Tony Woodlief | Author

Why Journalists Fail

Let me run a theory about men and women by you. Your job is to tell me if you think the New York Times would print it:

The reason that women economically outperform men—women in their 20s outearn their male counterparts, and hold well over half the jobs in many of the nation’s fastest growing professions—is because they are well-suited to bureaucratic, care-taking roles. The professions where they predominate are health care assistance jobs—what were once “nurses” and “secretaries.” Women tend to do well in mid-level, corporate fields, which are increasingly the loci of bureaucracy and unoriginal thought in corporate America. Care-takers by nature, women are simply best-suited for jobs in which they follow well-established routines while taking directions from people at the very top.

(A note to my friends at Cato—the foregoing is a hypothetical offered to illustrate a point about the lack of analytical rigor among some current popular writers. Please don’t quote it in Salon as proof that I’m a woman-hating troglodyte.)

So, do you think that paragraph would pass muster at the Times? How about the Atlantic Monthly?


Well, consider David Brooks’s musings in the New York Times, in an essay titled “Why Men Fail,” as he trots out ideas from “The End of Men” theorist Hanna Rosin, who first began her gender speculations in The Atlantic:

“Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one…Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid…

“She’s just saying women are adapting to today’s economy more flexibly and resiliently than men…

“Men still adhere to the masculinity rules, which limits their vision and their movement.”

If you break down the job performance data Brooks offers to substantiate Rosin’s hypotheses, its primarily that women have more jobs in health care professions, and a study by the National Federation of Independent Business supposedly showing that “small businesses owned by women outperformed male-owned small businesses during the last recession.”

When you actually look at the NFIB study, however, you see that the number of women-owned businesses did indeed grow faster, but they had lower survival rates, lower sales, and fewer employees. If we count the establishment of an enterprise as “success,” Brooks is indeed right. But if we count things like earning money and selling stuff, not so much.

As for Hanna Rosin, if a male writer wanted to “analyze” gender differences by using a combination of misleading statistics about women, unscientific snapshots of particular men who seem like real go-getters, and musings about how men are adaptive and resilient and possess greater vision, he’d rightly get slapped down for shoddy thinking and poor journalism. What say in the interest of gender equality we hold Rosin to the same standard?

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