Unfair & imbalanced: Republicans and conservatives dominate on Hannity & Colmes

A Media Matters study of guests on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes shows that far more Republican and conservative guests have appeared on the show during the first two months of 2006 than have Democratic or progressive guests.

Fox News holds up Hannity & Colmes as an example of the cable news network's “Fair & Balanced” coverage. The hour-long program, which airs weeknights at 9 p.m. ET and is the channel's second-highest-rated program, juxtaposes two co-hosts with different political views and very different temperaments: Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes. But the show's semblance of balance implied by the co-hosts' differences -- Fox News describes Hannity as “the program's conservative counterpart to liberal Alan Colmes” -- does not withstand scrutiny. As this brief Media Matters for America study documents, the guest appearances on Hannity & Colmes during the first two months of 2006 demonstrate a clear advantage for Republicans and conservatives.

The conclusion that the right dominates a Fox News program may not come as a surprise to media-savvy viewers. But it is not just the contrast in styles between Hannity and Colmes that makes the program imbalanced. What may be surprising is exactly how many more Republicans and conservatives appear on Hannity & Colmes than do their ideological counterparts on the left.

Using the same methodology employed in Media Matters' February 2006 study "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative," the guests on Hannity & Colmes were coded as either Democrat, Republican, conservative, progressive, or neutral (non-partisan or centrist). Guests were coded based on their general partisan affiliation or ideological orientation. Media Matters has also recently released similar studies for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, titled "Hardball for the left, softball for the right," and CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, titled "The lineup on Lou Dobbs Tonight overwhelmingly tilts right."

During January and February 2006, the number of Republican/conservative guests on Hannity & Colmes dwarfed the number of Democratic/progressive guests. Excluding neutral guests, Republican/conservative guests in January outnumbered Democratic/progressive guests by a difference of 72 percent to 28 percent. In February, Republican/conservative guests continued to dominate Democratic/progressive guests by a difference of 67 percent to 33 percent.

The numbers for elected and administration officials were no different: The right outnumbered the left by a ratio of nearly 3-to-1. Republicans represented 73 percent of all elected and administration officials, while Democrats represented only 27 percent. Overall, Republican guests represented 64 percent of those who were identified with a political party, while Democrats represented only 36 percent.

Hannity & Colmes' journalist and pundit guests were also more likely to be from the right than from the left. In fact, there were nearly three conservative journalists/pundits for every progressive journalist/pundit. Conservatives comprised 42 percent of all journalist/pundit guests. The number of neutral journalists/pundits matched the number of conservative journalists/pundits, while progressives made up only 15 percent of all journalists/pundits.

The category evincing the most extreme imbalance was the solo interview. Excluding neutrals, Republican/conservative guests comprised 80 percent of all solo interviews, while Democratic/progressive guests comprised only 20 percent. Additionally, not one Democrat or progressive was granted more than one solo interview. In contrast, seven Republican and conservative guests were granted multiple solo interviews. For example, David Horowitz, author of the recently released The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (Regnery, 2006), was a solo guest on Hannity & Colmes five nights in a row (February 13-17).

Finally, Hannity & Colmes also featured more panels that tilted right than tilted left. While the majority of the panels -- 74 percent -- were balanced, more than twice as many panels tilted right (11 panels) than those that tiled left (five panels).

While Hannity & Colmes is billed by Fox News as “a primetime one-hour debate driven talk show focusing on the controversial issues and newsmakers of the day,” these data clearly indicate that the range of debate is narrowed by the sheer number of guests who come from the same side of the political spectrum as co-host Sean Hannity. During the first two months of 2006, Republican/conservative guests on Hannity & Colmes sharply outnumbered their Democratic/progressive counterparts. While many viewers may have already suspected that any given Fox News show's guests are more often from the right than from the left, the lopsidedness of the disparity on Hannity & Colmes is particularly noteworthy. With a nearly 3-to-1 overall advantage for the right, the show's guest list belies the appearance of balance that the pairing of Hannity and Colmes seeks to create.

List of Hannity & Colmes guests in January and February 2006