If these broads could talk

A new study finds that men make up 86 percent of the guests on Sunday morning politics shows.

Published October 13, 2005 7:51PM (EDT)

The White House Project this week released one of those "good news/bad news" studies on media called "Look Who's Talking Now: A Follow-up Analysis of Guest Appearances by Women on the Sunday Morning Talk Shows."

The good news? The number of women spewing hot air at you while you try to eat your toast and read the Times on Sunday mornings is up from four years ago. The bad news? These improved numbers still leave only 14 percent of the total number of weekend chatterboxes with two x chromosomes.

The WHP's 56-page study begins with a recap of "Who's Talking?" the organization's initial study of gabfests from January 2000 to June 2001, and "Who's Still Talking," its 2002 study. The 2001 report revealed that women made up only 11 percent of the guests on ABC's "This Week," CBS's "Face the Nation," CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer," Fox's "Fox News Sunday," and NBC's "Meet the Press." In addition, in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, the number of women asked to weigh in on Sunday mornings dropped to 9 percent.

"The absence of women on the Sunday shows matters -- a lot," this week's study asserts. "It perpetuates the invisibility of female leaders, it limits the scope of our national political debates and it leaves women underrepresented and undervalued as citizens of our democracy. In addition, the absence of female leaders on these shows gives the public the impression that women lack the credibility, expertise and authority to address our nation's most significant problems."

After the 2001 release of "Who's Talking?" the WHP met with NBC's Tim Russert and staffers from CBS's "Face the Nation," who expressed an interest in the study's findings. According to the new report, "CBS, in particular, promised to increase the number of women appearing on their show."

Well, they did! According to "Look Who's Talking Now," CBS increased its female talking-head presence from 9 percent to 18 percent. (Unrelated, but why did the WHP choose report titles that evoke images of Kirstie Alley and John Travolta covered in puréed carrots, and not so much female "credibility, expertise and authority"?)

Across the board, the study found, the gains were less dramatic. Women now make up 14 percent of the combined total of guest appearances on the five Sunday talk shows. Way to go, three percentage points! Just one short of the percentage of women in Congress! For those of you who are not great with percentages, here's what 14 percent means: From Nov. 7, 2004, to July 10, 2005, there were 787 guest appearances on the Sunday morning shows. Of those, 107 were made by chicks.

NBC and Fox also stepped up to the plate, with NBC upping its percentage of lady pundits from 9 percent to 16 percent and Fox climbing from 9 percent to 12 percent. ABC held fast at just under 15 percent, and CNN's female representation declined from 14 percent to 11 percent.

Perhaps the most disturbing -- if not exactly shocking -- finding was that 56 percent of talk show episodes aired during the 2005 study had no female guests at all. Which makes sense, you know, because sometimes you invite the broads over and they get yappin' and there's just not a damn thing you can do to get them to shut their pie-holes! You can't get a word in edgewise!

Anyway, while men made 186 return appearances, only 18 women were invited back, for a total of 37 repeats. You can practically fill in the identities of those 18 women off the top of your head: Rice, Bumiller, Boxer, Feinstein, Albright, Pelosi, Matalin, Dowd, Ifill. The usual suspects. (For the record, the winner of the most repeat appearances by any guest went to Joe Biden, with 18 spots in eight months. Congratulations, Joe!)

And, lest you get too cheerful about all these recognizable names, note that women were consistently featured in the less-watched later segments of each program. In the early (i.e. serious and manly) segments, their appearances rose by only a single percentage point, from 12 percent to 13 percent.

In cooperation with the Women's Funding Network and Fenton Communications, the WHP is launching SheSource, a site that will direct the clueless to women who are capable of speaking in complete sentences on television ("Because visibility is viability"). So in the future, if producers and hosts are dying to hear what a woman leader or commentator might have to say on a subject of national importance, but just can't think of where to find one, SheSource will point the way. There's a joke in here about two hands and a magnifying glass, but we're not sure that it would be appropriate.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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