Chuck Todd

They all look like Chuck Todd: The lack of diversity on shows like "Meet the Press" is just embarrassing

Tune in Sunday mornings and you're bound to find a white man yammering away. The networks have got to do better


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Eric Boehlert
April 4, 2016 12:30AM (UTC)
This article originally appeared on Media Matters.

In case you missed it last weekend, something remarkable happened on Meet The Press during a round table discussion about the state of the 2016 campaign: Moderator Chuck Todd hosted an all-female panel, featuring NBC correspondents Hallie Jackson, Katy Tur, Kristen Welker and Andrea Mitchell.

The good news is that Meet the Press deserves credit for bucking a long Sunday morning trend in which male guests dominate the discussions and set the Beltway policy agenda. The bad news is that it's still considered a newsworthy event when Meet the Press, or any of the Sunday shows, features an all-female discussion, especially when the topic isn't considered to be a gender-based one, such as contraception and choice.

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Does the recent Meet the Press episode suggest the Sunday shows are finally going to get serious about trying to address their stubborn lack of diversity? Let's hope so. Media Matters has been documenting the trend for years and our latest study, for 2015, confirmed the unfortunate imbalances: The Sunday shows, those elite bastions of public policy debate, remain wed to conservative, traditional bookings, where conservative white men still dominate. (Yes, even with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans pile up more appearances.)

"In 2015, the guests on the five Sunday morning political talk shows were once again overwhelmingly white, conservative, and male in every category measured," Media Matters reported. Last year, while the campaign season featuring Hillary Clinton was in full bloom, 27 percent of the guests on the Sunday shows were women.

But here's the truly strange part about the overall lack of diversity today: It comes at time when the political press has reported, analyzed, and even lectured the Republican Party about how it needs to embrace diversity in order to thrive in a changing America. (And if not embrace, then to at least not purposefully offend and drive away non-white voters.)

"Republicans Can't Win With White Voters Alone," wrote Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic years ago. TheWashington Post confirmed the point this election cycle, writing, "Winning more and more of the white vote will become an increasingly futile endeavor for Republicans if they can't find a way to win more of the Hispanic and/or black vote."

As lots of analysts have pointed out, white voters aren't driving the 2016 election. In fact, it's very likely that if Clinton wins the presidency, she will have done so without winning a majority of white voters. In fact, thanks to America's shifting demographics, she doesn't even have to come close to winning the white vote.

Just ask Mitt Romney. He won the white vote by 20 points in 2012 and lost to Barack Obama badly on Election Day. And obviously, if Clinton does especially well among women, she won't need a majority of male voters to win in November.

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But turn on the Sunday shows, and white men are dominating the conversation. And white conservative men in particular seem to be in charge. White Republicans were the largest group of elected and administration guests on the Sunday shows, according to Media Matters' data. And on four of the five shows, conservative men made up the largest group of journalists invited as guests.

Question: Why do the Sunday shows reflect a center-right white country that doesn't actually exist? (Note that the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as "liberal" has surged in recent years.)

Like the Republican Party, the Beltway press corps -- and specifically the very elite members who appear on the Sunday morning talk shows -- often refuses to embrace the increasingly diverse United States, despite the possibility that Democrats may shatter another diversity milestone by nominating the first women to become president.

In many ways, diversity is defining the 2016 campaign season. But the Sunday shows, whose editorial focus has remained transfixed on the 2016 campaign since last summer, appear to be detached from the rapidly changing political landscape. Rather than mirror the transformation, the Sunday shows too often remain entrenched, manning the ramparts against change.

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Some other diversity lowlights of 2015, as documented by Media Matters:

* Men represented between two-thirds and three-quarters of all Sunday show guests.

* Men made up more than four-fifths of all elected and administration guests.

* Whites comprised three-quarters or more of all elected and administration guests on all shows.

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* Whites made up two-thirds or more of all journalist guests on the Sunday shows.

* Whites comprised more than three-quarters of all guests.

* There were twice as many conservative men guests as compared to progressive men.

This problem is hardly a new one. Four years ago, in February 2012, I noted:

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This past Sunday, for instance, NBC's Meet the Press, CBS's Face The Nation, ABC's This Week, Fox News Sunday and CNN's State of The Union hosted 16 interview subjects, 14 of which were with men. That imbalance has been consistent throughout the month. A total of 56 guests were booked on the Sunday programs to discuss national affairs in February. Of those, 52 were men.

Especially galling was the discussion Sunday shows held in February 2012, when controversy erupted regarding the administration's plan to require religious institutions to offer contraception as part of their health care plan for employees. The Sunday programs discussed that story with 24 of their newsmaker guests, but only two of them were women -- Republican women.

Yes, but Sunday show producers are limited in terms of their booking choices, and if Beltway politics is driven by men, then producers have to invite lots and lots of men on the shows, right?

Wrong, because the numbers, as reported by Talking Points Memo, tell a much different story about the makeup of Beltway politics and especially the Democratic Party (emphasis added):

By House Democratic leadership's count, there are 78 white men who are Democrats, out of 188 Democratic members in the chamber. This means that white men do not make up a majority of the House Democratic caucus.

So how is it that political press stalwarts, such as the Sunday shows, remain stubbornly white, male and conservative while the rest of the country, and the rest of our politics, moves in the opposite direction?

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Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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