Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, shoutout to Barbara Walters on the occasion of her last official week on the air. Her Friday appearance on "The View," the talk show she founded, is scheduled to be her last regular appearance on a broadcast. Well, we could certainly spend the next few minutes paying tribute to her for all the juicy scoops she's landed and all the glass ceilings she has busted. What I really want to do is point out what her life story has to do with another ongoing story - the plight of those kidnapped Nigerian girls, whose ordeal enters its fourth week. At which point you ask, what do the experiences of a superrich American broadcasting star have to do with all those girls from one of the poorest and most volatile parts of Nigeria?

Can I just tell you? Barbara Walters is important not just for her work, but for what she made of it - not least the fact that she made sure she got paid for it. Her decision to leave NBC for ABC in 1976, a front-page story at the time, made her not only the first woman co-anchor ever to present the evening news at a major network, but also, it was reported at the time, the world's highest paid newscaster. This stands out even now, as women continue to earn lower pay for doing the same jobs as men, even when they have the same credentials. The Economic Policy Institute just issued another study about this recently, showing that this divergence starts at the earliest stages of a woman's work life.

Now, there's all kinds of reasonable debate about why that is. Is it because women have a confidence gap or take more time off for family? But it cannot be ignored. It matters because women are heading up more households, either because they choose not to marry or are widowed or divorced or are single parents or - and sometimes and - supporting elderly parents and other relatives. Every dollar women don't get that would be theirs if they were men is a dollar that isn't buying schoolbooks or paying the salary of a caregiver or going into a retirement fund.

At one point, Barbara Walters was doing all of those things - supporting relatives, raising a child on her own. And as she said in her memoir, she knew she had to earn enough to do all those things. And she was ridiculed and resented for it. The research shows this often happens to women who stand up for themselves in professional negotiations. This researcher was recently reported by my NPR colleague Shankar Vedantam on Morning Edition in a series on women and work. And I thought that's interesting how, lo and behold, just this week I got a letter saying, and I quote, that I am often, "too crisp and self-assured on the air." And trust me when I say this was not meant as a compliment. Does anybody criticize my male colleagues for being self-assured? Maybe. But I don't think so.

Now, what does this have to do with those kidnapped the Nigerian girls? Many of our colleagues in the media, but most notably Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, have pointed out that extremists and fanatics target girls' schools because, quote, "there is no force more powerful to transform a society, and the greatest threat to extremism is girls reading books," unquote. Kristof says it's in part because educated women have fewer children. But more broadly it's because girls' education doubles the formal labor force, raising living standards and promoting more productive development, which in turn creates a cycle that offers fewer justifications for extremism and fewer angry people with a lot of time on their hands to carry it out.

Economists call this a virtuous cycle, but that cycle, even in the most-developed economies is not complete until women cannot only compete fairly in the labor force if they so choose, but be compensated appropriately when they deliver. I'd say Barbara Walters delivered, and I say thank you. And to the person who said I am too crisp and self-assured, I will simply say, thank you to you, too. I take it as a compliment.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Tune in for more talk tomorrow.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues