—despite being close friends—were “nasty and competitive with each other. Koppel would be wailing on Peter, putting him down,” said a producer. Even when the well-liked Bob Schieffer, currently host of CBS’s Face The Nation, was Dan Rather’s loyal #2 (so loyal, Schieffer was nicknamed “Deputy Dog”), “Bob took it upon himself to talk against Dan,” said an earwitness, while Rather was mired in his misreporting of George W. Bush’s National Guard service. Schieffer was thus poised to finally ascend to Rather’s chair. (And briefly did.) An ABC colleague remembered how anchor and morning-show host Charlie Gibson chose the all-hands-on-deck period of 9/11 to complain that his Good Morning, America co-host Sawyer was reading more cold opens than he was. (Gibson was duly appeased and awarded all the cold opens; Sawyer didn’t mind.)

And yet, none of these anecdotes about men—all reported in the book—made notice. Just the catfights.

The News Sorority, by Sheila Weller

I remember Erica Jong complaining about the catfight trope when she was in her Fear of Flying prime over 40 years ago. Not long after, Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman were propelled into a famous recent feud of letters when, on Dick Cavett’s TV show, McCarthy acidly opined that “every word [Hellman] writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” Hellman promptly sued McCarthy for $2.25 million dollars. Flash forward to present-day: entertainment websites scoring hundreds of thousands of clicks with news of catfights between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, or Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow. (Stewart’s quote, “She just needs to be quiet… If she were confident in her acting, she wouldn’t be trying to be Martha Stewart,” was picked up by tabloids around the world.)

It’s odd and telling when a slang concept doesn’t quickly evaporate. Will we be straight-facing “selfie” year after next? Would any but the laziest writer still use “metrosexual” or “Valley Girl”? Yet the catfight—and the broader idea that women competing or disagreeing with each is more indicative of negative character than men doing so—has stubbornly endured.

In a 2013 experiment co-conducted by psychologist Leah Sheppard, Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, 152 participants were asked to give their opinion of three scripted workplace conflicts: male v. male; male v. female; female v. female. The participants judged the female v. female conflict as having more negative implications for the workplace than the other two. Ah, but! The three scripts were absolutely identical.

Even the way some management academics study top workplace women may betray a bias. There is the supposed Queen Bee Syndrome, by which some women at the top of male-dominated fields may designate themselves as unique “and don’t want to let other women in,” says Sheppard, now on the faculty of the University of Washington. “But,” Sheppard notes, “No one has done a study on a King Bee Syndrome. If you had a scenario where there were mainly women in a group and there was a lone man and he was therefore able to bring something unique to the table, I would be very shocked if the man didn’t show resistance to having another man hired.”

Women know that our assertiveness, competitiveness, and strong decisions are viewed negatively. We know the ethical bar is higher and the approval bar is lower. We’ve internalized the catfight and its wider connotations, and we may overcompensate with sisterhood scrutiny.

A female executive of an international corporation whom I interviewed recently chose, strictly on the merits (and after painful deliberation) to promote a male candidate over a female candidate for an important position. It was her duty to select the best candidate, and she did. The woman who was passed over felt hurt and betrayed, and made her feelings known to the executive. The executive felt anguish at the reaction. But a male executive would likely not have been seized by guilt that he’d betrayed his gender-mates.

And what b-school academics call a “leaky pipeline” ferries masses of superiorly-trained women to what turn out to be shockingly few top placements. Since 1982, more U.S. women have earned bachelors degrees than their male counterparts. Since 1987, more U.S. women have earned masters degrees than their male counterparts. And since 2006, more U.S. women have earned PhDs than men.

But women’s advances in competitive business careers don’t reflect these statistics. There’s been a less than 5% rise in female Fortune 500 company CEOs from 1990 (when that number was zero) to today, and a modest 7% rise in female Fortune 500 company board members since 1995. Only 51 women helm this year’s Fortune 1000 companies—that’s 5% total. The same disparity between training and top-level advancement exists in the media. In TV, women constitute 40% of the workforce, but only 20% of U.S. TV station general managers are women.

“Women are ‘easy to get along with’— that’s pre-scripted,” says Alice Eagley, Ph.D., professor of psychology and member of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “Being competitive, agentic, aggressive, self-promoting: when women do that in a definite, clear way, people get all uncomfortable. When men do it, people are okay with it.”

“Do women agonize about the burdens of competing with other women, when collaboration is historically our survival mechanism? I think yes, though not everyone is self-aware enough to call it that way,” says Gloria Feldt, who founded Take The Lead with the goal of helping women reach an equal share of leadership positions by 2025. “Women want to be liked, to be seen as ‘nice,’ which our mothers told us to be and is what we were rewarded for as girls.”

Case study in self-promotion: Katie Couric. When she—having singlehandedly rescued the Today show in 1991 and become TV’s biggest morning star—signed a record-breaking three-year contract in December 2001, she proudly let the details be known. It was not just an achievement for her but, she felt, an inspiration for other women in TV. Yet the revelation of that contract meant “it was over for her,” veteran executive producer Paul Friedman (who worked for Jennings, Sawyer and Couric) told me, in pointedly sexist language. “When people knew that she was going to make as much as $65 million, she was no longer the girl next door but a rich, recently bereaved, skirt-up-to-her-crotch, hair-changing woman. It can offend you all you want for me to put it that way, but it is a fact.”

Also dinged for being “self-promoting” was Christiane Amanpour: In 2007, when she returned to CNN New York after 15 years abroad as the most hardworking, courageous, conflict-zone reporter in TV history, she was taken aback that that resume did not earn her the premiere anchor position at the network she’d been with (and helped to put on the map) for 20 years. When, in frustration, she’d remind CNN executives, “You know, I’m the most well-known foreign correspondent in the world,” those factual words struck her bosses as arrogant and conceited. But if an identically credentialed man, similarly peeved at being undervalued, had uttered them, they would have elicited executives’ worry.

So when you take this prejudice against forceful, non-self-effacing women and multiply it by two, adding conflict or rivalry with another woman, you have situations destined to go viral. Still, in five years of researching highly determined women in TV news, I learned how female-on-female competition does not have to be (and actually rarely is) a negative cliché.

First of all, women can refuse to subscribe to the notion. When longtime Today co-host Jane Pauley was losing her job to newcomer Deborah Norville in 1989, their supposed “catfight” was splashed over all the tabloids. (“It’s not like there wasn’t any other news to cover; the Soviet Union was coming apart,” Pauley wryly reminded me.) The two women knew that the construction was false. “Debbie did not push herself in,” Pauley told me, resolutely. “Debbie was pushed in. It wasn’t Debbie’s fault.” Pauley and Norville rejected the catfight construct and stayed collegial throughout NBC’s disastrous replacement scenario.

It helps to use humor and collaboration. Legendary CBS producer Susan Zirinsky first worked with Sawyer when Sawyer, fresh from eight years with Nixon, had to prove herself against a highly skeptical DC press corps. Zirinsky and Sawyer pulled all-nighters over the bizarre People’s Temple mass suicides and other stories. Later, when Zirinsky was trying to get a very reluctant (and often drunk) Boris Yeltsin to agree to an exclusive interview with CBS, she used Diane’s attractiveness to seal the deal—”This is who is going to be interviewing you,” Zirinsky said, slapping Sawyer’s photo in the rising Soviet leader’s reddened face, whereupon his eyes widened and he quickly consented. It was a coup for Zirinsky and Sawyer—a one-two punch of self-serving sexism for two women’s mutual professional advantage. Some years after that, Sawyer, by then at ABC, called Zirinsky, still at CBS, and cheekily asked for Yeltsin’s private phone number for a piece she wanted to do. Zirinsky shot back, “F*ck, no!” Both women laughed.

When the person who is trying to keep a woman from succeeding happens to be another woman, the situation doesn’t have to ring a gendered alarm. When Christiane Amanpour came to CNN Atlanta in 1983, she was obstructed by her first boss, a female producer who clearly did not like her. Amanpour has spoken of this woman; several others told me about the tension. The two women argued, and people heard them. Yet—maybe because Amanpour could be, as a friend of hers says, so un-self-consciously “in your face” when she disagreed with someone (and almost giddily amused when that brazen tactic worked)—no one called it a catfight. Amanpour later decided to fully commit to war reporting after her time in Bosnia, when her mentor, the war-zone camerawoman Margaret Moth, was gravely injured and Christiane felt morally compelled to “do Margaret’s work for her.” An unpleasant experience with the early female boss did not keep Amanpour from respect- and trust-filled collaborations with other women.

So, in real work life, among the most professionally aggressive women, catfights do not fit their silly, played-out description. In the meantime, we might consider joining instead of clawing.

Sheila Weller is a contributor to Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, and Glamour, and the author of the New York Times bestseller Girls Like Us. Her book, The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour—and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News, is out this month.

ISIS Plotting Subway Attacks in New York City and Paris, Iraqi PM Says

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 10:47 AM PDT

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) plan to attack the subway systems in New York and Paris, Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday, but U.S. security officials said they had no evidence to back up the claim.

Haider al-Abadi told reporters at the United Nations General Assembly that information obtained from militants captured in Iraq yielded “credible” intelligence that the Islamist group is plotting attacks in New York and Paris, Reuters reports. “They plan to have attacks in the metros of Paris and the U.S.,” Abadi said. “I asked for more credible information. I asked for names. I asked for details, for cities, you know, dates. And from the details I have received, yes, it looks credible.”

Two senior U.S. security officials said they had no information to support the threat, and one unnamed U.S. official added there is no recent information about an imminent plan for ISIS to attack the United States. The United States and France have launched intensive airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to weaken and destroy the Sunni extremist group.



Meet the Most Feared People in Liberia

Posted: 25 Sep 2014 10:47 AM PDT

The crowd was waiting — and angry. The minute the Liberian Red Cross convoy pulled in to a tin-roof shantytown huddled at the base of Monrovia’s St. Paul Bridge on the morning of Sept. 24, residents crowded the lead vehicle, clamoring to be heard. The five-vehicle convoy was there to pick up the body of a man who had died the night before with symptoms of Ebola. “Where were you two weeks ago when we called when he had a fever?” demanded one resident. “I’ve been calling every day for an ambulance,” shouted another, brandishing the call log on his mobile phone for proof. He turned to face the crowd: “No one comes when we are sick, only when we are dead.” The residents roared in agreement. One teenager turned his back on the Red Cross team, bent over, and grabbed his buttocks in a sign of contempt. The team supervisor, Friday Kiyee, sighed as he launched into an explanation polished by countless repetitions. “We are the Red Cross Body Management Team. Our job is to pick up dead bodies. We are not responsible for picking up patients and taking them to the hospital. We are only here to pick up the body.” He clapped his hands sharply, a signal for the men on his team to suit up and get to work.

All of the health care workers and other people involved in combatting the Ebola epidemic in Liberia face great risks on the job and the workers on the Red Cross Dead Body Management Team are no exception. The disease is at its most contagious in the hours after death when unprotected contact with the body and its fluids all but guarantees transmission of the deadly virus. Proper disposal of Ebola’s victims is one of the most essential factors in stemming the course of an outbreak that is killing hundreds of people a day in West Africa and threatens to infect up to 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January, according to a worst-case scenario predicted by the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But instead of gratitude, the men tasked with handling the dead acting as collectors, coroners and undertakers for the victims of Ebola face fear and revulsion. In the course of their work they are yelled at, spat at and threatened with rocks. At home, after a long day climbing into and out of stifling biohazard suits, hauling bodies, and bathing in pungent chlorine solution, many of them also face isolation from their friends, family members and neighbors. “No one wants to be near me,” says 29-year-old Nelson Sayon, who has been with the Dead Body Management Team since Ebola came to Monrovia, in June. “They are afraid. They refuse even to take our money if we want to buy something in the store, or eat in a restaurant.”

Each team, of which there are six in Liberia, works six days a week, from nine in the morning to around six at night. They rarely have time for lunch. A typical day starts at a Liberian Red Cross center in downtown Monrovia, where the teams are given their assignments for the day. Early in the morning of Sept. 24 the center was bustling with activity. Workers were mixing buckets of chlorine solution to fill up the backpack sprayers used by disinfectant teams. Others were hauling sacks of Tyvek biohazard suits, rubber gloves, goggles and masks — the foundation of a Body Management Team member’s wardrobe. One man walked by with a cardboard box labeled balanced on his head. Kiyee gathered his team and read out the assignment for the day: district 16, one of the most Ebola-impacted areas of Montserrado County, home to the capital Monrovia, and the epicenter of the outbreak. Before starting their rounds “we pray,” said Sayon, a member of Kiyee’s team. “We pray for guidance, protection, and for God to make Ebola go away.” He also prays for the bodies he is about to collect, he said, because once he starts, he won’t have time to be thinking about the dead. He will be too busy trying to stay alive, making sure that he, and his teammates, are properly covered and routinely disinfected.

The first stop was Babama Junction, where a man named Paul Taylor had succumbed to a high fever the night before. Taylor’s wife, fearful for her own health and terrified of the Ebola stigma, swore that her husband had only been sick a day, and that he couldn’t possibly have had the virus. There was no vomit, she said, when describing his symptoms to Kiyee. No diarrhea, no blood in the mouth — typical signs of Ebola. She begged the team not to take her husband away. She wanted to bury him herself. But there is no rapid test for Ebola, and with every dead body a potential viral bomb, the team can’t take any chances. “We can’t say for sure if a person has Ebola or not,” said Kiyee. “Any person who dies right now is considered a suspected Ebola case, and we have to take the body.” Even if they don’t have proof, the teams have enough experience by now to know the signs. “The people don’t want to accept that their father or mother or wife has Ebola, so they lie [about the symptoms],” said Sayon. “But when we come back again and again to the same house, the same community, we know it’s Ebola, and not asthma or malaria.”

In the early days of the outbreak, the Dead Body Management Teams would help families bury their dead – laying the body six feet deep, under layers of dirt soaked with chlorine spray. But as the numbers of dead increased exponentially, fearful communities began to reject the burials, and the government mandated that all bodies, no matter the cause of death, be cremated.

There were 10 members of Kiyee’s team at the Taylor family home: four men to handle the body, two to disinfect the house before and after the pickup, one to oversee the proper protective gear, and three to run interference with the community. Even as the moon-suited and chlorine-drenched collectors wrestled Taylor’s body into a body bag, Kiyee was out in front of the house, placating the gathered crowd and explaining, once again, his responsibilities. The collectors heaved the body bag into the back of a navy blue pick up while the crowd erupted into a collective howl of grief. The collectors disrobed in ritualized steps: the first layer of gloves, then the hood, the goggles, the face mask, the body suit, and finally the last layer of gloves, all interspersed by liberal sprays of chlorine solution. The convoy reassembled and sped through the community’s mud-slicked roads, chased by residents alternately bidding the body farewell, and cursing the team that had taken a beloved father, brother and husband away.

So it went, a relentless cycle of dressing up, collecting a corpse and undressing, until the pickup was weighed down with 20 bodies in all. So full was the truck that it could not even stop to pick up the body of a man who had died in a roadside market. “We will come back tomorrow,” one of the drivers yelled to the crowd. Then, accompanied by a police escort, the convoy tore down the highway towards a crematorium on the outskirts of town. There, the collected bodies would be burned, unmarked and unmourned, along with the scores of other corpses collected by the Red Cross that day.


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