The trouble with Sunday talk shows

ALEX WONG/Getty Images The Washington Monthly‘s Kevin Drum, citing a report by Media Matters, an organization set up to flag instances of conservative bias in the U.S. media, complains that Sunday political talk shows in the United States hosted significantly more conservatives than liberals over the last two years. Since the U.S. congress changed hands, ...

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603362_070313_mtp_05.jpg

ALEX WONG/Getty Images

The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum, citing a report by Media Matters, an organization set up to flag instances of conservative bias in the U.S. media, complains that Sunday political talk shows in the United States hosted significantly more conservatives than liberals over the last two years. Since the U.S. congress changed hands, moreover, only ABC's This Week has had a balanced lineup.

Scroll down a few posts, however, and you'll see that Kevin has blogged a recent AP/Ispos poll (pdf) finding that nearly twice as many in the United States identify themselves as conservative rather than liberal (Republicans and Democrats are roughly equal in number). I think we may have a possible explanation here: Television networks aren't necessarily biased; they're businesses, and they reflect their markets. In any case, with the Fairness Doctrine long dead and buried, it's not clear to me that media companies have any obligation to provide balanced coverage.

ALEX WONG/Getty Images

The Washington Monthly‘s Kevin Drum, citing a report by Media Matters, an organization set up to flag instances of conservative bias in the U.S. media, complains that Sunday political talk shows in the United States hosted significantly more conservatives than liberals over the last two years. Since the U.S. congress changed hands, moreover, only ABC’s This Week has had a balanced lineup.

Scroll down a few posts, however, and you’ll see that Kevin has blogged a recent AP/Ispos poll (pdf) finding that nearly twice as many in the United States identify themselves as conservative rather than liberal (Republicans and Democrats are roughly equal in number). I think we may have a possible explanation here: Television networks aren’t necessarily biased; they’re businesses, and they reflect their markets. In any case, with the Fairness Doctrine long dead and buried, it’s not clear to me that media companies have any obligation to provide balanced coverage.

I’ve got no dog in the conservative/liberal food fight, but I do have a different complaint about the Sunday talk shows. They may be formulaic, yet they’re important, because they set the tone for the week’s media coverage and they often make news. I stopped watching them, though, because they usually host politicians, generalists, or pundits and have them sound off about issues that are usually better addressed by real experts. Sometimes politicians know a great deal; Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, for instance, probably knows as much as anyone about nuclear stockpiles in the former Soviet Union. But in most cases, the experts know more. (Witness the generally unenlightening debates on the influential Meet the Press in the run-up to the Iraq War, and you can see how this can become a problem.) There are plenty of well-spoken, non-partisan specialists on nearly any issue out there. But I suppose they usually aren’t as witty as Maureen Dowd, as punchy as James Carville, or as sound-byte friendly as Joe Biden, eh?

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