Let’s start with a counter factual.
Imagine that Rhode Island’s House in the General Assembly had historically been run by a Republican majority. The current speaker of the House, a white man, just won narrow reelection and unanimous reappointment to his leadership position, bringing with him a white male majority leader. The Democrat minority, by contrast, just elected the first female minority in the history of Rhode Island.
The reportage is not difficult to imagine. The headline from every news outlet would be some variant of, “Democrat Minority Elects First Female Leader.” Some reporters might look back in Rhode Island history to see whether any women had ever even bothered to run. Others would look across the country and immediately inform their readers/listeners/viewers of Rhode Island’s position in the race to break the “glass ceiling.”
And yet, the House Republicans just elected Patricia Morgan (Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) to the position — calling her “the first female House Minority Leader” in their press release — and the initial reaction of the local media is very different.
RIPR reporter Ian Donnis does mention this distinction, but phrases it as hearsay. In paragraph 5, he notes that the new Minority Whip, Blake Filippi (Block Island, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown), “believes Morgan is the first female minority leader.” Patrick Anderson doesn’t bother mentioning gender in the Providence Journal blurb.
Look, I think it’s all a phony game to continually make first-[identity group]-[position] proclamations, but the news media clearly does not. If this particular appointment is not a Big Deal™, one really must wonder if the glass ceiling only matters insofar as it’s a branding aid to Democrats.
(Post script: As I prepared to click “publish,” the Associated Press story appearing on WPRI came out headlining Morgan’s gender. That doesn’t change the certainty with which we might expect it to be the very first tweet and headline from every single news source were the parties reversed.)
UPDATE (11/17/16 7:15 a.m.):