Study: Few Blacks Seen on Talk Shows
Most Visits by Officials Such as Rice

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 31, 2005

Only 8 percent of the guests on the major Sunday morning talk shows over the past 18 months were African Americans, with three people accounting for the majority of those appearances, according to a new study by the National Urban League.

Black guests -- newsmakers, the journalists who questioned them and experts who offered commentary -- appeared 176 times out of more than 2,100 opportunities, according to the study, which is scheduled for release today. But 122 of those appearances were made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, and Juan Williams, a journalist and regular panel member on "Fox News Sunday."

"There's very clearly a division, an exclusion," said Stephanie J. Jones, executive director of the Urban League Institute, who initiated the study, "Sunday Morning Apartheid: a Diversity Study of the Sunday Morning Talk Shows."

"I watch these shows regularly," she said. "I just started to notice after a while, week after week after week, that there were no African Americans on them. I saw people talking about issues, even though they didn't have a particular expertise."

The study analyzed NBC's "Meet the Press," ABC's "This Week," CBS's "Face the Nation," Fox television's "Fox News Sunday" and CNN's "Late Edition." It found that more than 60 percent of the programs that aired during the 18-month period had no black guests. "Meet the Press," the talk show with the largest number of viewers, had no black guests on 86 percent of its broadcasts, the study said.

Network officials said they rely on guests who are newsmakers, most of whom are white men in the top echelons of government.

" 'Face the Nation' is a public affairs broadcast committed to booking the top newsmakers of the day," said Donna Dees, a CBS News spokeswoman. "Each week the broadcast strives to book guests who provide diverse opinions on the news topic of the day."

Barbara Levin, senior communications director for NBC News, said that "Meet the Press" interviews "the same newsmakers who dominate the front pages and op-ed pages of every newspaper in America, including The Washington Post."

Studies have shown poor minority representation in newspapers. A 2002 study by the Poynter Institute, "News and Race: Models of Excellence," cited research that news about minorities accounts for 5 to 7 percent of all content, even though African Americans and Latinos represent more than 30 percent of the U.S. population.

In 2004, the organization Unity: Journalists of Color released a study showing that 90 percent of the reporters in the Washington press corps are white. Unity leaders called the finding "inexcusable."

Newspaper editors acknowledged the need to improve minority representation in the capital press corps, and expressed a commitment to do so.

A spokesman for Fox declined to comment on the Urban League study, and representatives of CNN and ABC did not return calls for comment.

The three major television networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- have been criticized by other groups for lack of diversity in news and prime-time programming. In 1999, the NAACP launched a campaign to get more non-white characters on television after noting the paucity of minorities on hit shows such as "Friends" and "Seinfeld," both set in New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world.

Williams, a senior correspondent for National Public Radio and an analyst for Fox News Sunday, is the only African American who appears regularly on a Sunday morning talk show. "I don't go anywhere in the country without people saying, 'Thank God you're there,' " he said. "They say they watch for that reason."

Sunday shows interview the most powerful people, Williams said, and African Americans often do not fit the bill. "The ideal guest is the president of the United States," he said.

Race normally is not discussed unless there is a crisis, Williams said. Once, when he raised the idea of discussing black comedian Bill Cosby's criticism of black youth culture, Fox agreed, even though the subject was unusual for the network, he said.

The Urban League study contends that Sunday morning talk shows are particularly important because they help Americans digest complex political issues, from the war in Iraq to Supreme Court nominations to the pitched battles over affirmative action and abortion.

Paul Brathwaite, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, said his organization joined the Hispanic and Asian caucuses in pleading with the networks to include more minority members of Congress in Sunday discussions. The study showed that only three black House members -- Reps. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) -- and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) have appeared as guests.

"Who are the bookers of these shows, and who are they going to reach out and talk to from week to week?" Brathwaite said. "At the end of the day, they make the decisions. We're not at the table when decisions are being made in the newsroom. The decisions are affected; we're not there, and we're not covered."

The Urban League study did not include appearances by members of other minority groups, but Lisa Navarette of the National Council of La Raza, agreed that lack of diversity on the shows is a problem.

"People of color are not quoted as experts, and they don't appear frequently," she said. "I've seen many discussions of the Latino vote and immigration done with people who are not terribly knowledgeable about the people or the subject."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company