HOW AMERICA DOUBLED ITS BRAINPOWER

Richard Reeves

NEW YORK --- This is your basic "bait and switch" column. I am going to begin by talking about the fanciful story that strong and talented women, beginning with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security staffer Samantha Power, have taken over the government and pushed the president of the United States, NATO, the United Nations and the Arab League into trying to overthrow the Libyan gorilla Gadhafi.

That titan of tubby masculinity, Rush Limbaugh, has said this is because the president, his generals and all male advisers are "the new castrati ... sissies!" Therefore, the women of liberalism had to launch a palace coup to save the men. Classic Greek theater, I think.

I am leaving that story now with the thought that we are one lucky and better country to have, in a very short time, almost doubled our talent pool by opening our elite institutions and establishments to women. It seemed impossible only a couple of decades ago that women would be candidates for positions of real power. Of course, they did have to apply a bit of pressure and guile to climb up toward what would come to be called the glass ceiling.

Well, good for us, women and men. Which brings me to National Public Radio, certainly, along with The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News and the Associated Press, among the premier news operations of our times. I choose those institutions over others because they are the most able and most likely to send real, live trained people to all corners of the planet to send back real news, as opposed to ideological spin or slanted, wacko theories. They provide real news, the information we need to survive as a free democracy -- and, frankly, a capitalist monster.

Here is the other side of that opinion, as published in The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, last week. The authors are two co-founders of the Tea Party Patriots, Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin. They put it this way in an article headlined: "NPR is out of step with public":

"NPR has again sparked cries for its defunding after the recent release of an undercover video of Ron Schiller, former president of NPR Foundation, saying there 'just aren't enough elites in this country'....

"We've long known these feelings exist among the well-groomed, well-educated, self-important 'elite' inside the government halls of power, but it's not often we get to hear these sentiments expressed out loud. ... But over the last two years the curtain has slowly been pulled back, and these people have been exposed for what they are: egotistical, arrogant ruling elites who believe the rest of us are just too stupid or backward to 'understand.'"

Well, how did NPR get to be this newsy voice of the elite? To begin with, conservatives inside the dreaded Beltway deregulated commercial radio stations, which had always been required to provide "news" as a public service. They usually complied by offering five-minute news shows at the top of the hour. And some of them were damn good; I grew up with WNEW in New York, and it had good people providing important news -- in a way, the good ones were the Internet news sites of their day.

Well, the conservatives crafted legislation and regulation to get rid of that public service. As commercial news outlets disappeared, Congress decided to put up some money to create National Public Radio -- which was especially important in rural areas without easy access to elite news operations. Frank Mankiewicz, Robert Kennedy's former press secretary, became the president. Now here's the news: Frank wasn't much of a manager -- he spent more than he had -- but he put together a first-class news operation by hiring the people others were not hiring in those days: women.

Linda Wertheimer, Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg, Susan Stamberg. Real talents who never would have had a chance in commercial radio.

And now we have more strong women in the White House as well. They may not always be right -- they may turn out to be wrong in Libya -- but they double the brainpower the United States has in war and peace.

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