Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), which calls itself a “national media watchdog group,” last week published a report analyzing the demographic make-up of guests on Sunday morning news talk shows. Though the report summary, titled “Right and Early,” emphasizes the “conservative skew” of those talk shows, I will focus here on the aspect I find more troubling.
FAIR found that, during the eight months between June 2011 and February 2012, women made up only 14% of one-on-one interview guests and 29% of roundtable discussion guests. I must admit that I am not surprised by these numbers. I watch some of these shows quite often, when I can, and mentally “give points” to the shows that feature woman guests. Not many seem to, and this study confirms that.
This dearth of women is problematic for several reasons. First, in the 2008 presidential elections, two women played leading roles: Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. After the election, President Obama staffed his Cabinet with powerful women such as Clinton (Secretary of State) and Hilda Solis (Secretary of Labor). Second, in the 2010 midterm Congressional and gubernatorial elections, women were again a focus of much media attention and several women won governorships. Think of Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell, who lost her Delaware senatorial race but gained a lot of publicity in the process. More importantly, remember that Nikki Haley (R-SC) and Susana Martinez (R-NM), who now serve as their state’s governors. Third, in the present election cycle, plenty of women—and women’s issues—have grabbed headlines. When Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) announced her retirement, the media bemoaned the loss of her centrist voice. What some pundits call a “war on women” was in evidence when funding for reproductive health care services came under attack by many Congresspeople.
All of these cases show that women play an important, though still too-small, role in national politics; further, national politics clearly plays a large role in women’s lives. They, not male talking heads, should speak for themselves on Sunday morning television. These shows are important, both for the channels that air them (NBC touts its “Meet The Press” as TV’s longest-running program) and for the politicians who gain a crucial public platform through interviews on Sunday morning.
I do not have any easy suggestions for getting more women on Sunday “talkers.” However, some stations, such as MSNBC with its “Melissa Harris-Perry Show,” have made some progress in featuring more women, and those shows’ viewership numbers going forward might suggest to talk show producers that viewers will listen to authoritative women and to interviews with them. In the meantime, we as concerned media-consumers should get in touch with networks and tell them that, perhaps, if we do not feel represented on their airwaves, we will vote with our ratings-boosting eyeballs and watch TV elsewhere.