Protest Held to Decry Dearth of Women Represented on National News Shows

On Sunday, women leaders held a protest outside of NBC’s Washington, DC studio where “Meet the Press” is taped to highlight the exclusion of women of faith invited to appear on the show to discuss religion and public policy. The protest, organized by Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) and attended by leaders from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) and the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), was prompted by an episode of “Meet the Press” that aired March 27 and featured a panel of six religious leaders–all men–to discuss “Faith in America.” On November 28, 2004, a similar show aired with the topic of religion and values with no women represented in the panel of guests. This initial incident prompted women’s and religious organizations to send a joint letter to host Tim Russert in protest, eliciting no response from NBC or from Russert himself.

“Where religion is concerned, ‘Meet the Press’ seems to be cast in the mold of patriarchal religions, where women, almost invisible, are only called on rarely,” said Frances Kissling, president of CFFC.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a media watchdog group, is preparing to release a study which found that only 39 percent of the guests on “Meet the Press” are women, and only one of those women in the six-month period examined was a woman of color. Comparable television shows were also studied, with NBC’s “Chris Matthews Show” featuring the most women with 49 percent of guests being female. The worst offenders were ABC’s “This Week,” featuring only 22 percent female guests, and Fox News Sunday, featuring only 25 percent female guests. Even worse, out of all the women featured over a six-month period on all four of these shows, only two were women of color.

In its study, FAIR traced the scarcity of female pundits on television to the scarcity of women in the newsroom. The issue of under representation of women as editorialists and columnists in the nation’s newspapers has been a hot topic of late, prompting prominent women journalists to comment on how few women writers there are at the highest levels of journalism. In the Washington Post, columnist Terry Neal elaborated on this connection, saying, “Most of the people who make decisions about booking guests [on political talk shows]…would theoretically like to see more diversity. But the problem is that they don’t cast a wide enough net…they scout primarily in the upper echelons of the networks, the two main newsmagazines and four top newspapers…[which] consist almost solely of white guys over 50.”

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Catholics for a Free Choice; FAIR Media Advisory 3/24/05; Washington Post 4/4/05; The Nation 4/4/05

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