The Biases of Sunday Political Talk Shows

OK, admit it all you political junkies. With 10 million other viewers, you watch the Sunday morning political talk shows such as Meet the Press, George Stephanopoulos or you try to catch Face the Nation on CBS and maybe look for the repeat of Chris Mathew’s show later on MSNBC. Not that one can’t find enough politics from the Web, there are a lot of you spending a perfectly good Sunday morning with Tim Russert, a cup of coffee and the Sunday Denver Post. Several local stories have broken on these shows, too: Sen. Ken Salazar was first mentioned as a potential Democratic vice-presidential candidate and Denver was declared winner of the Democratic National Convention months before the official announcement.

But have you noticed something? Aren’t there a lot of white middle-aged conservative Republican men on these shows like Sen. Lindsey Graham or George Will? Where are the Democrats, let alone the Progressives and where are the women? They are all still a minority on Sunday political talk shows.

“If It’s Sunday, It’s Still Conservative” is a report by Media Matters for America that has been tracking the guests on Sunday political shows. The findings are Republicans have been guests on these talk shows 62 percent of the time in the past two years. Even though the Democrats took over Congress and the U.S. Senate, they are still the minority party on Sunday at 37 percent face time.

From the study by Media Matters for America:

The report analyzed ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, classifying each of the more than 2,000 guests in 2005 and 2006 as well as guests since the 2006 midterm elections by party and/or ideology.

It follows on last year’s report, “If It’s Sunday, It’s Conservative,” which analyzed more than 7,000 guests on the Sunday shows during the Clinton and Bush presidencies and found a Republican-conservative tilt during both administrations. As the new findings demonstrate, despite some improvement, considered as a whole the Sunday shows still don’t offer a full range of diverse view to the public.

Speaking of Tim Russert, a newsman whose reputation was severely impacted by the Scooter Libby Trial, his Meet the Press program was given the worst review:

Meet the Press made no improvement in the balance of total guest appearances during the 109th congress (2005-2006) and after the 2006 elections. During those periods, the show granted the vast majority of its solo interviews to Republicans and conservatives at a rate of nearly 2 to 1 and has provided less balance between Republican and Democratic officials than Fox New Sunday.

And where are women guests, regardless of their political leanings? Only 11% of the Sunday talk show guests are women the non-profit organization, The White House Project, noted.

Although women represent half the population, apparently they are not part of the political structure according to Sunday political talk shows.

From the The White House Project report:

Our comprehensive review of these programs suggests that while the topics and areas of expertise of the guests may differ, one factor remains constant: the vast majority of guests are white and male….

1. Women represented only 11% of all guest appearances on the Sunday shows – only 10% of guest appearances when presidential and vice-presidential candidates are included in the data calculus;

2. Women guests are even less often repeat guests than men. Of all the repeat guests, only 7% are women (6% including presidential and vice presidential candidates);

3. Added cumulatively, there were 245 repeat guest appearances by male U.S. Senators and 8 by female U.S. Senators;

4. Women guests spoke fewer words than men by 10%, and were slightly more likely to be in less prominent later segments of the shows;

5. In every category of speaker and on every topic, women were under-represented in terms of the available pool of speakers, experts, and elected officials.

What’s the solution to homogenizing the guest list on Sunday talk shows beyond throwing Nerf balls at the TV screen? To start, try writing to MSNBC to suggest replacing Tim Russert with Donna Brazille.

Sunday morning political groupies–what are your suggestions?

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Leslie Robinson

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