June 13, 2010 by EVE · Comments Off
Published in Politico on June 13, 2010:
“If it’s Sunday, it’s more men wearing dark suits.”
So far, none of the five major Sunday morning television news shows has embraced that as a promotional slogan. But women’s advocates — armed with new data showing that the shows are a bastion of male power — say it would be an apt description for the lot of them.
Even as women have vaulted to be House speaker and hold a host of other influential positions on Capitol Hill, female lawmakers continue to be under-represented as guests on the Sunday shows.
According to research by American University’s Women & Politics Institute, female lawmakers have composed 13.5 percent of the total Sunday show appearances by all representatives and senators this year.
The suggestion that the Sunday shows are less hospitable to women has prompted a debate over who’s to blame among network producers, Capitol Hill political operatives and women’s advocates.
Some academic researchers and press secretaries for women in Congress say the network bookers have a men-in-suits mind-set that leads to familiar faces appearing over and over — and vital women’s voices being muffled on Sunday shows that historically are an important platform of Washington power.
Women make up 17 percent of the membership of the House and Senate, a proportion that is only a couple of percentage points higher than how often they appear on Sunday shows. But some advocates of more appearances by women said the shows should be working harder — with a kind of talking-heads version of affirmative action — to have women appear in numbers more closely approximating their percentage of society as a whole.
“Structuring the Sunday shows so women get visibility, even if they haven’t climbed the ladder, is important. The more national recognition these women get, the better their chances are of being elevated in Congress. Leadership wants the people with public image,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute.
“There aren’t a lot of people calling us to do Sunday shows,” said a prominent female House member’s press secretary, who did not want to be identified. “They largely go back to the same people, week after week. They’ve done a poor job of tapping into prominent female leaders, and that’s not just a problem for women on the Hill; it’s a problem for Americans because they are rarely hearing the women’s perspective. My boss isn’t chairing major committees, but there are many things she is heavily involved in and could still comment on.”
Thus far this year, the five major Sunday shows — including NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “Fox News Sunday,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s “State of the Union” — have had 148 appearances by congressional lawmakers. Of those, 128 were men and 20 were women.