The pundits and the guests on the major Sunday talk shows still to tend to come in three basic flavors: right, male and pale, according to a new study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Despite a few diversity tweaks here and there, the “Sabbath gasbag” shows (as Calvin Trillin has dubbed them) have been that way for decades. Major corporations—like GE, BP or Conoco Phillips—sponsor them in order to reach their most coveted audience—corporate-friendly, inside-the-Beltway players, who tend to tilt right-of-center. What’s different this time, however, is that two truly “liberal media” alternatives—Up with Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry—have hit the Sunday circuit.
First, though, the devilish details from FAIR. The liberal media watchdog group monitored the four main Sunday shows—ABC’s This Week, NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday—for eight months, from June 2011 through February 2012, and found:
Of one-on-one interviews, 70 percent of partisan-affiliated guests were Republican. Those guests were overwhelmingly male (86 percent) and white (92 percent).
The broader roundtable segments weren’t much more diverse: 62 percent of partisan-affiliated guests were Republican. More broadly, guests classified as either Republican or conservative far outnumbered Democrats or progressives, 282 to 164. The roundtables were 71 percent male and 85 percent white.
U.S. government sources—current officials, former lawmakers, political candidates, party-affiliated political operatives and campaign advisers—dominated the Sunday shows overall (47 percent of appearances). Following closely behind were journalists (43 percent), most of whom were middle-of-the-road Beltway political reporters.
“Middle-of-the-road Beltway journalists made 201 appearances in roundtables,” FAIR adds, “which serves to buttress the argument that corporate media’s idea of a debate is conservative ideologues matched by centrist-oriented journalists.”
OK, but the period measured was all about the Republican primaries, so, one might figure, the shows’ deep-red hue is understandable. But, FAIR points out, in 2003 and 2004, when it was all about the Democratic primaries, the Sunday talk shows still leaned right. Citing a Media Matters study of Sunday shows, FAIR writes that in 2003 a “tally of ideologically identifiable guests, both one-and-one and roundtable, favored Republicans/conservatives (57 percent) over Democrats/progressives (43 percent). The following year the breakdown was again Republican-heavy, 56 percent to 44 percent.”
Anyway, the GOP primaries don’t explain the dearth of women and nonwhite guests. “Women were just 29 percent of roundtable guests,” FAIR says. “The ethnic diversity was similarly woeful: 85 percent white and 11 percent African-American, with 3 percent Latino. Other ethnicities made up an additional 2 percent of roundtable guests.”
FAIR’s Peter Hart (not the democratic pollster Peter Hart) writes: “Even when the shows attempted more balance, the Democrats and left-leaning guests tend to be of a more moderate variety than the Republicans (Extra!, 9/10). Juan Williams—who, by the criteria of this study, counts as a left-leaning voice (but see Extra!, 3/12)—was on twenty-four Fox News Sunday broadcasts. As FAIR has argued (Extra!, 9–10/01), it’s likely that the politically connected corporations who sponsor these shows prefer a center/right spectrum of debate that mostly leaves out strong progressive voices who might raise a critique of corporate power.” (Voices like Paul Krugman or The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel, both of whom have appeared on the network Sunday shows more frequently in recent years.)