Let’s take just a moment to remember what “binders full of women” was before it was a meme. Here’s Gov. Mitt Romney’s exchange with Candy Crowley in the second debate of the 2012 campaign:

CROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?

ROMNEY: Thank you. And important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.

And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are — are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?”

ROMNEY: And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.

I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.

I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.

Now, as then, it is obvious he’s expressing a perfectly rational, even admirable, desire to change his recruiting and hiring process to make sure it includes more women candidates. Romney realized, in his first round of resumes, that his current system for bringing in good people was not capturing the full complement of talented people the state had to offer, and he went about changing that system. It’s exactly what the women’s groups and liberal operatives who made Romney’s clumsy phrasing into a terrible “affront to women” ask businesses and governments to do every day in an attempt to avert institutional or cultural tilts toward male prevalence. In Massachusetts, Romney effectively used the “binders” collected by women’s group, MassGAP to, well, close the gap they wanted closed. Indeed, Romney’s cabinet reflected a higher percentage of women throughout his term than any of the 2012 members of the Democratic Governors Association’s leadership team.

A new study reveals the New York Times might want to gather binders of its own, because its current process of identifying sources is leaving a source pool that does not look like America.

In an analysis of 352 front-page stories from the Times in January and February 2013, we found that Times reporters quoted 3.4 times as many male sources as female sources.

Sources were identified as either male, female or unknown. Unknown were institutions, those only quoted as “spokespersons,” anonymous sources, etc. In total, only 19 percent (or 465 of 2,411) sources were female. The front-page stories were categorized as World, U.S., Politics, Art, Business, DealBook, Education, Health, N.Y./Region, Science, Sports, Style and Technology.

The study authors looked at a couple factors. They studied how the news category of the story affected the number of female sources, whether the author’s gender affected his/her use of women sources, the “usual suspects” pool problem, and whether women are just less likely to want to be sources.

There was no category where reporters quoted more female sources than male sources…

While the discrepancy in sources exists regardless of the reporter’s sex, it is larger in stories written by men…

Jodi Kantor, the Times Washington correspondent who wrote several stories analyzed in UNLV’s project, said some women shy away from being sources.

“I have sometimes found that women — even those who are very accomplished in their fields — are less willing than their male counterparts to speak to reporters,” Kantor said via email.

She has also run into some situations where finding female sources just isn’t an option…

“There’s the issue of more stories, and fewer and fewer people to cover these stories,” she said. “So who has time to go get new sources? Journalists then just default to same five white guys they have had in their Rolodex for years.”


The Poynter suggestion to journalists in tackling discrepancies:

There are resources available to help journalists find female experts.

The OpEd Project connects female experts in all fields to high-level media outlets. SheSource, powered by Women’s Media Center, is a database founded in 2005 with female experts on diverse topics. The POWER Sources Project, founded by Pozner in 2001, also helps reporters find knowledgeable, diverse female sources.

Think of them as online binders.

Might I add that soft-pedaling the desire to caricature every right-of-center viewpoint as solely held by white males might lead to more women and minorities by virtue of acknowledging they exist on the right.

Now, please enjoy the spectacle of the nation’s leading newspaper, whose sources represent men almost four times more often than women, allowing a president, with a history of paying women on his campaign and in his administration less than men, to lambaste Romney for using “binders full of women” to improve representation of women in his cabinet. And scene.

Front-page photo credit to jkfid on Flickr.