During a month when the issues of birth control and women's access to health care flared up and became major topics of debate on the presidential campaign trail and in Washington, the Sunday morning talk shows once again loaded up their programs by hosting newsmaker interviews with men. Lots and lots of men.
This past Sunday, for instance, NBC's Meet the Press, CBS's Face The Nation, ABC's This Week, Fox News Sunday and CNN's State of The Union hosted 16 interview subjects, 14 of which were with men. That imbalance has been consistent throughout the month. A total of 56 guests were booked on the Sunday programs to discuss national affairs in February. Of those, 52 were men. (The newsmaker tally does not include guests invited to participate in roundtable discussions this month.)
And of the four women booked this month, just one, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was associated with the Democratic Party, despite the fact Democrats currently control the White House and the Senate. “We complain about this all the time,” a Democratic aide told Media Matters.
And yes, the paucity of female guests this month was especially odd considering the controversy that erupted regarding the administration's plan to require religious institutions to offer contraception as part of their health care plan for employees. The Sunday programs discussed that story with 24 of their newsmaker guests, only two of whom were women -- former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. (The topic was also covered in several roundtable discussion, which did include more female participants.)
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This discrepancy is not limited to the Sunday shows; earlier this month Think Progress reported that over a period of four days, Fox, Fox Business, MSNBC and CNN invited 91 men and 55 women to comment on the birth control policy.
“February was a month that could have used more female voices,” stresses Rachel Larris, communications manager of Women's Media Center, referring to the contraception issue. “In fact, I can't imagine what other month could have needed more feminine voices.”
Sunday producers don't have complete control over which guests they will book. For instance, when the contraception controversy erupted, the White House sent out chief of staff Jack Lew as its point man to discuss the topic. Lew made multiple television appearances on the morning of February 12, defending the administrations' actions. (Lew accounted for five of the 55 guest slots filled by the Sunday programs this month.)
Also, the remaining Republican presidential candidates, all of whom are men, made several appearances on the talk shows this month.
Nonetheless, a ratio of nearly 13:1 among newsmaker guests for the high-profile Sunday programs indicates a yawning gap among the sexes. “The shows are a still a boys club,” says Larris. “The only things missing are the leather-bound chairs and the bourbon.”
Graphic by Drew Gardner.