Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Rules Changed

The key thing about the Media Matters report is how the rules have changed (or stayed the same, depending on how you look at it). From Waldman's Monthly article:

Fair play

Since the Sunday shows focus so heavily on the words and actions of the powerful, it's perhaps not surprising that the party controlling the executive branch is represented more than the opposition. That's certainly the explanation producers give for their often lopsided line-ups. "If you take everybody from the Bush administration and label them Republicans or partisans," says Carin Pratt, the executive producer of CBS's "Face the Nation," "we're a country at war, and when we can get someone from the administration [to be a guest on the show], like the secretary of state, then we get them. Republicans are in power. I bet you'd find the same thing during Clinton's administration." Betsey Fischer, the executive producer of NBC's "Meet the Press," responds much the same way. "The party holding the presidency also has a Cabinet full of major newsmaker guests that speak to U.S. policy matters," she says. "The same would be true for the eight years of the Clinton administration when the Cabinet was, by and large, filled with Democrats."

This sounds reasonable enough—except Pratt and Fischer are wrong about the Clinton years. In fact, during Clinton's second term, only 48 percent of the ideologically identifiable guests on the Sunday shows were Democrats or progressives while 52 percent were Republicans or conservatives. (Available transcripts from Clinton's first term are not complete enough to allow analysis.) And when Bush swept into town, the gap widened further. In Bush's first term, Republicans and conservatives held a solid advantage, out-talking the left by 58 to 42 percent. (Things were virtually the same in 2005, with the margin 57 to 43 percent in favor of the right). There were small differences between the shows, but all showed the same overall pattern: rough parity during the Clinton years, Republican domination during the Bush years.

Perhaps this shift is explained by the fact that we had a divided government when Clinton was president and have had one-party rule under Bush. But if that's true, how do we explain the years 2001 and 2002? For a 16-month period in which the Democrats held control of the Senate, the number of Democrats booked on the shows not only did not increase, but actually dropped further. Political power, it seems, does not always equal access to the airwaves.

You might think this balance would shift somewhat during an election year, when both parties have major candidates who make headlines and attract attention. Again, Fischer of "Meet the Press" told us directly that this should happen. "When one party has 10 contenders for the presidential nomination [as the Democrats did in 2004]," she wrote in an email, "one could expect those candidates to occupy a majority of interview time on the program." One could indeed expect that result, but one would be wrong. Despite all the appearances by Democratic presidential hopefuls—and they had a whole slew, compared to the uncontested Republican primaries—Republicans still outnumbered Democrats on "Meet the Press" in 2004, just as they did on "Face the Nation" and ABC's "This Week."

During the 2nd term of the Clinton administration Republican/Conservative voices were given serious air time. During the Bush administration left/Democratic voices were not, and this was true even during the period of divided government when the Dems controlled the Senate.

So, when Democrats are in power Republicans get heard. When Republicans are in power, Republicans get heard.