For anyone who watches the Sunday shows on network television, one thing has been clear for a number of years: men do most of the talking. That fact, based on new numbers from Media Matters for America, has now prompted a group of women’s organizations to write a letter to the six network and cable news heads that says in part:
“There are qualified women to speak on issues affecting all Americans, including national security, economic growth, climate change, education and many others. But when it comes to reproductive health, equal pay, and other subjects disproportionately affecting women, it becomes increasingly imperative that Sunday political talk shows reflect our democracy. This is particularly important since these shows frequently set the tone for how these topics are covered later in the week. We urge you to take action in the short term to correct this oversight in booking guests, and we hope you will take greater action in the future to ensure that Sunday political talk shows are the place for discussions and debate that more accurately reflect the demographics of our diverse nation. We are glad to meet with you to offer constructive solutions to change these numbers.”
The letter was signed by two dozen women’s organizations.
New numbers from Media Matters For America, basically show a flat line over the last five years for women’s representation on the big four Sunday news shows–ABC’s “This Week,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Fox Broadcasting Co.’s “Fox News Sunday,” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” (Full disclosure, I’ve been on these shows before, and yes, the hosts and the guests are predominantly men. But I’ve always had the sense that there is a desire to remedy this imbalance. Yet, there are legitimate structural reasons that makes that hard, which we will get into later.)
First, the numbers: According to Media Matters, which is a media watchdog group that leans left, women make up 25 percent of total guests and accounted for 15 percent of solo interview guests. And the top 10 list of solo interviewees is all men.
And just who actually makes it onto these shows? There are basically two types, which broadly fall into the category of experts and insiders. Lawmakers (and former lawmakers) and reporters. (When I was on Meet the Press a few Sundays ago, I was on a panel with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, former House speaker-turned-TV host Newt Gingrich, and former congressman Harold Ford. But enough about me. )
Let’s focus on lawmakers and White House policy insider types first. They get on for a variety of reasons. Maybe they are in leadership (likely a man, but increasingly women in the Senate). And often producers will go to House and Senate leadership aides to ask who would be a good featured talker on a given Sunday. (Shout out to my colleague Paul Kane for this info). As for the White House, it is likely a combination of the same sorts of forces at work–producers and hosts have relationships with certain people and/or the White House wants to put a particular person out there, for whatever reason. And let’s face it, there’s just not much gender diversity in those top jobs at the White House. Media Matters cites the Nation Women’s Political Caucus, which reported that in 2013 women made up 18.3 percent of Congress, a number which was slightly up from 2008, when women were 17 percent of Congress.
As for reporters, it’s the same story. The pool of woman reporters at top news organizations, overall, on top, high profile beats –White House, Congress, foreign policy, campaigns, national security–is simply smaller than the pool of men. That’s just a fact. For the last decade there’s been a glass ceiling in terms of women’s representation in the country’s newsrooms–it’s stuck at 38 percent.
In chatting up producers and hosts of these shows, it is clear that there is the desire to do better, because diversity–whether it’s gender, race, age–is likely good for ratings (a constant topic) and good for business and the bottom line.