What Happened to All the Black Voices on the Cable News Shows?

Is it just me, or do the airwaves seem less… colorful… since the wrapup of the 2008 elections?

I was thinking about that when a commentary from E.J. Dionne Jr in the Washington Post, titled Rush and Newt Are Winning, caught my eye (and lots of other folks on the blogosphere as well):

A media environment that tilts to the right is obscuring what President Obama stands for and closing off political options that should be part of the public discussion.

…the media… regularly treat(s) far-right views as mainstream positions and… largely ignor(es) critiques of Obama that come from elected officials on the left.

This was brought home at this week’s annual conference of the Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive group that supports Obama but worries about how close his economic advisers are to Wall Street, how long our troops will have to stay in Afghanistan and how much he will be willing to compromise to secure health-care reform.

In other words, they see Obama not as the parody created by the far right but as he actually is: a politician with progressive values but moderate instincts who has hewed to the middle of the road in dealing with the economic crisis, health care, Guantanamo and the war in Afghanistan.

While the right wing’s rants get wall-to-wall airtime, you almost never hear from the sort of progressive members of Congress who were on an America’s Future panel on Tuesday.

That resonated with me, because I’ve been wondering: what happened to all the black folks that we saw on cable news during the latter stages of the 2008 election season?

Remember those days? It seemed like every cable station became a Negro Discovery Channel, as they brought in black voices from all over the political spectrum and national geography to speak about this black man who was running for president.

But now the faces we see on the cable news have a monotone quality about them.

The discussion of the Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination has brought this into focus.

You’d think that someone from, for example the NAACP-which for all of its issues and problems is still an organization that represents several hundred thousand members of a major minority group-would be as prominently featured in these discussions as anyone.

But no. The discussion has been dominated by Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan, and Rush Limbaugh, and the like. Do we really need to hear from them again… and again… and again?

It seems like the media is going back to the good old days… such as May 2008, when a study done by Media Matters for America found that although white men make up only 32 percent of the US population, they made up 57 percent of the guests on prime-time cable news shows.

The study findings, which are in the report, Gender And Ethnic Diversity in Prime-Time Cable News, were based on a review of cable weekday television evening shows (8PM through 11PM on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) that was done in May 2008. The study included shows such as CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight and Larry King Live, Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes, and MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews and Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

Among the study’s observations:

• Fox News was the whitest network, with 88 percent white guests. CNN and MSNBC were close behind, with both featuring 83 percent white guests. (Whites are 66 percent of the US population.)

• MSNBC showed the greatest gender imbalance, with 70 percent of its guests being male. CNN and Fox News were not far behind; each of those networks featured 65 percent male guests.

• Latinos were particularly underrepresented. Though they now comprise 15 percent of the American population, they made up only 2.7 percent of cable news guests. The worst of the three networks on this score was MSNBC, which featured only six Latino guests out of 460 prime-time appearances during the entire month.

• A number of ethnic groups were shut out entirely, or nearly so, on some networks. During the month of May, Fox News and MSNBC each featured a single Asian-American guest. Across the three cable networks, there were only four appearances by guests of Middle Eastern descent, two on Fox and two on CNN. There was not a single appearance by a Native American during the entire month.

Also of note: African Americans made up 16 percent of the guests on MSNBC, 11 percent of guests on CNN, and 9 percent of guests on Fox News. African Americans are 13 percent of the US population.

The findings are summed up in the following chart, which compares ethnicity in the US population versus the ethnicity of cable TV guests:

All of that seemed to turn around when the election season heated up, and, I guess, the networks felt a need for black and other minority voices to fully tell the story of a black man running for president.

But now that the election is over, it’s business as usual, and everything old is new again. Or as the French would say: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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2 thoughts on “What Happened to All the Black Voices on the Cable News Shows?

  1. Your concern about blacks being inadequately represented on tv is unfounded, just turn the channel to “Cops” or “Jail” and you’ll see plenty of black faces .. perpetuating the great legacy of criminal behavior for which you can be proud.

    • can you actually breathe with that mouth. Who started WW1 and 2, who dropped the bomb, who invented the bomb, slave trade, holocaust? White people. Who caused the great depression, who have the most serial killers, mass gun men? White men… I could go on and on…Oh who shot John Lennon, JFK, Martin Luther King… I could go on and on… and you talk about Cops, sad pathetic, abhorrent ****** (person).

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