Following up on Media Matters' in-depth study showing that Republican and conservative guests outnumbered Democratic and progressive guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press over a nine-year period, an examination of the guest lists for those programs during the first three months of 2006 showed that Republican and conservative dominance continued unabated.
Six weeks ago, Media Matters for America published an in-depth study of guests on ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press in which we demonstrated that the shows' Republican and conservative guests outnumbered Democratic and progressive guests over a nine-year period. The study, titled "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative: An analysis of the Sunday talk show guests on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 1997-2005," received a spate of media coverage from outlets across the nation and around the world, including The Nation, CBS Public Eye, Broadcasting & Cable, CNN Radio, and NPR's On the Media.
Yet despite the media attention focused on our findings, Meet the Press host Tim Russert, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer, and This Week host George Stephanopoulos continued to play host to a preponderance of Republican and conservative guests during the first three months of 2006. On Sunday mornings during the first quarter of this year, Republican and conservative dominance continued unabated, as those from the right outnumbered Democrats and their progressive compatriots.
Overall, there were 75 appearances by Republicans/conservatives during this time period, but only 50 by Democrats/progressives. If we remove the neutrals (a category that includes guests who are centrist or nonpartisan) to examine only those with a clearly identifiable ideology, we see that the imbalance has been, if anything, slightly more acute in 2006 than it was in the years 1997 through 2005.
In fact, all of the major imbalances identified in "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative" continued in 2006: Republicans outnumbered Democrats; journalists who appeared were more likely to be conservative than progressive; and more panels tilted right than tilted left.
One of the key findings we reported in our initial study was that, of the journalists invited on the Sunday-morning talk shows to offer their insight into the previous week's news, conservative journalists outnumbered progressive journalists. All too often, the Sunday shows feature panel discussions comprising conservative journalists and opinion writers "balanced" by reporters for mainstream news outlets -- with no progressive journalist. As a result, conservative journalists consistently outnumber progressive journalists. This was true for the years 1997 through 2005, and it remains true in 2006.
Partly as a result, the shows are more likely to feature a panel tilted to the right than to the left. While the majority of the panels on all the shows were balanced, when a panel is imbalanced, it more likely favors the right -- a conclusion that is consistent with previous findings.
Nor should it come as much of a surprise that all three Sunday-morning shows granted more solo interviews to Republicans than Democrats. In this respect, Meet the Press was particularly extreme. While This Week and Face the Nation both gave slightly more solo interviews to Republicans than Democrats, the disparity on Meet the Press was striking: nine solo interviews with Republicans over the three-month period, but only two solo interviews with Democrats.
A persistent problem
There are moments when the imbalance between the left and the right becomes particularly notable. To take a recent example, consider the journalist panel on Meet the Press on February 19. NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory appeared along with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who, while a harsh critic of President Bush, pulled no punches with Bill Clinton. These two were accompanied by strongly conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul A. Gigot and Republican strategist Mary Matalin, who is nothing if not a fierce spinner on the White House's behalf. The next week's Meet the Press featured a lineup consisting of Republican Sen. John Warner (VA), Republican Rep. Peter King (NY), and Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is little wonder that one commentator quipped that the show should be renamed Meet the Republicans.
As we noted in our original study, we do not assert that every show must be precisely balanced between the left and the right. Over time, however, one would expect something like parity between the two sides to emerge. While the failure to balance the right and the left is particularly acute on NBC's Meet the Press, it persists on all three networks.
In 2006, Sunday mornings on network television have been dominated by conservatives to the same extent as they had been in the preceding nine years. Media Matters for America once again asks the producers of ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press to consider whether this pattern of conservative domination serves the public interest.