Allocating speaking spots on mass media

FAIR’s survey of cable news discussion programs reveals predictable demographic biases:

A survey of major cable news discussion programs shows a stunning lack of diversity among the guests.

FAIR surveyed five weeks of broadcasts of the interview/discussion segments on several leading one-hour cable shows: CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360° and OutFront With Erin Burnett, All In With Chris Hayes and the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, and Fox News Channel’s O’Reilly Factor and Hannity.


Male guests widely outnumbered women on every show (730 to 285), making up 72 percent of the guest lists. Just 5 percent (46) of cable news guests were women of color. […] Women of color (about 18 percent of the US public) were strikingly underrepresented on most shows […] Non-Latino white men, on the other hand, were overrepresented on every show.

But, of course, the bias is not only gender- and race-based:

The largest category of guests were other members of the media: 55 percent of the guests were either journalists (400) or pundits (159). Current and former government officials were the next largest category, accounting for almost 10 percent of guests (107). There were 37 military guests (current and former), 35 representatives of think tanks and 32 academics. Other prominent guest categories were lawyers (21) and business representatives (17).

Such biases give certain groups in the population disproportional voice in politics, meaning they are undemocratic. The way to achieve proper representation is to allot speaking spots on mass media, giving each person the same chance of getting their worldview represented.

One Response

  1. Journalists, pundits, government officials, think tank members and academics are generally better informed on public policy issues and equipped with better rhetorical skills (it’s a prerequisite for their day job), so it’s unsurprising that the media will seek out their opinions. I gather that some US broadcasters are partisan, but UK media generally try (not always successfully) to seek balanced viewpoints. I would hazard a guess that any mass media outlet that selected discussion participants randomly [bear in mind that statistical representativity requires that all those selected should participate] would soon lose all its listeners/viewers/readers.

    What this indicates is the need to separate advocacy and judgment. Mass media play an important role in the former, whereas aggregate judgment would be better instituted by a large randomly-selected jury. A full-mandate (speech-act enabled) allotted assembly would assign similar privileges to any members of the above category (along with other high-status individuals) as people tend to like to listen to those who know (or appear to know) what they are talking about. Given the random nature of the selection process (and the lack of intentional striving for balanced advocacy) this would lead to a discussion that was largely devoid of knowledgable input and entirely unrepresentative of the views of the wider public.

    Why would anyone want that? The “leave it all to an allotted assembly” argument reminds me of the neoconservative dogma that led up to the disasters in Iraq and Libya — get rid of the dictator(s) and “the people” will spontaneously organise themselves. “Neo-conservatism” is a good example of Hayek’s observation that qualifiers (like “neo” and “social”) have the effect of reversing the meaning of the substantive that they are applied to. As neoconservatives are, for the most part, converts from the Left, this is unsurprising.


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