Since women make up more than half of the population, comprise 53 percent of the electorate, and for the first time in history a woman is at the top of a major political party’s presidential ticket, you might think that the female political perspective would be a large part of this season’s nonstop cable news coverage.
But you’d be wrong. Men outnumber women significantly in cable news political punditry, according to research being conducted by The Eagleton Institute’s Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers. The center is working with Gender Avenger, an advocacy website that encourages people to identify areas where women have been left out.
“At this point, there is no excuse for not including women, but it’s happening,” said CAWP Director Debbie Walsh. ”We have heard this too many times. They want women but they just can’t find them. It doesn’t hold up.”
CAWP is leading Gender Avenger’s “Who Talks?” research initiative and providing a weekly tally and analysis of the gender balance on the top-rated morning and nightly cable news shows – Morning Joe (MSNBC), Fox and Friends (FOX), New Day (CNN), Rachel Maddow (MSNBC), The Kelly File (FOX) and Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN). Gender Avenger’s other partner on the project is the Women’s Media Center, a non-profit progressive women's media organization founded by well-known feminists including Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem.
The Rutgers CAWP research study began in March and will continue until a week after the presidential election on Tuesday, November 8. After that, the information will be analyzed to determine how often the bookers, producers and hosts on cable news shows are seeking the female perspective.
Overall, it doesn’t look too promising, according to CAWP’s research. While Anderson Cooper on CNN and Rachel Maddow on MSNBC have broken the 50 percent mark when it comes to featuring female pundits, the rest are well below with FOX News Network’s The Kelly File and Fox and Friends scoring the lowest with only 15 percent of women panelists for The Kelly File and 19 percent for Fox and Friends.
“Many people watch the news without focusing on who is providing the analysis,” said Walsh. “But when they are confronted with the numbers I think they will realize that there is a serious disparity and hopefully will take action.”
Chelsea Hill, a research assistant at CAWP, spends six hours each day tracking the gender of the political pundits on these cable news shows by tuning in, listening to podcasts or reading transcripts.
“With all this information, I’d be really good at a cocktail party or really bad, depending on your perspective,” said Hill, a 26-year-old millennial who took on the job after receiving her graduate degree in women and gender studies from the Graduate School at Rutgers-New Brunswick.
In collecting the data, Hill does not look at the content of what the men and women on the panels are saying but rather at how many women are actually included on the panels, in how many segments and for how long. Researchers are only interested in segments that revolve around the presidential election. Anything else being discussed gets fast forwarded, Hill said.
Gina Glantz, co-founder of Gender Avenger and campaign manager for former Sen. Bill Bradley’s presidential run in 2000, wants to bring attention to the times when women are excluded or underrepresented. And not just on cable television.
Her mission to create an online advocacy organization was spawned in 2012 when Harvard University Kennedy School’s post-election forum featured all white men. “It was a stunning omission especially four years after Americans elected the first black president and four years after Hillary Clinton spoke about making cracks in the glass ceiling,” Glantz said.
Gender Avenger has launched efforts to expose gender imbalance including at conferences, in “top” lists and at cultural events. When Esquire magazine’s list of “The 80 Books Every Man Should Read,” included only one female author, the community responded through social media and the publication responded by publishing a balanced list of “Books Everyone Should Read”.
Before the 2016 primary season Glantz noticed that more often than not it was all male panels discussing issues affecting women. “They were dismissive of Trump’s misogynistic comments and consumed with whether Hillary Clinton did enough smiling,” Glantz said. “I knew in order to change the make-up of analysts – and the conversations on cable – I needed facts, not just impressions.”
"This is why Gender Avenger thought it was so important to partner with CAWP to get real data from scientific research that could be taken to the networks, she said. “Whether it is Trump or Clinton, this presidency and his or her administration need to be seen through the eyes of women who represent 50 percent of the population and, as important, 53 percent of the electorate.”
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