In recent weeks, criticism of the shortage of women's bylines on newspaper
op-ed pages has roiled the media waters, prompted by syndicated columnist
Susan Estrich's attack on Los Angeles Times op-ed page editor Michael
Kinsley for his failure to bring more women onto the Times' op-ed page.
This issue certainly deserves discussion, but the problem extends beyond
newspaper op-ed pages and into television. An upcoming FAIR study has
found that on television, as in print, female pundits are in short supply.
FAIR looked at Sunday morning talkshow panels, where two to four
journalists (political reporters as well as columnists) often join the
shows' hosts to discuss the week's big political stories. The study
examined six months (9/1/04-2/28/05) of NBC's Chris Matthews Show and Meet
the Press, ABC's This Week and Fox News Sunday. (CBS had no consistent
panel feature on analogous shows.)
Surprisingly, NBC's Chris Matthews Show came out almost exactly even on
gender, with 51 men and 49 women. Unfortunately, the show is unique in its
gender balance: This Week and Fox News Sunday hewed more closely to the
print media's unspoken "quota of one" for female pundits, featuring 22
percent and 25 percent women respectively. Meet the Press-which
occasionally included more than one woman per panel and once (2/20/05)
even filled its panel with four-had 39 percent women.
All of the program hosts, who direct the discussions, are white men: NBC's
Chris Matthews and Tim Russert, ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Fox's
But which women get to speak? Certainly not women of color. While the
Chris Matthews Show did well on gender parity, every one of its 49 female
panelists was white. The only two appearances by non-white women in the
six months studied were PBS's Gwen Ifill (Meet the Press, 10/24/04) and
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile (This Week, 2/27/05). And Brazile
falls into a somewhat different category-unlike the other shows, This
Week's pundit roundtable sometimes includes newsmakers like her in
addition to journalists.
Male pundits showed more ethnic diversity. Most of the shows have either a
regular or semi-regular non-white male panelist (Juan Williams on Fox News
Sunday, Fareed Zakaria on This Week, Clarence Page on the Chris Matthews
Show)-once again, essentially a quota of one. That unspoken quota system
works against women of color: One "woman" is generally interpreted as one
white woman, and one "person of color" as one man of color; once those
quotas are filled, there's no room left for any more diversity.
The dearth of women pundits (and particularly women of color) on
television can also be traced in part to the overall underrepresentation
of women in the newsroom. In a 2004 survey, women made up only 37 percent
of the staff at newspapers across the country (and only 34 percent of
supervisors); women of color represented a paltry 6 percent (American
Society of Newspaper Editors, 4/20/04). Women are 39 percent of the
television news workforce and are 25 percent of news directors. While a
breakdown of women of color was not available, minorities still make up
less than 22 percent of the broadcast television news workforce and less
than 13 percent of TV news directors (RTNDA/Ball State University,
7/14/04). Since most of the women appearing on the Sunday shows are
prominent journalists from leading news outlets, the predominance of white
men in those positions contributes to the skewed Sunday show panels.
Generally, women with strongly expressed views are largely passed over for
the pundit panels as well. While a number of hard-right men are regularly
featured on these shows - George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Novak,
Fred Barnes, Bill Kristol - most of the women tapped are political
correspondents who primarily provide analysis from a less openly
opinionated viewpoint. Taking controversial political stands, particularly
progressive ones, would jeopardize these women's jobs.
Fox touts Mara Liasson, Fox News Sunday's most regular female "All-Star,"
as a "liberal," but the NPR correspondent is really more journalist than
pundit. And New York magazine (11/17/97) cited a Fox insider as saying
that Liasson assured president Roger Ailes before being hired that she was
a Republican. Liasson recently (11/14/04) called Alberto Gonzales a "good
choice" for attorney general, ignoring his record of loosening
restrictions on torture.
When Liasson's not in the designated "liberal female" seat on Fox News
Sunday, it's often filled by Ceci Connolly-another political reporter (for
the Washington Post) who's no liberal advocate. In fact, when George W.
Bush cracked jokes at a press dinner about his failure to find WMD,
Connolly found it just as amusing as her fellow Fox panelists (3/28/04):
"You know, trying to be funny at these things is so difficult, and he is
quite good at it. I mean, he really is very good at self-deprecating
humor. The pictures were funny. I laughed at the photos. I mean, he looks
goofy, and he's got that great deadpan delivery."
Of those women who do take more opinionated positions, true liberals are
virtually absent. During the six months studied, only one progressive
woman made an appearance on a Sunday panel: Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The
Nation. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, a recent convert to mild
liberalism whose formerly frequent barbs against the left are now all
directed at the Bush administration, appeared five times. Conservative
columnist Kathleen Parker appeared four times, while fellow conservatives
Mary Matalin and Kate O'Beirne made two appearances each. Centrists were
particularly popular: Cokie Roberts is a regular panelist on This Week
with seven appearances, and Gloria Borger of US News & World Report
appeared eight times on the Chris Matthews Show.
The complete study, which includes analysis of newspapers and news
magazines, will appear in the May/June 2005 issue of FAIR's magazine
This article originally appeared on the FAIR web site. FAIR, the national media
watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias
and censorship since 1986.