STUDY: Women’s Voices Marginalized In 2016 News Coverage Of Foreign Affairs And National Security


Women accounted for just one-quarter of total guests discussing foreign affairs and national security in 2016 during prime-time programming on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and on the five major Sunday political talk shows. This stark disparity between women and men is actually a slight improvement over previously established trends for 2015 and 2014, but more work remains to be done to better include perspectives from women. Over the last 3 years, Media Matters has partnered with Foreign Policy Interrupted to expose and address gender disparities in news coverage of foreign affairs and national security.

Foreign Affairs And National Security Conversations Were Overwhelmingly Male-Dominated

Just One-Quarter Of Foreign Affairs And National Security Guests Booked During Weekday Cable And Sunday Programming Were Women. Women accounted for just 24 percent of the nearly 2,300 total guests featured during 2016 news coverage of foreign affairs and national security on the five major Sunday political talk shows and on weekday prime-time programming (defined as 8 to 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. The disparity is a slight improvement from trends established in 2015 and 2014. [Media Matters, 3/7/16, 2/10/15]

CNN Led Cable News Competitors Despite Including Women As Just 29 Percent Of Guests. Women accounted for just 24 percent of the more than 1,800 overall guests and commentators featured during weekday prime-time coverage of foreign affairs and national security on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. The proportional representation of women during selected segments in 2016 was a slight improvement from the previous year, when women accounted for just 20 percent of guests. Women accounted for 29 percent of guests featured during qualifying CNN programming, up from just 23 percent during the previous year, while women accounted for just 23 percent of guests on MSNBC and 18 percent of guests on Fox. Both Fox and MSNBC registered slight improvements of 1 percent from the prior year. As was the case during previous years, the most common guests across all networks were network contributors, paid commentators, and reporters:

ABC’s This Week Added To Dismal Track Record On Including Women In Foreign Affairs Discussions. Women accounted for just under 26 percent of the more than 400 guests featured during qualifying foreign affairs and national security segments on Sunday news shows in 2016 -- a slight improvement from the previous year. CNN’s State of the Union (32 percent) was the program most likely to feature a woman during discussions of foreign affairs and national security, followed by NBC’s Meet the Press (30 percent), Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday (26 percent), CBS’ Face the Nation (25 percent), and ABC’s This Week (16 percent). Meet the Press and This Week were the only programs to feature less gender diversity in 2016 than in the prior year, as the flagship ABC News program fell into last place in terms of gender diversity. Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday each enjoyed slight improvements in gender diversity from the previous year, while State of the Union jumped from just 18 percent in 2015.

Previous annual reports of foreign affairs and national security gender disparities are available here: 2015, 2014.


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of weekday prime-time (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, as well as Sunday morning political talk shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox Broadcasting from January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that were captured by the following search terms: (terror! or diplo! or war! or attack! or rebel! or refugee! or foreign policy or foreign affairs or world events or national security or border security or human rights or nuclear or ceasefire or sanctions or negotiation or dispute or drones) w/ 50 (allcap(ISIS) or allcap(ISIL) or Islamic State or al-Qaeda or al Qaeda or al-Qaida or al Qaida or Boko Haram or AQAP or Taliban or Afghanistan or Pakistan or China or North Korea or UN or United Nations or NATO or Cuba or France or Mexico or Venezuela or Brazil or Paris or Brussels or Iran or Iraq or Syria or Libya or Egypt or Africa or Israel or Turkey or Crimea or Russia or Ukraine or Yemen or Houthi).

For this study, Media Matters included only segments that contained substantial discussion of foreign affairs and/or national security topics. We defined a "substantial discussion" as any segment where a host dedicates a monologue, or portion of a monologue, to foreign affairs or national security news or policy analysis, or any segment where a host and guest(s) discuss related news or a policy topics. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or rebroadcasts of news packages that were already counted when they first aired in the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. survey window.

We defined a “guest” as any person featured as a panelist, interviewee, commentator, or correspondent involved in a conversation with the host or another guest(s). We did not include network hosts as guests when they were involved in discussions on their own programs.

The following programs were included in the data: This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Face the Nation, Meet the Press, State of the Union, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, Fox News Sunday, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.

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