On today's op-ed page, former Portfolio editor Joanne Lipman declares in definitive terms that the women's movement "has stalled" and that attitudes towards women "have taken a great leap backward."
True? Maybe -- although her sweeping generalizations about women often sound out of tune with reality. She calls reports of advances for women in recent years "spectacularly misleading," without explaining why.
But Lipman's piece -- a whiny, disorganized and poorly-argued mess called "The Mismeasure Of Woman" -- also makes use of several false and misleading statements to make her ill-considered point.
Lipman begins with some recollections of her time at the Wall Street Journal, a passage riddled with inaccuracies:
After graduation, when I first joined The Wall Street Journal, I could count the number of female reporters there on one hand. The tiny ladies’ room was for guests. The paper was written by men, for men. It didn’t even cover industries that were relatively female-friendly, like publishing, advertising and retailing. When the newspaper finally did introduce coverage of those sectors a few years later, most male reporters weren’t interested. So we women stepped up.
Lipman must have quite a handful of fingers. In fact, the Wall Street Journal had a significant number of women reporters throughout the 1970s and 1980s -- including ones who covered banking, commodities, food, broadcasting, the stock market, and Hollywood. By the time Lipman arrived in 1983, the WSJ had been covering publishing, advertising and retailing -- highly coveted beats -- for years, with both men and women. And it had plenty of ladies' rooms, too.
You doubt us? Just ask around the NYT. Plenty of former WSJ reporters and editors worked there in the 1980s and will confirm that Lipman's statement is deeply, totally false. Start with managing editor Jill Abramson or business editor Larry Ingrassia.
Lipman then claims that women "gained respect" at the WSJ only in 1996, when Alix Freedman won the national reporting Pulitzer for her coverage of the tobacco industry.
What about in 1983, when the WSJ's Manuela Hoelterhoff won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism? Oh wait -- Lipman was still at Yale. What she doesn't know doesn't matter.
When Lipman gets around to her more recent achievements, she dismisses them as rare blips on the radar screen.
She describes herself as "one of the few women to have run a major business magazine." -- not bothering to note that there are only a few major business magazines.
Even so, Lipman might have mentioned Jane Amsterdam, the founding editor of Manhattan Inc., one of the nation's most respected business magazines before it folded in 1990. Amsterdam was hired for that job in 1984, more than two decades before Lipman became the editor of Portfolio. Or Katrina Heron, the editor of Wired from 1997 to 2001. Women haven't yet achieved parity with men on the magazine front, but Lipman is hardly a pioneer.
Lipman saves her most outrageously inaccurate assertion for last.
"My career was recently summed up in a New York magazine article as leggy," Lipman writes caustically, as though that single-handedly set the woman's movement back by twenty years. This seems an odd argument from a writer who, a few paragraphs later, advises women: "Don't be afraid to be a girl."
But anyway, it's not even true. Here's what Steve Fishman actually wrote in New York Magazine last April:
S. I. Newhouse Jr., chairman of Condé Nast, falls in love with his editors. His romance with Joanne Lipman began over lunch at his U.N. Plaza apartment, with its beige carpets—no red wine allowed—and paintings by Warhol, de Kooning, Cézanne. Lipman, 47 years old, who’d spent her entire career at The Wall Street Journal, is a serious journalist with a serious mien, and long legs, which she likes to show off with short-skirted power suits. Lipman is “attractive,” in Newhouse’s vernacular—“He uses the word like others use the word spiritual,” says a former editor. The two brainstormed at a small dining-room table. Newhouse, in his standard worn New Yorker sweatshirt, told her he had an idea for a business magazine. Newhouse didn’t say much more; he rarely does. He asks questions. But Lipman excitedly filled in the details.
Anyone who thinks that sentence -- or even that paragraph -- sums up Lipman's career as "leggy" just can't read.
Which, now that we think of it, may explain the failure of Portfolio, a magazine that proved to have no legs at all.