One of the most audience-influencing, and little talked-about, news programs are the Sunday newscasts. These programs set the tone for news coverage across all media platforms, and their editorial decisions are key to audience opinion.
Programs such as ABC’s This Week, CBS’s Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox News Channel’s Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press, while opening up discussions on key issues such as social justice, racial and gender justice movements, have left much to be desired in their selection of guests and, therefore, representation.
According to a new report by the Women’s Media Center (WMC), a non-profit organization founded by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan, not a single indigenous woman appeared as a guest on the five programs. In fact, women of color were generally omitted.
The report, WMC Report: Gender and Race Representation on Five Big Sunday Shows January 1 – December 31, 2020, found that at this pivotal moment in the nation’s history, the inclusion of women and people of color fell short on these influential programs.
Women, who make up nearly 51% of the population, accounted for only 32% of guest appearances in the last year. People of color, who make up nearly 40% of the population, accounted for only 27%.
Despite making up 9% of the population, Latinas accounted for only 2% of guest appearances, while Asian women, 3% of the population, accounted for less than 1% of appearances.
“With White men dominating these major Sunday news shows, White male perspectives shape the culture by telling us who we are, what our roles in society are, and what we can be,” wrote Julie Burton, president, and CEO of the WMC, in the foreword of the report. “This marginalizes women and people of color. It also results in the news media missing major stories and an expanded audience. Both the industry and the public are ill-served by the underrepresentation of women and people of color.”
In addition to reviewing the race and gender of all guests, the report also used these lenses to determine the representation of guests on specific expert panels focused on COVID-19, racial justice, and the 2020 presidential election. Importantly, when these programs addressed racial justice, they all did a better job of including African Americans (but not guests of other races and ethnicities). The numbers drop sharply and substantially on other topics and overall inclusion.
As Insider explained, in a year of overlapping crises and major news events, communications experts say the widespread omission of Native American, Black, Latina, and ethnic AAPI women is especially glaring.
The exclusion of women of color ignores their experience and has a tangible effect on others in these communities and their quality of life, these experts say.
“These news shows continue to set the agenda for the week, so they have an outweighed importance when you’re looking at the news cycle, which then impacts the way people see themselves represented in legislation,” Kate McCarthy, director of programs for WMC, told Insider.
“The results of the report are to be expected, but I was a little surprised that it hasn’t gotten better given all of the conversations that have been happening around systemic racism,” Isabel Molina-Guzman, a professor of Latina/Latino studies and communication at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told the media.
“That Latinas only make up 2% of guest appearances is pretty blatant, especially in the contemporary context where Latinos have been hit exponentially hard by COVID-19, by the recession, and by police violence,” Molina-Guzman explained.
According to the report, when women of color are represented in television news, it is often the same recurring group of people called upon to share their knowledge and commentary.
For example, 12 Latinas made 26 appearances, 6 Asian American women made ten appearances, and 46 Black women made 143 appearances on the top five Sunday shows last year.
“I could name all the Latina guests on these shows,” Molina-Guzman said. “When you have 12 people speak on behalf of 18% of the population, that’s a problem.”
“They’re often called upon to perform tokenizing roles and sometimes used to strategically cover really racist beliefs,” she added.