In a refreshing contrast to the problematic and often transphobic coverage provided by other media outlets, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry used her eponymous show to allow a transgender woman to tell her own story in a segment that highlighted the importance of letting transgender people speak for themselves.
The February 1 edition of Melissa Harris-Perry featured an interview with transgender author and activist Janet Mock, whose new memoir Redefining Realness tells the story of Mock's experiences as a trans woman of color. Harris-Perry opened the segment by noting the challenges confronting the transgender community, including disproportionate levels of violence and harassment and employment discrimination.
In her interview, Mock told Harris-Perry that she wrote her memoir to empower other trans women by "bringing words to explain my experiences" and showing that trans people "exist in the daytime and live a very full life":
MOCK: I think for me [I wrote a memoir] because not enough of our stories are being told. And I think that bringing words to explain my experiences - and not only explain my personal experiences, but also, like, the political context was really important to me, but I knew that young girls needed a personal story that reflected them. And I think that a lot of women will see - a lot of marginalized women, at least - will see themselves in the experiences that I described in the story.
The segment differed sharply from other news outlets' coverage of transgender issues. In January, an article on the sports website Grantland outing transgender golf club inventor Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt was fiercely criticized and sparked questions about the role the author's reporting may have played in prompting Vanderbilt to commit suicide. Transgender experts and advocates said that the story and its tragic ending underscored the need for news organizations to get the input of actual trans people when reporting on issues related to the community.
Two dozen women leaders and organizations have signed a letter to the six network and cable news heads expressing their concern for the lack of gender diversity on Sunday morning political talk shows.
A Media Matters report found that in 2013, men made up more than 70 percent of the guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, and CNN's State of the Union. Only MSNBC's Up and Melissa Harris-Perry reached near parity, with women making up 44 percent of total guests. Women also represented an even smaller percentage of solo interview guests, being featured less than 15 percent of the time. The top ten recipients of Sunday show solo interviews were all men. Media Matters also found that gender diversity has not improved on the broadcast political talk shows in the past five years.
The heads of 24 organizations which advocate for women and women's representation in media wrote to the Presidents and Chairs of the broadcast and cable networks, expressing "deep concern" for the lack of diversity and urging them to take action to ensure the morning political talk shows "more accurately reflect the demographics of our diverse nation":
With male guests vastly outnumbering female guests on Sunday morning broadcasts, women lose out in shaping the national discourse, and your viewers miss important points of view.
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.
The full letter can be read below.
White guests greatly outnumbered all other guests on the broadcast and CNN Sunday morning talk shows in 2013. Melissa Harris-Perry continued to be the most ethnically diverse program.
Male guests vastly outnumbered female ones on the Sunday morning broadcast and CNN political talk shows in 2013, according to a Media Matters review. MSNBC's programs gave women a significantly greater opportunity to voice their opinions.
A Media Matters review of the Sunday morning political talk shows finds that white males largely dominated the guest lists in 2013. MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry and Up with Steve Kornacki achieved greater ethnic and gender diversity than the broadcast shows or CNN's State of the Union. Overall, conservatives outnumbered progressives on the four broadcast Sunday morning shows.
In the first nine months of 2013, white men dominated the guest lists on the broadcast network Sunday shows and CNN's State of the Union. MSNBC was the only network achieving notable diversity in its guests, particularly on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. Republicans and conservatives are hosted significantly more on the broadcast Sunday shows than Democrats and progressives.
From the July 21 edition of MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry:
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In the first six months of 2013, white men dominated the guest lists on the broadcast network Sunday shows and CNN's State of the Union. MSNBC was the only network achieving notable diversity in its guests, particularly on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. Republicans and conservatives are hosted significantly more on the broadcast Sunday shows than Democrats and progressives.
While the five largest network and cable Sunday shows underreported economic developments in the past month, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry provided ample discussion of the economy.
A Media Matters analysis of Sunday show coverage from May 12 to June 9 found that ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC devoted less than 36 total minutes to the economy. This lapse in coverage occurred despite multiple economic developments emerging over that period.
Of the Sunday shows analyzed, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry stood out for its economic coverage. In five weeks, the show dedicated almost three hours to discussion on the economy -- by far the most coverage of the seven shows Media Matters analyzed. Melissa Harris-Perry was almost five times more likely to discuss the economy than CNN and network Sunday shows combined.
The show's discussion of the economy was diverse, touching on a range of topics including poverty in America, food insecurity, student loan reform, and the recent rebound of the housing market.
The show's ample and diverse economic coverage comes at a critical time -- according to a May 7 Gallup poll, a majority of Americans view an array of economic issues as high priorities.
In recent weeks, Sunday morning network news programs have virtually ignored economic issues, instead devoting hours of coverage to the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya; improper targeting of conservative nonprofits by the Internal Revenue Service; controversial federal investigations of national security leaks; and new revelations about National Security Agency surveillance programs.
In the first three months of 2013, the broadcast networks' Sunday morning talk shows once again skewed strongly to the right and featured a startling lack of diversity among guests.
For better or worse, these shows -- ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday -- occupy an elevated space in the national political discussion. This is where influential people -- like senators, representatives, presidential administration officials, Fortune 500 chief executives, and leaders of prominent non-profit organizations, for example -- get to set the terms of debate and frame the issues of the week. The shows enjoy considerably high ratings as well -- approximately 10 million weekly viewers collectively, according to recent numbers from TV Newser.
With that in mind, who the broadcast Sunday shows invite on as guests has significant implications for how discussions on major issues are framed. And once again, Republicans and conservatives have an edge over Democrats and progressives on these programs.
The four broadcast networks' Sunday morning political talk shows guests skewed right during the first quarter of 2013. MSNBC's two Sunday programs featured far greater gender and ethnic diversity in its guests than the broadcast programs and CNN's Sunday morning political talk show.