Journalists commonly drop any hint of skepticism when a study
seems to affirm their view of the world. The latest example: a
report from the National Committee on Pay Equity claiming to
demonstrate an unconscionable gap between the earnings of men and
women in the U.S.
Katie Couric introduced viewers to the study, which had been
trumpeted in Glamour magazine, on the April 11 Today: "Glamour
magazine has designated today as Ask Your Boss for a Raise Day
because today, three and a half months into 1997, marks the day when
women's earnings finally catch up to what a man made in 1996, which
Couric, after announcing that "this month's Glamour says it's
time for women to get greedy, or really seek parity," interviewed
Jill Herzig, a senior editor of Glamour. Herzig claimed that "for
the last decade women have earned 71 cents for every dollar a man
earns doing exactly the same work, and over a 30-year typical career
span that adds up to a quarter of a million dollars, a huge amount
of money. And this disparity exists in almost any field you can
name. For example, on an assembly line a woman earns $306 doing
exactly the same job that a man earns $396 for."
Instead of challenging her guest, Couric restated Herzig's point:
"And it's important to point out this is less pay for the very same
That evening, ABC's World News Tonight displayed the same lack of
skepticism about the study. "From an organization called the
National Committee on Pay Equity today, a study on how salaries
compare for men and women," began Peter Jennings. "It says that in
order to earn what the average man earned last year, 1996, the
average woman has had to go on working through the first three
months and two weeks of this year, including today. Put another way,
last year women earned only 71 cents of what men made and it hasn't
changed in five years."
But the Independent Women's Forum last year released its own
analysis of the differences in pay between men and women.
"Occupation, seniority, absenteeism, and intermittent work-force
participation are all critical variables in accounting for pay
disparities," the IWF found. "In other words, those who assume that
discrimination is solely to blame for wage differences are drawing
The IWF found that "over time, women's wages have been steadily
rising relative to men's wages" and "that, among people ages
twenty-seven to thirty-three who have never had a child, women's
earnings are close to 98 percent of men's." The study quotes
economist June O'Neil: "When earnings comparisons are restricted to
men and women more similar in their experience and life situations,
the measured earnings differentials are typically quite small."
By ignoring the IWF's points, Couric and Jennings failed to give
the full picture of women's pay.