The Sunday-morning talk shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC are where the prevailing opinions are aired and tested, policymakers state their cases, and the left and right in American politics debate the pressing issues of the day on equal ground. Both sides have their say and face probing questions. Or so you would think.
In fact, as this study reveals, conservative voices significantly outnumber progressive voices on the Sunday talk shows. Media Matters for America conducted a content analysis of ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press, classifying each one of the nearly 7,000 guest appearances during President Bill Clinton's second term, President George W. Bush's first term, and the year 2005 as either Democrat, Republican, conservative, progressive, or neutral. The conclusion is clear: Republicans and conservatives have been offered more opportunities to appear on the Sunday shows - in some cases, dramatically so.
Among the study's key 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.
- The most frequent Sunday show guest during this nine-year period is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has appeared 124 times. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) has been the most frequent guest since 2003.
- 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.
- Congressional opponents of the Iraq war were largely absent from the Sunday shows, particularly during the period just before the war began.
In short, the Sunday talk shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC are dominated by conservative voices, from newsmakers to commentators. The data from the Clinton years indicate that the disparity cannot be explained simply by the fact that Republicans currently control the government.