A while back, NBC‘s announced that it was starting a series called “Meeting America”–steering the Sunday chat show away from the tired pundit/politico roundtables to show how actual citizens are affected by Beltway policy fights. It would look at “real people and real life outside the halls of the West Wing or Capitol Hill,” and “give a national platform to voices we don’t normally hear from on these issues.”
That’d be great. Unfortunately, it’s not what the show has been doing so far. The three installments that have aired to date focus primarily on small-town white Republicans.
The first report, which aired on April 6 (FAIR Blog, 4/10/14), sent correspondent Kevin Tibbles to Steele City, Nebraska, to cover the Keystone XL pipeline. The residents NBC put on the air were supportive of the project because of its perceived impact on jobs. There is, as NBC noted in passing, considerable grassroots opposition to Keystone. But you’d hardly know that from the segment; the only voice opposing it is a lawyer looking to get a better compensation package for farmers.
On April 20, NBC‘s Tibbles gave viewers a look at a planned Christian theme park in Kentucky, which would include a replica of Noah’s Ark. The project, we learn, is the work of a group that believes in a “literal interpretation of the Bible.” There were critics of the project who oppose granting tax incentives for a religious theme park.
And then, on May 18, NBC stayed in Kentucky to cover the Republican Senate primary between conservative Republican Mitch McConnell and a more conservative Tea Party candidate, Matt Bevin. “We came to listen to the thoughts and concerns over issues facing the country,” Tibbles explains. He tells viewers that “modern-day government red tape rankles” one business owner. A woman who runs a horse farm is “not a fan of the Affordable Care Act.” She explains, “In a lot of ways, I think we are losing our freedoms.”
It’s admirable that NBC would think its Sunday show could do more to elevate voices outside the Beltway. Surely that beats listening to pundits speculate about the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign.
But so far the show’s vision of America outside the Beltway is remarkably narrow: white, conservative-leaning and rural. What’s interesting about this editorial decision is that it tracks with the conservative critique of liberal media bias, which (among other things) argues that these are the very people who we don’t hear from often enough. Last year, a panel discussion with several high-profile journalists was notable (FAIR Blog, 12/19/13) because the reporters endorsed this criticism of their profession, agreeing that the media did not often reflect the views of, say, pro-life evangelicals.
While there are plenty of voices that go unheard in corporate media, it’s hard to argue that either whites or Republicans are notably underrepresented. Nonetheless, many reporters seem to have internalized this right-wing critique. The NBC series–so far at least–is a vivid illustration that corporate media have a very narrow vision of which voices are excluded from the media.