The Atlantic Festival Features Women in Washington

September 22, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
Kelly O'Donnell of NBC interviews Delaware Senator Chris Coons at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo courtesy Sen. Chris Coons via Wikipedia Commons)

As part of the kickoff of its four-day festival, the Atlantic Festival featured a panel of women leaders in areas of media, economics, government and more discussing the pandemic’s impact on their professions and America’s future. 

Moderated by staff writers and editors of The Atlantic, the “Women in Washington” panel featured three separate discussions in its one-hour time slot. Starting off with moderator Annie Lowrey, a staff writer for The Atlantic, the first panel featured White House correspondents from CBS News, ABC News and NBC News. 

The panel discussed public misconceptions about what it means to be a White House correspondent. When asked what she wished the American public knew about her job, Weija Jiang from CBS News said that for White House correspondents, “The only thing that we can be truly advocates for is the truth.” 

Echoing Jiang’s sentiment, Kelly O‘Donnell from NBC News said that, “there is a lack of understanding of our role [as correspondents]” and said that although some organizations have an agenda when it comes to reporting from the White House, O’Donnell emphasized that for broadcast networks, “We are not among those [organizations].” 

Further in their discussion, the panelists were asked by Lowrey how often they think about their gender while reporting for their outlets in Washington. 

In response, O’Donnell said that she tries hard not to think to think about her gender when it comes to reporting. “In politics, I don’t want my gender to be an issue. I don’t want my background to be an issue. I think… our life stories give us perspectives… to the stories that we report on Washington.” 

O’Donnell continued saying that despite competing with the other broadcasters for stories “there is a sisterhood” among the women journalists reporting from the White House. 

Pivoting the conversation to the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Lowrey asked the panelists their thoughts about the impact of the late justice’s death and how they are preparing for post-election results. 

In response, Rachel Scott from ABC News said, “This [Justice Ginsburg’s death] is definitely injecting a new sense of uncertainty in an already… chaotic election year.” 

Scott continued saying, in her reporting about the justice’s death, she notes that mourners outside of the Supreme Court, said that “they were disappointed about how quickly [her death] has been politicized.

“To put a conservative on that seat will undoubtedly change what the bench looks like now and will definitely set the tone for future generations,” said Scott. 

The second part of the “Women in Washington” panel featured a conversation between The Atlantic’s senior editor Nora Kelly Lee and Suzanne Clark, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

Lee and Clark discussed the country’s economic recovery amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Clark said that the U.S economy overall has experienced a “K-shaped” recovery process. 

In explaining what she meant, Clark clarified that some industries such as the technology industry have flourished since the start of the pandemic, while others such as the restaurant and hospitality industries have been struggling to stay afloat. 

“Size matters”, Clark noted regarding which industries and sectors will recover from the pandemic. Clark said that those having the means to obtain capital and having the ability to generate revenue during the coronavirus shutdowns influenced who could survive. 

Further into their discussion, Clark focused on how some industries will need help not just from government legislation but also the private sector, noting that small businesses owned by women and minorities have struggled in recent months to receive outside financial support. 

In addition to providing targeted financial support for those most in need, Clark said legislation should be passed in order to protect businesses on a liability front when it comes to debt accumulation and reopenings. 

For the last segment of the “Women in Washington” panel, Lee discussed the topic of women getting elected to office with A’shanti Gholar, President of Emerge, and Nancy Bocskor, President of the Nancy Bocskor Group

When asked if there are common threads connecting women who run for public office, Gholar said in recent years with Emerge, “What we’ve seen since 2016 on the Democratic side is… after the November election, lots of women woke up and they said ‘Ok, if not Hillary, then who? Then me, it has to be me. I have to be the one who has to step up and change my community.’” 

Gholar went on to explain that since 2018, Emerge has helped candidates flip seats “in all levels of government.” According to Emerge’s website, 415 seats were won by candidates who were a part of the Emerge network. 

When asked what Emerge does to help its members run for office, Gholar said that Emerge “demystifies” the process of running for office and helps them learn everything from how to get on ballots, to financing their campaigns, to social media strategies and more. 

Towards the end of the discussion, Lee asked Bocskor about women running for Congress, and Bocskor responded by saying that, “… I think we will continue to see more women step up on that local level…. That old saying ‘All politics is local.’ That’s where you start developing that firm foundation to run for bigger offices.” 

To see the “Women in Washington” panel in its entirety, the broadcast can be viewed online. The “Women in Washington” panel was underwritten by sponsor ExxonMobil.

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