Editors often point to their e-mail inbox to show that the hurdle lies with women, who account for a smaller percentage of op-ed submissions than men. Ruth Marcus, one of two female staff columnists at the Post, believes it is women's reluctance to speak out, rather than "male chauvinist editors." It's a variation on what the Brookings Institution calls the "ambition gap."
However, we agree with Ms. Howell, whose analysis of the Post's op-ed imbalance blamed the numbers on the "tradition" of hiring white men to write and the failure of more women and people of color to submit. Overall, the figures on women syndicated opinion writers have been locked under 25 percent for years now. At the Post, 17 of their 19 weekly or biweekly columnists are men. This pattern is repeated in many major publications in the United States.
It's important to make this distinction between the writers a newspaper hires to give their take on the world and those people who may submit an op-ed or two a year on subjects in their area of expertise. [Editor's note: The Christian Science Monitor's Opinion page does not have columnists. Women account for 30 percent of oped contributors so far in 2008.]
A publication's staffed opinion writers' pool is a better instrument to judge its fairness, its dedication to diversity. A paper's roster of staff writers reflects its assessment of who is qualified to interpret the world. Using that rule, we must deduce that mainstream media believe men to be far more capable of analytical, reasoned thought. The responsibility for hiring smart, gifted writers of both sexes and all colors and viewpoints belongs to the editors – and it is their failure when they don't.