Media Matters responds to Meet the Press

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Media Matters Senior Fellow Paul Waldman responds to criticism by Meet the Press executive producer Betsy Fischer of our report "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative."

Betsy:

You ask why our report did not discuss Clinton's first term, and you say that "perhaps it's because statistics from Clinton's first term do not support their ill-defined 'conclusion.' " Later, you call our study "intellectually dishonest." You seem to be suggesting that we analyzed the data from those years, decided it didn't fit the point we wanted to make, and thus excluded it from our public report. That would have been appallingly dishonest, and it is frankly offensive for you to suggest that we have done so. I have been asked in a number of interviews why there is an imbalance on the Sunday shows, and I am always careful to say that we ascribe no sinister intentions to the producers. It is unfortunate that you apparently couldn't bring yourself to extend us the same courtesy.

Let me be clear: We didn't examine the guests from those years, so we have no idea what doing so would have showed. We decided to go back only as far as the second Clinton term because there were gaps in the Lexis-Nexis data, and we had to stop somewhere. Gathering and analyzing the data for all the nine years was itself an enormous task. Since you seem to have a complete list of guests on Meet the Press available, if you send it to us, we would be happy to analyze the first Clinton term.

As for the numbers you provide, it is you who have mixed apples and oranges. You say that for the first Clinton term, the guest breakdown was 56 percent Democrats to 44 percent Republicans. Since you are speaking only of Democrats and Republicans, the relevant comparison in our data is not the overall guest list, which includes not only elected and administration officials but all guests, including journalists; the relevant comparison is the list of elected and administration officials. The numbers for Meet the Press during the years we covered are as follows (these can be found in the appendix of the report):

Year

Republicans

Democrats

1997

44.0%

56.0%

1998

47.7%

51.5%

1999

45.7%

51.2%

2000

44.9%

52.3%

2001

65.6%

34.4%

2002

61.8%

38.2%

2003

61.9%

38.1%

2004

54.5%

45.5%

2005

62.7%

37.3%

As you can see, a small Democratic advantage during the second Clinton term became a large Republican advantage during the first Bush term. Overall, we see that Democrats held a 53-percent-to-46-percent advantage on Meet the Press during Clinton's second term (or a difference of 7 percentage points), not very different from the 56-percent-to-44-percent disparity you have cited from your own figures for his first term. But Republicans held a 62-percent-to-38-percent advantage during Bush's first term, a difference of 24 percentage points. This difference was even larger in 2005. Assuming your figures are correct, including Clinton's first term would have only strengthened our conclusions.

In addition, you write of your figure of 56 percent Democrats to 44 percent Republicans during Clinton's first term: "How different is that from the first term of President Bush? Well, it's basically the same -- according to Media Matters' own findings -- Republicans accounted for 58 percent of all guests on Sunday shows in President Bush's first term and Democrats accounted for 42% of appearances." But here you are comparing not just apples to oranges, but Granny Smiths to Clementines. Those figures -- 58 percent Republicans/conservatives to 42 percent Democrats/progressives during Bush's first term -- represent all guests on all shows, not simply Democrats and Republicans on Meet the Press. The figure for Republicans and Democrats on Meet the Press during Bush's first term, to repeat, was 62 percent Republicans to 38 percent Democrats, a difference of 24 percentage points, twice as large as the figure you offered for Meet the Press during Clinton's first term.

I would also like to point your attention to the question of journalist guests. Meet the Press regularly features roundtables made up of neutral reporters and conservative opinion writers without any progressives in sight. To take just one example, on October 30, 2005, your show featured a roundtable of David Broder, Judy Woodruff, William Safire, and David Brooks. I would be eager to learn just how you would consider such a panel "balanced." And this is an area in which Meet the Press actually did quite well during the second Clinton term. But as you can see from this table, progressive writers seem to have almost disappeared during the first Bush term:

Year

Conservatives

Progressives

Neutrals

1997

28.1%

24.7%

47.2%

1998

30.5%

16.2%

53.3%

1999

22.5%

22.5%

55.0%

2000

31.9%

24.6%

43.5%

2001

34.5%

16.4%

49.1%

2002

26.9%

7.7%

65.4%

2003

23.9%

4.5%

71.6%

2004

17.4%

9.3%

73.3%

2005

20.8%

16.7%

62.5%

2005 was a better year for Meet the Press on this score, and I hope that improvement will continue. In total, 28 percent of the journalists and writers appearing on Meet the Press during Clinton's second term were conservatives, while 22 percent were progressives. But in Bush's first term, 24 percent were conservative, and only 9 percent were progressive. In other words, progressive journalists seem to have been shunted aside in favor of neutral reporters. The years 2002 and 2003 were particularly remarkable: In 2002, there were more than three conservative journalists for every progressive journalist on Meet the Press, and in 2003, there were more than five conservative journalists for every progressive journalist.

In short, it appears as though including Clinton's first term would not have undermined our conclusions -- quite the contrary, in fact. I would once again urge you to consider whether Meet the Press is offering the kind of balanced debate that best serves the public interest.

Paul Waldman
Senior Fellow
Media Matters for America

Click here to read the original response from Meet the Press

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