It was hard to be especially angry when the news broke last week that Jake Tapper would be taking over as host of CNN's Sunday show "State of the Union," replacing Candy Crowley, who stepped down as anchor last year. Tapper is, after all, one of the more interesting, sharp and watchable people on television. He could actually inject some much-needed life into the eternally dismal Sunday current affairs landscape.
If his ascension to the Sunday throne isn't a cause for outrage, though, it still provides a depressing look at the cringeworthy lack of diversity in much of our elite media. Taken together with the recent promotion of John Dickerson to replace Bob Schieffer at "Face the Nation," the Tapper news means that all five major Sunday shows will now be hosted by white men.
Here's the breakdown:
"Meet the Press" (NBC) — Chuck Todd
"Face the Nation" (CBS) — John Dickerson
"This Week" (ABC) — George Stephanopoulos
"State of the Union" (CNN) — Jake Tapper
"Fox News Sunday" — Chris Wallace
If you throw in the big three newscasts on CBS, NBC and ABC, that's seven out of eight highly prestigious jobs in TV news currently being occupied by white guys. The lone exception to the rule is Lester Holt, currently serving as the interim anchor of "NBC Nightly News," meaning if the network brings Brian Williams back from his time in purgatory (however unlikely that eventuality might now be), white newsmen could make it a clean sweep.
By my rough calculation, the five big Sunday shows have been on the air a combined 187 years. In that time, women have hosted or co-hosted for 26 of those years. "Meet the Press" hasn't had a female host since 1953. Racial diversity? Forget about it. They've also all been straight (unless there's something we don't know about). And—well, you get the picture.
You could ask if this matters so much these days, when the fracturing of the media landscape has left both the nightly and the Sunday news shows with nothing like their past influence, and when the true network money centers -- morning shows like "Good Morning America" and the "Today" show-- are light-years ahead in terms of both racial and gender diversity. The biggest star in morning TV, Robin Roberts, is an African-American lesbian, about as potent a symbol of media progress as you're likely to get.
But even in their diminished state, the Sunday and evening programs are still seen by the networks as the place for their most serious news coverage. The Sunday shows in particular are supposed to constitute the most sustained look at public policy that these channels have to offer. (Whether they actually achieve this is a question best reserved for another day.) It still matters what kinds of shows these are, and it matters that, time and again, TV executives decide that women and people of color just aren't the right fit for their most highbrow programming.
It should be self-evident why, in a country set to be majority-minority in as little as 30 years, such a television landscape is unacceptable. It is a serious failing for news organizations whose purported mission is to bring us a full and clear picture of our world. It tightly constricts the kinds of conversations we see take place on our screen. (Just one look at the dreadful coverage of the situation in Baltimore is enough to understand that.) It sends a terrible message about the entrenched power structures in our media. And we haven't even talked about the guests on the Sunday shows, who remain, even after years of pressure, stubbornly male, pale and stale.
Just as important, all of this makes for some truly lousy and predictable television. These shows aren't just symbols of the continual dominance of the same old faces in our news. They also suck. More diverse hosts would probably help with that too.