If It's Sunday, It's Excuses

Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

Over the years, we've done a variety of reports documenting the lack of progressive voices as well as gender and ethnic diversity on the all-important Sunday morning network political chat shows. As Media Matters' Jamison Foser noted earlier this week:

Politico reported a finding by American University's Women & Politics Institute that "female lawmakers have composed 13.5 percent of the total Sunday show appearances by all representatives and senators this year." (That finding was consistent with a 2007 Media Matters study that examined all Sunday show guests -- not just lawmakers -- in 2005 and 2006, finding that about 80 percent of guests were men and roughly 90 percent were white.)

The reason for this disparity is simple: the Sunday shows do not prioritize the diversity of their guest lists. This is true of gender diversity, racial and ethnic diversity, and, too often, diversity of viewpoints and policy positions. (In the run-up to the Iraq war, for example, Meet the Press hosted nearly three times as many Democrats who supported the Congressional measure authorizing the use of force as Democrats who opposed it -- despite the fact that a majority of Congressional Democrats opposed the measure.)

He goes on to note that the network's responsible for the disparity are offering nothing but excuses saying, it is "quite revealing that a Sunday show producer defends her team's efforts to book women by saying they've tried 25 times to book one woman, rather than saying they've tried to book 25 women." He continues:

If you were trying to increase the number of women who appear on your Sunday show, would you A) keep inviting the same woman over and over again, despite the fact that she has declined 25 invitations and despite the fact that you think she is "just unwilling" to be your guest, or B) Find other women to invite?

It's not the first time the networks' have offered up hollow excuses for their lack of diversity.

When Media Matters released its first Sunday show report looking at "nearly 7,000 guest appearances during President Bill Clinton's second term, President George W. Bush's first term, and the year 2005," there were several startling findings:

  • The balance between Democrats/progressives and Republicans/conservatives was roughly equal during Clinton's second term, with a slight edge toward Republicans/conservatives: 52 percent of the ideologically identifiable guests were from the right, and 48 percent were from the left. But in Bush's first term, Republicans/ conservatives held a dramatic advantage, outnumbering Democrats/progressives by 58 percent to 42 percent. In 2005, the figures were an identical 58 percent to 42 percent.
  • Counting only elected officials and administration representatives, Democrats had a small advantage during Clinton's second term: 53 percent to 45 percent. In Bush's first term, however, the Republican advantage was 61 percent to 39 percent -- nearly three times as large.
  • In both the Clinton and Bush administrations, conservative journalists were far more likely to appear on the Sunday shows than were progressive journalists. In Clinton's second term, 61 percent of the ideologically identifiable journalists were conservative; in Bush's first term, that figure rose to 69 percent.
  • In 1997 and 1998, the shows conducted more solo interviews with Democrats/progressives than with Republicans/conservatives. But in every year since, there have been more solo interviews with Republicans/conservatives.
  • In every year examined by the study -- 1997 - 2005 -- more panels tilted right (a greater number of Republicans/conservatives than Democrats/progressives) than tilted left. In some years, there were two, three, or even four times as many right-titled panels as left-tilted panels.

The networks responded with, you guessed it, excuses. Representatives from the CBS and NBC Sunday shows said that the party in the White House would undoubtedly hold a booking edge because they have so many more newsmakers. This particular excuse ignored the many advantages Republicans and conservatives had during President Clinton's second term. The shows then argued that it was because Republicans controlled Congress. Okay, so how would the right's booking advantage be affected when Democrats won the House and Senate in 2006?

Media Matters' follow-up report found that although control of Congress had switched hands, network practices remained largely unchanged with conservatives and Republicans holding many of the same advantages they had for so many years.

The dreadful Sunday show excuse parade doesn't only march surrounding questions of diversity.

After Jake Tapper -- interim host of ABC's This Week -- began working with PolitiFact.com on a trial basis to provide a weekly fact-check of the network's Sunday show, two of his rivals swatted away suggestions that they too take up the practice.

David Gregory -- host of NBC's Meet the Press -- said of fact-checking his program, "people can fact-check Meet the Press every Sunday on their own terms."

Bob Schieffer -- host of CBS' Face the Nation -- struck the same chord saying, "everybody's welcome to fact-check us all they want" adding "I kind of think that by the time we get around to fact-checking, we'd already be fact-checked."

Yep, people upset with the lack of accountability (and journalism) dolled out on Sunday are free to do their own fact-checking. Talk about avoiding responsibility.

I guess, If It's Sunday, It's Excuses.

Previously:

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.