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 Chris Wallace.
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 Extra!.