Sunday Talk Shows: Conservative Bias?
The liberal media watchdog Media Matters has done a thorough analysis of the guests on the major Sunday morning talk shows from 1997-2005 and find that conservatives dominate.
From the executive summary:
The balance between Democrats/progressives and Republicans/ conservatives was roughly equal during Clinton’s second term, with a slight edge toward Republicans/conservatives: 52 percent of the ideologically identifiable guests were from the right, and 48 percent were from the left. But in Bush’s first term, Republicans/ conservatives held a dramatic advantage, outnumbering Democrats/progressives by 58 percent to 42 percent. In 2005, the figures were an identical 58 percent to 42 percent. Counting only elected officials and administration representatives, Democrats had a small advantage during Clinton’s second term: 53 percent to 45 percent. In Bush’s first term, however, the Republican advantage was 61 percent to 39 percent — nearly three times as large. In both the Clinton and Bush administrations, conservative journalists were far more likely to appear on the Sunday shows than were progressive journalists. In Clinton’s second term, 61 percent of the ideologically identifiable journalists were conservative; in Bush’s first term, that figure rose to 69 percent. In 1997 and 1998, the shows conducted more solo interviews with Democrats/progressives than with Republicans/conservatives. But in every year since, there have been more solo interviews with Republicans/conservatives. The most frequent Sunday show guest during this nine-year period is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has appeared 124 times. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) has been the most frequent guest since 2003. In every year examined by the study — 1997 – 2005 — more panels tilted right (a greater number of Republicans/conservatives than Democrats/progressives) than tilted left. In some years, there were two, three, or even four times as many righttitled panels as left-tilted panels. Congressional opponents of the Iraq war were largely absent from the Sunday shows, particularly during the period just before the war began.
How could it be that the ostensible “liberal media” is so biased toward the right?
Looking at the data graphically, Republicans/conservatives have dominated the guest list almost every year:
And it is getting worse!
Well, some obvious things come to mind. The coding could be off. Media Matters acknowledges that the charge exists:
We understand that because we are a progressive organization, some on the right will seek to undercut the credibility of our findings, perhaps charging that we have stacked the deck by classifying too many guests as conservative. Partly for that reason, when a guest’s ideology or partisan affiliation was ambiguous, we erred on the side of identifying a guest to the left. Consequently, one can assume that, if anything, our figures underestimate the conservative slant to the Sunday shows.
The report does not tell us how each individual guest was coded but, for the sake of argument, let us presume that they used academic detachment.
The report covers Clinton’s second term and Bush’s first term-plus. During the entire period, Republicans had elected majorities in both Houses of Congress, although the Democrats took control of the Senate for several months after Jim Jeffords’ defection. So, given the “standard” guest lists–cabinet officials, party chairmen, and key congressional leaders–the GOP is going to have an advantage.
Indeed, the chart below–the last of twenty-seven pages of charts distributed with the survey–bears this out:
Goodness, simply removing John McCain from the survey would move the graphs. He simply dominated the bookings. Kevin Drum gets it right, I think, when he notes that,
The reason that anti-war senators didn’t get much air time was just simple laziness: the talk show bookers kept booking their favorites regardless of what was happening in the outside world and regardless of whether that meant they were shortchanging their viewers. They were on autopilot.
Yep. The Sunday shows–and news talk bookers in general–want guests with as many of the following characteristics as possible: 1) famous, 2) powerful, 3) interesting, 4) colorful, 5) available. The first of these is circular since, as the more appearances a guest makes the more familiar he is to audiences and the more likely he is to get called back.
Laziness, not ideology, is the explanation here. It’s the same reason, by the way, that Ana Marie Cox always gets invited to represent “bloggers” on televison and at conventions. And the same reason that familiar commentators keep getting called up to talk about things far outside the expertise that originally got them invited on television to begin with.