Both MSNBC and CNN this election season have given new prominence to a handful of contributing commentators from varied backgrounds and perspectives: blacks, Hispanics and women. Whether such moves signal real progress in diversifying the punditocracy or merely reflect the needs of a particular news cycle is the question, some media experts say. The most prominent positions on television remain overwhelmingly with those who are white and male, and some critics note how striking that non-inclusion can seem during this election year.
As someone who has watched political shows for years, this is the first election where I have seen many panels with multiple white women, multiple African Americans, or any African American women (besides Donna Brazile). Overall this is a good sign.
There is still room for improvement. First of all, it appears that women of all races and men of color are not getting to be the primary host for political related shows. For example, take MSNBC, which had had a huge surge in viewers and is attempting to have a more liberal bent than the other networks, all but one of their shows has white men as the primary host–Keith Olbermann, David Gregory, Tom Brokaw, and Chris Matthews. The lone exception is Rachel Maddow, who is the new kid on the block. While the people who appear on those shows as commentators have become diverse the hosts still are not. A brief trip around the Sunday morning political shows reveals the same phenomenon. I also rarely see Asian American or Native American pundits, which is an other area where there can be improvements.
One of the more interesting observations I have about the racial make-up of Black and Latino political pundits– is that conservatives are overrepresented. I frequently see conservative Black and Latino pundits. If the pundits matched the political inclinations of these two groups, one would expect conservative Black pundits to be rare (definitely less than 20%) and conservative Latino pundits a little more common, but still less than half.
In spite of the areas for improvement that I identified above, I am very impressed with the dramatic difference over previous presidential elections. I’m not sure what the exact reasons are for this. Maybe it helps that we have had one black man and two white women who are knocking their heads on the glass ceiling that has kept everyone but white men out of our highest political office.1 Maybe the networks were already trending in this direction–I tend to think they were moving in this direction, but they got a little jolt from the emergence of Obama and Clinton as groundbreaking candidates.
What do you think?
- Obviously, wealthy white men. [↩]