May 9, 2019
Why the Media Should Focus on All Women in Office—Not Just AOC
L-R) Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa), and Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) join with other newly elected members of the House of Representatives for an official class photo of new House members at the U.S. Capitol on November 14, 2018. Win McNamee/Getty Images
Heard of Chrissy Houlahan? Of course not. Does the name Debbie Mucarsel-Powell ring a bell? Probably not. Veronica Escobar, Angie Craig, Jahana Hayes… never heard of them. But you’ve definitely heard of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezand Rep. Ilhan Omar. All seven were women elected to Congress in 2018 for the first time, yet only two seem to get any attention. The question is why.
If you’re Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar, your opinion on everything is covered, from the Green New Deal to Venezuela to whether or not to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt. But if you’re Elaine Luria or Elissa Slotkin, getting someone to notice you, much less interview you, isn’t going to be so easy. Or at least it seems that way.
To test this, I looked at the number of Google hits each Democratic female freshman representative gets with the prefix “Rep.” in front, so Katie Hill and Katie Porter aren’t mistaken for someone else, with the names in quotes. And it’s not too hard to see who’s getting all of the attention.
Rep. Ilhan Omar leads the way with 2.777 million Google hits, followed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with 2.58 million Google hits. Combined, these two ladies get more than 81.5 percent of all of the coverage that the others get. The next two, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (who usually makes the news defending Omar) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, combined, get more than 500,000 Google hits. The other 31 freshmen Democratic women elected to Congress account for less than 10 percent of the remaining Google attention combined.
It’s not as if these other women don’t have intriguing background stories. They have exciting pre-Congressional careers, ranging from business executives and CIA agents to doctors, USAF officers and mixed-martial artists. There are all kinds of trailblazers, from the first African-American elected to a district, or even in the state, the first Ecuadoran-American and Native Americans making history. They’re like an army of Captain Marvels. But somehow, those intriguing stories just get ignored.
And it’s not like these women are sitting around Capitol Hill doing nothing. Each is busy working on issues of interest and help to the country, whether you agree with the issue or not. You can find Rep. Cynthia Axne focused on flood relief, and Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota trying to improve bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. Rep. Sharice Davids is trying to lower prescription drug prices, while Rep. Madeleine Dean is covering exposure to toxic chemicals. You’ll find Rep. Veronica Escobar hard at work on immigration reform, and Rep. Abby Finkenauer focused on biodiesel. Worried about rising sea levels and chemical fires? So are Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Sylvia Garcia.
Then there’s Rep. Debra Haaland, hard at work on unifying National Heritage Areas, while Rep. Jahana Hayes is handling the arming teachers battle. Rep. Katie Hill is trying to reform health care, while Rep. Kendra Horn is on the case for net neutrality. Climate change is on Rep. Chrissy Houlahan’s radar, while Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is studying the Douglas, Arizona port of entry. Rep. Susie Lee is focused on school funding, while Rep. Elaine Luria wants Gold Star family tax issue reform. Rep. Lucy McBath wants changes to gun laws, while Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell wants green infrastructure projects. Rep. Katie Porter is locking horns with Wall Street executives, as Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon tries to save Boeing jobs in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
Climate bills are what Rep. Kim Schrier is tackling, among other subjects, as fellow Rep. Donna Shalala returns to politics from academia, looking into cigarettes and age requirements. Rep. Mikie Sherrill is trying to protect Planned Parenthood, while Rep. Elissa Slotkin is zeroing in on the ALERT Act and Russian interference. There’ll be improvements in rural broadband if Rep. Abigail Spanberger can get the legislation through Congress. Reform will come to military courts if Rep. Haley Stevens has her say; Rep. Xochitl Torres Small has Homeland Security concerns on her to do list; and Rep. Lori Trahan is trying to help the Merrimack River region. Rep. Lauren Underwood hopes to call attention to business security, while rising costs of diabetes medication has come under scrutiny thanks to Rep. Jennifer Wexton. And Rep. Susan Wild is looking for new ways to provide pay equity.
So why is there this lack of attention?
You could blame Republicans for focusing all of their attacks on Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, making the two of them the face of the Democratic Party. By the way, there were two women elected as Republicans as part of the freshmen class of 2018, and the Google hits for both (Rep. Debbie Lesko and Rep. Carol Miller) are as small as most of the Democratic women in Congress. You might chide the Democratic Party for not putting more of these faces forward as the future of the party.
But some of the reason for this disparity in attention has to go to the news media. It’s easier to seek out the same candidates, and get their take on every issue, than it is to research these 30 or more women in Congress and find out what they think. Their views also may not be as extreme, and most seem to be a pretty bipartisan bunch seeking solutions over controversy. I suppose some reading this article will blame the women for not doing more to call attention to themselves. But does a politician deserve more attention for saying the most outlandish things, or for getting the job done?
Perhaps that thinking should change. And that’s why I did this analysis and researched all of those articles, hyperlinking them for your convenience, and maybe pointing out for others in the media that there’s more than just the same two or four women who joined Congress last year. Hopefully this data will change that thinking about a fair share of coverage.