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Monday, February 13, 2006

Scientific Proof that Sunday talk shows skew to the right 

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This ideological imbalance isn't only evident in the "official" sources that are interviewed: the elected officials, candidates, and administration officials who make up most of the shows' guests. It is even clearer in the roundtable discussions with featured journalists. (Although "Face the Nation" seldom uses a journalist roundtable to mull over the week's news, it is a staple on both "Meet the Press" and "This Week.") Though there has been some marginal improvement in the past year, it has been a frequent practice for a roundtable to consist of a right-wing columnist or two supposedly "balanced" by journalists from major newspapers. While these newspaper journalists may also be columnists, they don't operate with the same expectation of—or license for—partisanship that their conservative counterparts do. If David Broder or Ronald Brownstein express an openly partisan opinion, they know that their editors are likely to call them to task for it. By the same token, if Fred Barnes doesn't use his time to spout talking points, he knows his editors will be disappointed.




When liberals do appear, the balance is often stacked against them. For nearly three years in the late 1990s, the regular roundtable on "This Week" featured George Will and William Kristol double-teaming George Stephanopoulos. On five occasions, Stephanopoulos was absent, and Will's establishment conservatism had to provide "balance" to Kristol's triumphalist conservatism. But even when the former Clinton aide was in the studio, he was in the process of trying to shed his political reputation and become a "Journalist," he who expresses no personal views, making the debate even more lopsided than it otherwise would have been.

The consequence of all this is that in every year since 1997, conservative journalists have dramatically outnumbered liberal journalists, in some years by two-to-one or more. Why would the producers of the shows believe that a William Safire (56 appearances since 1997) or Bob Novak (37 appearances) is somehow "balanced" by a Gwen Ifill (27) or Dan Balz (22)? It suggests that some may have internalized the conservative critique of the media, which assumes that daily journalists are "liberal" almost by definition, and thus can provide a counterpoint to highly partisan conservative pundits.

What gets left behind, of course, is the real liberal. Not only do openly liberal columnists like Paul Krugman appear far less frequently than their conservative colleagues, writers, and editors from magazines like The Nation, The American Prospect, and The New Republic are seldom seen (forget about the Progressive, Mother Jones or In These Times), while the Weekly Standard and the National Review are regularly represented. Last year saw eleven appearances by writers from the two conservative magazines, but only two from liberal magazines. (There was one bright spot in the data: A December 1998 episode of "Meet the Press" featured none other than Charles Peters, this magazine's founder. Unfortunately, that was the last time anyone from The Washington Monthly graced the Sunday shows.)
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