Does it ever seem like the liberal guests on political talk shows talk less and get interrupted more?
The halting, dominated liberal pundit is something of a cliché in pop culture, from the fake cable segments on 30 Rock to those subversively accurate Tom Tomorrow cartoons. Even putting aside Fox News, which just added to its in-house stable of repentant Democrats by hiring former Senator Evan Bayh, the more balanced debate shows tend to book more conservative guests, as Media Matters has documented, and then give the liberals a harder time.
I was thinking about this while watching the most recent McLaughlin Group, which pioneered today’s political talk. The show was considered brash, fast and revolutionary when it debuted in 1982. (President Reagan once likened it to Animal House, while toasting its influence.) Since then, of course, the show’s style has spread across cable news, along with its star guests like Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O’Donnell. Nowadays, The McLaughlin Group is almost quaint, prioritizing lengthy policy debates over most horse race crap, and teeing up segments with bright fonts reminiscent of a bake sale flyer. The exchanges are still pretty pointed, though, and while everyone brings their A-game, it feels like the liberal guests must fight harder to get a word in. To test that feeling, we counted up interruptions on the last show. It wasn’t even close.
The liberal guests were interrupted seven times.
The conservative guests were never interrupted successfully. (We counted interruptions as cutting in while a guest was talking and preventing them from continuing. An interjection that didn’t stop someone from talking was not counted.)
In terms of the breakdown, four of the interruptions of the liberal guests, Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift and Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, were by the host, John McLaughlin. Then the conservative guests, MSNBC’s Pat Buchanan and radio commentator Monica Crowley, added a few more interruptions of Klein. Clift was able to fight them off—she’s a veteran—and only succumbed to host-interruptions.
Now, the unavoidable critiques to this bloggy exercise are “Who cares?” since there are way important things happening in the world, and “So what, isn’t the McLaughlin Group always an interrupt-a-thon?”
Well, political talk shows have an outsided influence on public debates, so it can matter that a seemingly balanced guest roster is skewed in how guests are treated. As for the second one, yeah, you got us, interruptions are especially intense on the show. In fact, this was a comparitively tame episode. I’ll close with a YouTube mashup someone made of moments in a 2008 show that were almost entirely cross-talk.