Marie C. Wilson

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–Sunday morning TV talk shows like Face the Nation, Meet the Press and Late Edition take different approaches to the weekly news roundup, but they have one thing in common: a remarkable lack of women guests. And that means accomplished women with important viewpoints have no access to a high-profile rite of political passage.

And since the terrorist attacks on Sept.11, the parity situation has only gotten worse, according to a new study examining women’s appearances on the influential shows. Even female members of Congress with expertise in terrorism, the military and finance are not being invited.

“Women are neither seen nor heard on the Sunday talk shows,” said Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project. The New York-based organization conducted the study, entitled “Who’s Talking?” that documents the non-appearance of women on television. The project seeks to enhance the public perception of women’s capacity to lead, and to help women achieve leadership positions.

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, Wilson told a congressional conference room packed with journalists, women’s advocates and female leaders from Congress that women constituted only 10.7 percent of guests on the Sunday shows before Sept. 11, and they have made up only 9.4 percent of guests since the terror attacks.

Wilson and others declined to speculate publicly on the reasons for the drop in the number of appearances of women as guests, while noting that the producers of the Sunday morning shows are overwhelmingly women. Reliable research has documented time and again women’s perceived lack of credibility and weight in the American culture–whether in courtrooms, classrooms or in the general populace.

“I’ve noticed how the whole problem has gotten worse since Sept. 11,” said journalist and frequent talk show commentator Eleanor Clift. “I was hoping it would get better when things get back to normal. But now normal doesn’t look so good either,” she said at the news conference.

American Public Does Not See Women’s Mastery of Key Issues

As a result of the appearance inequity, the American public is not seeing women expound on foreign policy or exhibit mastery of the tax code and economic stimulus issues–ideas that show they are capable of leading at the highest levels of government, Wilson said.

Wilson said that guests who appear over and over on shows such as Meet the Press and Face the Nation get to be the authority, the key player, the trusted insider.

“Authority is not recognized by these shows,” she said. “It is created by these shows.”

The study analyzed guest appearances on Sunday talk shows broadcast by NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and CNN from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 30, 2001, and then took a look at the shows that ran between Sept. 16 and Oct. 28. The numbers for the first period do not include the appearances of presidential candidates, who were all men. Appearances by journalists and anchors were also not included in the tallies.

The resulting tallying of appearances by men and women found that even when women appeared on the shows, they spoke for fewer minutes than men, appeared more often on the less prestigious later segments and were much less likely to be invited back for a second appearance.

Of all the repeat guests on the shows, only 7 percent were women. Male U.S. Senators were invited 245 times in repeat appearances, but only eight female senators were invited back. The U.S. Senate of 100 members has 13 women.

When the study calculated who was doing the talking on the shows, it found that of the total words spoken by guests on the shows, 90 percent were spoken by men and only 10 percent by women.

Women’s Voices Also Absent From Newspaper Editorials

White House Project staff said they will be presenting the findings of the report to news executives and asking them about how guests are chosen to appear on the shows.

In a Washington Post article published Wednesday, media reporter Howard Kurtz quoted network producers as saying that men are more likely to be asked to participate in the Sunday shows because they are more likely to be in positions of power in the presidential administration.

In the Bush administration, three of the 14 cabinet positions are held by women. Of the 21 cabinet-rank positions, four are held by women.

Wilson and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., reminded the audience that women are in positions of power, though the public may not know it because they have not received media exposure.

For example, Wilson said, women hold important positions on the three Senate subcommittees that deal with terrorism: Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairs the Foreign Relation Committee’s subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism; Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., chairs the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Terrorism and Government Information; and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., chairs the Armed Service Committee’s subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. Yet none of these women has been invited to appear on any of the Sunday talk shows since Sept. 11.

Women With Expertise in Terrorism, Military Issues Not Invited

Women also chair or are ranking members of House and Senate committees and subcommittees, ranging from the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Transportation subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to the House Appropriations Committee’s Agricultural subcommittee, where Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, is the ranking member.

“We come (to Congress) in the very same way as our male counterparts,” DeLauro told the news conference. “We sit on the same committees, we’re required to do the same type of analysis, we’re required to build the same coalitions in order to move legislation forward. … We need to provide that expertise on the shows.”

Rep. Juanita Millender McDonald, D-Calif., said that the problem of under-representation goes beyond the public’s seeing–and not seeing–women in positions of leadership.

Because women are not getting to weigh in on issues as often as men, she said, “We have a skewed impression of where public opinion is on various issues.”

For DeLauro and many of the women members of Congress who attended the news conference, the inability to be seen and heard on television is similar to their experiences in Congress itself. Kaptur said that it is more difficult for women’s voices to be heard–literally–even when they are on the floor of the House, because their voices are not as loud as men’s voices. Saying that she has noticed that the din on the floor of the House gets louder when women are speaking, she joked, “Microphones are good,” as she touched the electronic equipment before her.

Sarah Stewart Taylor is a free-lance writer in Washington.

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