Racism and Sexism: Bias in Fox, MSNBC, CNN News

MediaMatters did an important recent report on the rather extreme racial and gender bias in the distribution of experts/guests who appeared on three major cable news networks (Fox, CNN, MSNBC) during the prime-time hours for one whole month (May 2008). Examining nearly 1700 guest appearances, they found that

67 percent of the guests on these cable programs were men, while 84 percent were white. 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

It comes as no surprise as to who had the worst record, the most monolithic guest roster:

Fox News was the whitest network, with 88 percent white guests. CNN and MSNBC were close behind, with both featuring 83 percent white guests.

The representation of Latinos, who now makeup 14-15 percent of the U.S. population, was very poor. 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.

Asian Americans and Middle Eastern Americans were all but invisible on the 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.

And not one Native American was a guest on any of the networks during that whole month. However, the affirmative action “quota” for white men on the programs was quite high, as it has been for centuries:

Though white men make up only 32 percent of the population, they made up 57 percent of the guests on prime-time cable during this period.

And Americans of color as a group were only represented at about half their proportion in the U.S. population. Again, not surprisingly:

Every prime-time cable news host is white, and all but two . . . are men.

It is interesting how just how “diverse” the U.S. cable new media really are not. In effect, the communications networks called the “mass media” are part of a larger white-dominated societal networking system.

In recent decades white elites—especially white male elites—have continued to dominate the construction and transmission of new or refurbished racial ideas and images designed to buttress the system of racial inequality, and they have used ever more powerful means to accomplish their ends. The mass media now include not only the radio, movies, and print media used in the past, but television, music videos, satellite transmissions, and the Internet. Given that most whites have little recurring, sustained, or equal-status contact with African Americans and other darker-skinned Americans, their views of such groups are significantly reinforced and created by those of their informal networks and those racial stereotypes in the white-generated media images of the still white-controlled mass media. (See here)


  1. adia

    Ironic, given how conservatives love to complain about the “liberal news media” and its bias. You’d think such a “liberal news media” would be more multiracial and diverse. I don’t know if the report addressed it, but it’s also interesting to me how the same faces of color are trotted out as the universal “experts” on race. Case in point: I really respect Michael Eric Dyson, but does he need to be *everywhere*? If I’m watching CNN or MSNBC and the story is about race, I know I’ll see him within 10-15 minutes of the opening segment.

  2. Joe

    Very good points, Adia. The report does not deal with other data like repeating experts. You are right, the white producers also choose WHO gets to speak for Black and Latino folks, and to ignore entirely other Americans of color. White power…..

  3. I just returned from the Unity Conference (journalists of color) in Chicago, IL last week. There was much hand-wringing about how the media need to improve on “sources” of color, but there was little instruction on just how to do this. When I approached recruiters for Fox, NBC, ABC, CNN and many large print organizations, they didn’t really understand why someone would want to be a source. Or, they said contact the reporter or show directly. Talk about futile. Typically, people these organizations rely on standard guests (i.e. Juan Williams is both black and Latino) that they get comfortable with and thus don’t look to expand their reach of sources.

  4. Joe

    Yes, very good point. The key is the social networks. Whites get used to their own white networks, and these are key to white power in all major institutions. Whites like whites, are comfortable with whites, clone younger whites to replace them. With rare exceptions, Only those folks of color who assimilate greatly to white norms are allowed into the white-controlled networks. It is about white control as well as comfort.

  5. karen

    Thank you Claire, it’s that sort of Right Wing bull shit that makes people respect white people all the more. Keep it up and people might confuse Hitler for your husband.

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