NPR's Nina Totenberg On What It Was Like To Be The Only Woman In The Newsroom

60th Annual Attorney Generals Awards

How did sources treat you differently than your male colleagues?

The bad news was you weren’t one of the guys so you didn’t chum it up with them and go drinking. The good news was they assumed you were young and stupid. I was young. I wasn’t stupid. They would very often say the most incredible things to me because they weren’t concentrating on the fact that I was concentrating on them.

I probably scored a number of scoops that way. It’s just hilarious. One time I was doing a story about junkets on Capitol Hill. I think Northwest [Airlines] had inaugurated a new line to Japan and Korea. They had taken on their maiden voyage most of the members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which of course controlled regulation of the airline industry.

So I did a bunch of interviews with people who went, and then I asked the people who didn’t go why they didn’t. I remember [Montana Democrat] Mike Mansfield said something of great integrity. He just said, “Don’t do that kind of thing.” But there was a senator, [New Hampshire Republican] Norris Cotton, who said, “Oriental food gives me the trots.” And that was the subhead in the story! It was just too good.

Nina Totenberg, interviewed by Adrienne LaFrance. Nina Totenberg’s tenure at NPR began nearly forty years ago, and since then her voice has become one of the most familiar on public radio. As LaFrance put it, “her work is so well known that NPR even sells a “Nina Totin’ Bag,” which pays homage to the legal affairs correspondent and pokes fun at public broadcasting for its classic pledge-drive gift.” Read more about public radio in the Longreads archive.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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