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January 14: Nina Totenberg and Esther Kartiganer

January 14, 2016

nina_toten_photo_nt_2400x3000_clr_0Two important Jewish women in broadcasting were born on this date: National Public Radio’s Supreme Court correspondent, Nina Totenberg (shown at left), born in New York in 1944, and 60 Minutes producer Esther Kartiganer, born in Berlin in 1938. Totenberg’s scoops have included Anita Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, which led the Senate Judiciary Committee to reopen Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination hearings. She has been much attacked by rightwing figures and flacks, and has also been honored seven times by the American Bar Association for excellence in legal reporting. Kartiganer, who over the course of twenty-three years produced numerous segments for 60 Minutes and won thirteen Emmy Awards, hit a wall when she produced the 2004 segment that raised questions about President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. Reported by Dan Rather, the segment was broadcast during Bush’s re-election campaign and led to Rather’s resignation and Kartiganer’s reassignment because they had relied on documents that supposedly could not be verified as authentic. Kartiganer ultimately sued CBS for defamation; the case was settled out of court. Kartiganer, a basketball star at Brandeis University, helped advise the women’s and gender studies program at the school and was honored by the creation of the annual Esther Kartiganer Prize for Excellence in Journalism and Women’s and Gender Studies. She died in 2012.

“It’s astounding to me how Nina becomes a lightning rod for other journalists. She is one of the most knowledgeable and aggressive reporters in the business, but whenever she breaks a story, the first reaction in the Washington press corps is, ‘What do you want? She’s sleeping with a justice or someone else.’ No one says these things about any male reporter, many of whom wouldn’t think twice about sleeping with someone to get a story.” —Bill Kovach, “Nina Totenberg: Queen of the Leaks,” Vanity Fair