Do you think your favorite political Sunday morning talk shows reflect diversity? If so, you may have to reconsider that notion.
A recent Media Matters report analyzing guest appearances on seven network and broadcast programs during the last year shows that white men made up the majority of all guests. Shows examined were ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation With Bob Schieffer, Fox’s Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace, NBC’s Meet the Press With David Gregory, CNN’s State of the Union With Candy Crowley and MSNBC’s UP With Steve Kornacki and Melissa Harris-Perry.
How bad could it be?
Well, bad enough that white men are clearly overrepresented when compared to national percentages of the actual population. White males make up a little more than 30 percent of the total U.S. population. However, on Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday they made up 67 percent of all guests, 62 percent on Meet the Press, 60 percent on This Week, 54 percent on State of the Union and 42 percent on Up With Steve Kornacki. Melissa Harris-Perry came closest to the national average with 29 percent of her guests being white men.
Data for solo interviews average nearly 70 percent for all shows except Melissa Harris-Perry, which was the only program to feature a significant portion of nonwhite guests, veering toward mainly African-Americans. Latino, Asian American and Middle Eastern guests were barely registering, remaining in the single digits for all shows.
According to the media watchdog group, the staggering number of white male guests perpetuates misinformation.
"Excluding MSNBC, in broadcast and CNN over 70 percent of guests were male, and then if you look at ethnicity across the board, over 80 percent of guests were white. Both of those things really jump out at me, clearly not representative of the diversity of experiences and opinions that would be required to have a clearly rounded public debate," said Angelo Carusone, vice president of Media Matters.
"If you look at the breakdown of all the guests, 40 percent of guests were white male and conservatives. They overwhelmingly dominated the conversation, not only excluding individuals of diverse perspective of opinions but also giving false opinions on race and gender. [It is] not just wrong, but destructive.”
"The debate is defined by the people who get to tell their stories, so when we look at 13 white men in a hearing committee we know how narrow a slice of America is represented in these stories. Where are the women?" said Ilyse Hogue, NARAL Pro-Choice America president. "Until we have people in the media who look like what America looks like—women, people of color, doctors—we’re not going to get the policies we need, and the ones real Americans support."
NARAL and other organizations have crafted a letter that they have sent to the shows, encouraging more diversity.
"I know a lot of white men. My dad’s a white man, and my dad would appreciate hearing the real stories of real people who these policies affect so that he has a full picture in which he can engage as a public citizen and a voter in these conversations," Hogue added. "He depends on these media organizations … When they veer from it they can and should expect viewer backlash."
It’s not just the percentages in terms of race and gender that are causing worry. Ideologically, the shows tend to veer more conservatively, with right-wing guests outnumbering their Democratic or progressive counterparts on Fox News Sunday, Meet the Press and Face the Nation, with Fox News Sunday almost two times so.
"I could tick off the number of diversity of voices that we have on a regular basis, and I’d be hard-pressed to look at any show in a couple of months that didn’t have representation that would’ve been considered nonwhite male … this is something that we’re actively always paying attention to and always efforting," said a network insider who wished to remain unidentified. "Diversity not just in skin color but equally important in … background, voices that tell a wide variety of stories, not just lean on having a black senator on to talk about a black issue."
By far, MSNBC had the most diverse shows with Up and Melissa Harris-Perry hosting significantly more women and people of color, primarily African Americans. The network states that it is committed to this type of diversity in both shows.
"We take pride in the diversity of guests who appear on MHP. We also feel it is an incredible opportunity to have a platform to introduce new voices into the national discourse. The team at MHP believes there is a value to having different voices heard,” Melissa Harris-Perry’s executive producer, Eric Salzman, said in an email. “One of the core goals of the program is to move the conversation forward. Sometimes, to move past the standard talking points, you need to move beyond the usual people who deliver them."
"That diversity is not exclusive to the areas of race and gender. Since the show’s launch, we’ve made an effort to include academic voices activists, and people whose personal stories speak to the issues being discussed on the program," he added.
Carusone said that Melissa Harris-Perry’s rise to being a Sunday show host is proof of the effort put in by her and her team.
"Having a diversity of opinion is a better program. MHP show was clearly very deliberate about providing very diverse perspective of opinions and voices," he said. "Her rise and the fact that she has had such traction in such a short period of time is because they are clearly very deliberate in putting out a very good product."
Media Matters' Angelo Carusone hopes that the extensive year-long study will help lay the groundwork to open the discussion for diversity changes that he believes will be crucial to the longevity of these shows.
"News media is changing, audiences are fragmenting and people will find the information that they want and that they need, and if you’re not going to give it to your audience, they’re going to get it elsewhere,” Carusone warned. "Media is changing so quickly they may not get another chance."
Read the full Media Matters report and find all the data here.
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.