Male To The Chief: Where Are TV’s Women Chief White House Correspondents?

By Alissa Krinsky 

Alissa Krinsky
TVNewser Contributor

Sam Donaldson thinks “it’s a big deal.”

Ann Compton calls it “a quirk of the moment.”

Andrea Mitchell finds it “unusual.”

All the major TV nets and cablers – ABC, CBS, NBC/MSNBC, CNN, FNC – have male Chief White House Correspondents.

Is this significant? Or a fluke hardly worth discussing?

After all, it’s “against the odds that all five are men right now,” says ABC News Radio’s Compton, who in 1974 became the first woman network TV correspondent assigned full-time to cover the White House, and who recently served as President of the White House Correspondents’ Association. “It certainly has not been the case over the last couple of years.”

Compton is referring to former Chiefs like ABC’s Martha Raddatz, and before her, CBS’s Rita Braver and NBC’s Mitchell.

Things have come a long way for women covering 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “For many, many years, it was pretty lonely,” Compton says, with very few female reporters in the White House press corps.

But the women who tackled the assignment did so without trepidation.

ABC’s Donaldson covered Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. His last day as a full-time ABC employee was Friday. He recalls CBS’s “tough” Lesley Stahl at a rope line press gaggle during the Reagan years.

“We were all pushing and shoving to get up front,” he explains, “[and] all of a sudden, I became aware of something on my back! Lesley had hurled herself [on his back]…that woman is a determined woman, and she was determined to get up there [to the front], and my goodness…she asked her questions, and I admired that.”

Decades later, women are, of course, commonplace in the White House press corps. That’s why Donaldson says the lack of female Chiefs is likely not deliberate, and “doesn’t really tell the story of where the trend is.”

That said, Mitchell — who covered the Clinton administration for NBC and is now the network’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and anchor of an hour-long weekday program on MSNBC — feels the current situation may be indicative of a broader issue. “I do believe that there should be more women on all of the major beats,” she says. “I’d also like to see women have a chance to anchor more of our broadcasts and take leadership positions in managing our news organization.”

Compton also “lament[s] the fact that there are still very few minorities” in the White House press corps, a topic recently explored by the Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz.

Mitchell is a believer, too, in “a more varied press corps.”

“I think it is good,” she says, “to have as much diversity as possible, especially in journalism.”