As she prepares to relinquish power, Nancy Pelosi believes not enough attention has been paid to her role as the first woman to hold the post of Speaker of the House. “I was the first woman speaker,” Pelosi tells the New York Times. “It didn't get that much play. And I'm not a publicity seeker, so it was OK with me.”
“Boehner, before the election, they had him on the cover of Newsweek,” Pelosi continues. “Now, he's on the cover of Time, and women are coming to me and saying, 'Is the job less important when women hold it?'”
It is true that Pelosi was not on the cover of the two newsweeklies when Democrats took control of the House in 2006. But is it true that Pelosi's ascent to the Speaker's chair “didn't get that much play”? Did she not receive as much attention when she became Speaker as John Boehner has after the Republicans' victory on November 2? A survey of the Nexis database of newspaper, magazine, Internet, and television news reports suggests Pelosi has it wrong.
Between November 1, 2006 and November 15, 2006, Nexis shows 6,447 mentions of “Nancy Pelosi” in various news media. Between November 1, 2010 and November 15, 2010, Nexis shows 5,349 mentions of “John Boehner.” Not only did Pelosi's election get plenty of play — it got more than Boehner's.
As for the issue of Pelosi's historic position as first woman Speaker, there's no way to compare her and Boehner. But it's hard to support Pelosi's contention that her election “didn't get that much play.” A Nexis search between September 1, 2006 until March 1, 2007 reveals 1,138 examples of articles, television programs and other news reports that used the words “Pelosi” and “first woman Speaker.” And that doesn't cover all the mentions of Pelosi's gender. Reporters were also fond of using the phrase “Madam Speaker,” as in “A Shift in Power, Starting with 'Madam Speaker,'” which appeared on the front page of the New York Times on January 24, 2007, and “Madam Speaker: What Does Pelosi Mean for Woman?” on ABC's “Good Morning America” on January 5, 2007, Pelosi's first full day as Speaker. It's hard to imagine that any reader, listener, or viewer even casually following the news would not have heard reports mentioning Pelosi's role as the first woman Speaker.
So Pelosi got lots of attention in late 2006 and early 2007, even though there were crises at the time — a war going tragically wrong in Iraq, for example — that also demanded coverage. As for the newsweeklies, perhaps Pelosi should be grateful she did not receive cover treatment like Newsweek's highly critical “How the Gingrich Stole Christmas!” cover after Newt Gingrich led Republicans to a historic takeover of the House in 1994. And of course Pelosi can take some satisfaction from the fact that one of those newsweeklies is nearly dead and the other is widely thought to be irrelevant. Something can be big news even if it's not on their covers.