Face the Nation responds to Media Matters data on show's GOP tilt: “We love [Lindsey] Graham. He's a great guy”

Although NBC and ABC have thus far refused to respond on the record to Media Matters for America's latest study -- "If It's Sunday, It's Still Conservative," which found that the imbalance in favor of Republicans and conservatives on the Sunday morning political shows continued in 2005 and 2006 -- Carin Pratt, the executive producer of CBS' Face the Nation, was quoted responding to the study in a McClatchy Newspapers article by James Rosen. But her response repeated the same problematic defense she offered a year ago to the previous Media Matters study on the topic.

Responding to Media Matters' finding that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) appeared on her show nine times in 2005 and 2006, Pratt said: “We love Graham. He's a great guy.”

But more notably, Pratt suggested that ideology and balance are irrelevant when it comes to hosting administration officials, many of whom appear on Face the Nation without being countered by someone from the opposite side of the political aisle: “It doesn't matter whether Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice is a conservative or a liberal,” Pratt said. “She's the secretary of state.”

For viewers, the result of Pratt's position is to be denied the informed views of a guest countering the administration's message. Pratt's comments suggest that she believes it is appropriate for the program she produces to consistently offer the government, but not those who may disagree with it, access to the airwaves, and to host more Republicans than Democrats overall.

These comments echo those Pratt made in response to Media Matters' original study, "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative." This is the statement she made at the time:

“If you take everybody from the Bush administration and label them Republicans or partisans, we're a country at war, and when we can get someone from the administration, like the secretary of state, then we get them. Republicans are in power. I bet you'd find the same thing during Clinton's administration. Except during the Clinton [impeachment] scandal, it was hard to get people from the administration to come on. When you have an administration that is not in the midst of a scandal, more people from that administration, because they're the ones running the country. If you have an issue that you need to talk to the administration on, then you have to talk to them, whether they're Democrat or Republican. But when an administration has their backs against the wall, they tend not to put [members of their administration as guests on TV talk shows].”

First, we should dispense with the argument Pratt made about the Clinton impeachment scandal, which occurred mainly during 1998 (although the Senate trial took place early the next year, between January 7 and February 12, 1999). The truth is that Face the Nation hosted a higher proportion of Democrats in 1998 than during any other year in Clinton's second term.

But more importantly, as the graph below demonstrates, Face the Nation has not simply been a forum for the administration to get its views out without counter from the other side, no matter who is in power. The data show unmistakably that when Bill Clinton was president, Democratic officials enjoyed a small advantage overall on the program (although they enjoyed no advantage in 1997). The average margin during the second Clinton term was less than 8 percent in favor of Democrats. Yet when the Bush administration took office in 2001, the gap in favor of the party in power grew significantly, averaging over 22 percent in favor of the Republicans.

And Pratt's response does not address another critical finding in the new report. In November 2006, Democrats won both houses of Congress. Either the programs are hosting a debate between two sides, or they are simply interviewing those in power. Either way, the shift of Congress to Democratic control should have brought about a dramatic change in their guest lists.

But on Face the Nation, nothing changed. In 2005 and 2006, its total guest list included 43 percent Republicans and conservatives, and 28 percent Democrats and progressives (the rest were neutral or nonpartisan). Since the election, the results barely budged: Face the Nation hosted 42 percent Republicans and conservatives, and 29 percent Democrats and progressives. Looking only at Republican and Democratic officials, the change was similarly small: 61 percent Republicans compared with 38 percent Democrats in 2005 and 2006; 56 percent Republicans and 41 percent Democrats after the election.

It is also worth noting that from 2005 to 2006, Face the Nation became more imbalanced in every category we measured: Its guest listed tilted more right overall, it brought on more Republican officials, it gave a higher proportion of solo interviews to Republicans and conservatives, it hosted a higher proportion of conservative journalists, and it had more panels tilting right than tilting left.

Media Matters Senior Fellow Paul Waldman is the author of “If It's Sunday, It's Conservative” and “If It's Sunday, It's Still Conservative.”