Recent coverage of the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and ensuing discussion of the ongoing nomination and confirmation process reveals how cable news is providing increasingly diverse perspectives in discussions about the nation’s highest court. According to Media Matters’ internal database, during segments on Breyer’s retirement and the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson from CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, Black guests comprised 32% of appearances, and women made up 46% of all guest appearances. However, not all networks elevated diverse perspectives equally, with guest appearances on Fox News remaining overwhelmingly white (83%) and male (74%).
On January 26, it was revealed that Justice Breyer would be retiring from the Supreme Court. A month later, President Biden nominated Judge Jackson to replace Breyer. If confirmed, Jackson would be the first Black woman and just the third Black judge to serve as a Supreme Court justice at a time when the high court is undermining the civil rights of Black Americans.
From the day Breyer’s retirement plans were revealed through March 2, 2022, 40% of guest appearances on CNN’s segments discussing the topic were Black guests, with white guests comprising 52% of appearances. On MSNBC, appearances by Black guests made up about a third of appearances in such segments and, although CNN was the only network to provide a majority of guest appearances to women, who represented more than 52% of appearances, MSNBC still struck an even balance with appearances by men and women represented nearly evenly with 51% and 49%, respectively.
On CNN and MSNBC, Black women made up more than 27% and almost 23% of appearances, respectively.
These numbers represent a marked improvement from these two networks’ coverage following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. During discussions of her death and the future of the Supreme Court, more than 70% of guest appearances on cable networks were individuals who were white and 56% of appearances were men.
Fox News, however, has remained consistent in its lack of diversity with its guest appearances being overwhelmingly comprised of white people and men. During segments discussing Breyer’s retirement, Jackson, or the nomination process, white people made up 83% of appearances and men 74%, both of which show Fox News’ coverage was actually slightly less diverse than its coverage following Ginsberg’s death (when appearances on the network were 81% by white people and 72% by men).
In all, Black women comprised only 2% of guest appearances on Fox News’ segments discussing Jackson’s nomination, Breyer’s retirement, and the future of the court.
Following the announcement that Breyer would resign, Fox News targeted Biden’s campaign pledge to nominate a Black woman with racist attacks. Following Jackson’s nomination, the network’s hosts have responded in a similar fashion.
Although newsrooms have been less diverse than the population at large for decades, there have been improvements. In December 2020, Rashida Jones became president of MSNBC, making her the first Black woman to lead a major television news network in the U.S. Also, efforts to provide more diversity, equity, and inclusion at media outlets have recently seen greater traction, with TV journalists in particular describing efforts to increase diversity as “comprehensive,” according to a recent survey from Northwestern University. Despite this, as MSNBC itself pointed out last year, serious work remains to ensure the industry provides the representation it has promised.
Media Matters searched our internal database of all original weekday programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC (shows airing from 6 a.m. through midnight) for segments that analysts determined to be about the retirement of Judge Breyer, the nomination process of his replacement, or the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson from 6 a.m. January 26, 2022, through 12 p.m. March 2, 2022.
We reviewed all guest participants in the identified segments for their sex or gender and their race or ethnicity. We classified an individual as “male” or “female” based on their self-identification or publicly available biographical information; no participants in this study publicly identified as nonbinary. We based an individual’s race or ethnicity on their self-identification or publicly available biographical information, and we used categories as defined by the U.S. Census with the addition of “Middle Eastern” as defined by the U.S. State Department.
We coded guest participants as “white” if they self-identify as white or are of European descent, as “Black” if they self-identify as African American or Black or are of African descent, as “Latinx/Hispanic” if they self-identify as Latino/Latina or Hispanic or are of Spanish/Latin American descent, as “Asian American/Pacific Islander” if they self-identify as Asian-American or Pacific Islander or are of Asian descent or Pacific Island descent, or as “Middle Eastern” if they self-identify as Middle Eastern or are of Middle Eastern descent.
Not all percentages add up to 100 due to some guest participants identifying with more than one race or ethnicity. We rounded all percentages to the nearest whole.