Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

White Male News Network

A recent report by Media Matters for America indicates that most of the traditional cable media outlets haven't changed much in terms of racial and gender bias, even in the wake of the Imus fiasco of the week of 4/9/07.

The study ("Locked Out: The Lack of Gender & Ethnic Diversity on Cable News Continues) charted these cable network shows: CNN's The Situation Room, Paula Zahn Now, and Larry King Live; Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity & Colmes; MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and Scarorough Country.

The findings, published in an 11-page PDF on 5/7/07, actually break no new ground, which is what is so disquieting. Everything you would expect of corporate media is there: a white male bias, disturbed briefly only during an obvious and dramatic racial crisis.

And this is what we have come to expect of our TV news, it would seem: Father figures telling us authoritative stories. But perhaps the reason they're not connecting is that they no longer represent who we are as a country anymore. If they did, a cable news anchor desk - and its sources - would be significantly more Hispanic, female, Asian and African American than they currently are.

My favorite example in the report had to with the Hispanic population:
...Yet Hispanics made up less than 2 percent of the guests on these
programs during these three weeks. In fact, this number represents a total of
only 13 guest appearances, six of which were by Geraldo Rivera.
Statistically speaking, if you know the Hispanic population is growing by 14%, but you keep getting the same guy for the "Hispanic response" 50% of the time, that strikes me as, uh, lazy.

If any conservatives are trolling, thinking I'm protecting Keith Olbermann and MSNBC, fear not: Media Matters just reports the stuff, they don't make it up. MSNBC fared consistently worse (savor it; it may be the last thing you can savor from this blog) than the other networks in the report in terms of racial and gender bias in their reporting structure - talking heads delivering news.

In other words, where racial and gender diversity is concerned, they all suck, it's just that MSNBC sucks worse than the others. Note, however, that this is entirely separate from content. It would take remarkably little for MSNBC to improve diversity in their organization, but for a company like Fox, a paradigm shift to investigative journalism could prove to be a real challenge.

But I don't want to be too generous with the wagging finger. As viewers, consumers, participants - and I hope, civic activists - we bear some of that blame. We don't demand better. We're probably getting our news elsewhere, so why bother, right? Well, maybe. But the people who rely on TV news might not understand they're being shortchanged by someone else's homogeneous worldview.

They might not appreciate that the news they're watching is the result of a choice made in a room full of people that look more like the rich white guy on TV than those of us dashing out the door, kids in tow, coffee in hand, on the way to (we hope) work. Media Matters has shown us a subtle yet dramatic warning about diversity and our public airwaves. It's up to us to keep that dialogue alive.

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