The Sunday political talk shows—your "Meet the Press," your "This Week," your "Face the Nation"—embody just about everything that's wrong with American politics, with Washington, D.C, and with the media. Every Sunday, you can flip between them and watch one party hack or another mindlessly deliver talking points, then watch the host try fruitlessly to trap said hack in some piece of hypocritical position-switching, then watch a bunch of "party strategists" bicker through the delivery of more talking points. I can understand why people who aren't interested in politics would find them unbearable, but even I can't stand them, and I'm someone who listens to C-SPAN radio in the car. (If you're interested in the depths of my disgust, you can read more here).
But there's no doubt they play an important role in Washington's political life, through the twin powers of agenda-setting and status conferral. The topics discussed on the Sunday shows are considered important topics, and the people who appear are considered important people. Back when George W. Bush was president, I worked at Media Matters for America, and during that time we started counting the guests on the Sunday shows to see what kind of ideological, gender, and racial diversity there was on these most prestigious of talk shows. When we released our first report on it—showing, among other things, that Republicans dramatically outnumbered Democrats, and conservatives outnumbered liberals—the producers of the shows responded by saying, "Well, that's because the Republicans are in power, so they're the newsmakers. If Democrats take control, then we'll be interviewing them more often."
So everything changed once Obama got elected, right? Nope. Rob Savillo at MMFA is out with the latest Sunday show data covering the first three months of 2013, and what do you know, Republicans still outnumber Democrats, on all four of the network shows:
And ideology is only part of the story. You will be shocked to learn that on some of the shows, as many as four out of five guests are men and nine out of ten are white. But compare them to MSNBC's two weekend morning shows, "Melissa Harris-Perry" and the recently departed "Up With Chris Hayes."
And how did they do it? In Hayes' case, the answer is quotas, informal ones at least. Basically, he and his producers just decided they were going to make a real effort to get different kinds of people on their show, not just sometimes, but on every single episode. And it worked!
The Sunday shows could certainly make an effort to get more ideological balance on their programs, and that would be a good thing. But real diversity doesn't just mean putting some more Democrats on the air to have the same discussion. On Hayes' new nightly show "All In," he hosted a segment about striking fast food workers that included actual fast food workers on the panel sharing their experiences, something you'll never see on "Meet the Press." That's diversity.
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