A study of ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News in the year 2001 shows that 92 percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male and, where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican.
Conducted for FAIR by the media analysis firm Media Tenor, the study shows that the big three nightly news shows rely heavily on society’s most powerful groups when they report the news of the day. More than one in four sources were politicians– George W. Bush alone made up 9 percent of all sources– versus a mere 3 percent for all non-governmental advocacy groups, the sources most likely to present an alternative view to the government’s.
Even before the September 11 attacks, Republicans made up a full 68 percent of partisan sources (which surged to 87 percent after the attacks). These figures should dispel the myth of a liberal or pro-Democrat news bias, but don’t necessarily prove a conservative or Republican slant. Rather, they reflect a strong tendency of the networks to turn to the party in power for information. Sixty-two percent of all partisan sources were administration officials; when these are set aside, the remaining partisan sources were 51 percent Republican and 48 percent Democrat, suggesting a strong advantage overall for the party that holds the White House.
Big business, too, was overrepresented. In a year in which the country lost 2.4 million jobs, corporate representatives appeared about 35 times more frequently than did union representatives, accounting for 7 percent of sources versus labor’s 0.2 percent.
Women made up only 15 percent of all sources (14 percent on ABC and CBS, and 18 percent on NBC), and were rarely featured as experts. Women were particularly poorly represented in the categories of professional and political sources, which were only 9 percent female. More than half of the women who appeared on the network news in 2001 were presented as ordinary Americans (as opposed to experts of some kind), versus 14 percent of male sources.
Racial imbalances in sourcing were dramatic across the board. ABC, CBS and NBC each featured a lineup where 92 percent of U.S. sources were white and 7 percent were black. Other groups were even more strikingly underrepresented, with 0.6 percent of all sources being Latino, 0.6 percent Arab-American and 0.2 percent Asian-American. Out of a total of 14,632 sources, only one (on NBC) was identified as Native American.
For all the hype about the “death of network news,” the fact remains that approximately one quarter of television-viewing homes in America tune in ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News on an average weeknight– that’s about two-thirds of the U.S. public that claims to follow current events regularly. It serves the country poorly when, as these findings show, broadcast news functions more as a venue for the claims and opinions of the powerful than as a democratic forum for public discussion and education.
Below are some excerpts of the data. To go straight to the full study, see Power Sources: On party, gender, race and class, TV news looks to the most powerful groups (Extra!, May/June 2002) by Ina Howard.
*62% of all partisan sources were administration officials; George Bush alone accounted for 33% of the total. When these are set aside, the remaining partisan sources were 51% Republican and 48% Democrat, suggesting a strong advantage overall for the party that held the White House.
Due to rounding, not all numbers add up to 100 percent. Based on data compiled by Media Tenor, a non-partisan German-based media analysis firm, the study includes all reports on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News from January 1, 2001 through December 31, 2001– a total of 14,632 individual sources in 18,765 individual reports. Analysis by Ina Howard, U.S. Research Director of Media Tenor International.