It’s still all about the white men. Hillary Clinton’s loss has renewed critiques that American political media is slanted, sexist and dominated by men. While Clinton and Obama broke barriers in the Democratic primary, swiftly dispatching white male Senators with more government experience, the race was still refereed, scored and narrated by white male commentators, an influential constituency in presidential politics. Pundits talked a lot about gender and racial progress during the campaign, of course, but the elite opinion media continues to employ, groom and promote a commentators corps that is disproportionately white and male.
The most traditional location to reach the political establishment, the Washington Post opinion section, is brazenly male-dominated. Seventeen of the 19 columnists are men; only three of the columnists are racial minorities. Guest op-eds could present more voices, but they rarely do. This year, only 12 percent of the Post’s guest pieces came from women, according to a May count by ombudsman Deborah Howell. At the New York Times, eight of the ten weekly columnists are men; one is black. (The Times also recently created a bimonthly graphics column, a post filled by a black commentator.) And in an industry review last year, about one out of four columnists were women at the largest syndicates around the country, according to Editor and Publisher. As Times columnist Nick Kristoff lamented last month, even as reporting staffs diversify, white men dominate American punditry "from newspaper columnists to television talking heads."
The disparity is striking on air. Most anchors, producers and writers in television news are women, according to the Radio and Television News Directors Association, yet the vast majority of prime time hosts, who dominate campaign coverage and frame presidential debates, are white men. That includes all the Sunday morning hosts, all the prime time hosts on MSNBC, and all but one of the prime time hosts on CNN and FOX.
The Democratic primary did briefly boost the diversity of the pundit pool – all those segments about race and gender would have been eerie with the usual lineup. "Both MSNBC and CNN this election season have given new prominence to a handful of contributing commentators from varied backgrounds and perspectives: blacks, Hispanics and women," the Times reported in April. "Whether such moves signal real progress in diversifying the punditocracy or merely reflect the needs of a particular news cycle is the question." And while the networks obviously should not bench diverse commentators until "diversity" is in the news, the booking history for political shows is not encouraging.