There’s a new report out from the folks at Gender Avenger, the site that tracks how many women get invited to panels, cable news shows, and the like. Whatever you think of the validity of this exercise The Cable Gamer thinks it’s a good thing to have straight, impartial statistical data of this sort. But is everything what it seems?
The announcement for the month of May is described as follows:
Who Talks? monitors the highest-rated morning and evening shows on three major television news networks: CNN, FOX, and MSNBC. Any guest who is not the host (or substitute host) and is asked to comment substantively on the 2016 presidential election is counted as an analyst. We count the total number of election analyst of each gender in each show and then compare aggregate numbers and proportional representation. Data is published monthly.
Sounds pretty straightforward. Here are their May stats on the percentages of female pundits:
- New Day: 31%
- Fox & Friends: 22%
- Morning Joe: 24%
- Anderson Cooper: 48%
- The Kelly File: 15%
- Rachel Maddow: 33%
You’ll note CNN shows win in both morning and evening categories. In fact several times Anderson Cooper has been singled out for “hall of fame” status. In one odd case he made the “hall of fame” for a 43% week, even though Rachel Maddow scored 50% (sorry Rachel, no “hall of fame” for you!).
These scorecards get a lot of play from friendly media sites, some of them quite knowledgeable, so The Cable Gamer is mildly surprised that none of them spotted a disconnect in the methodology. The criteria state they monitor the “highest-rated” evening shows on the three cable news nets—so where is Bill O’Reilly? O’Reilly has had the #1 program on cable news for “15 years and counting” (as viewers are reminded every evening). Yet The Factor has never been rated by Gender Avenger.
The Cable Gamer recently asked GA how it is that they skipped over the undisputed “highest-rated” evening cable news program, and got this response:
We too noticed the error in describing all the targeted shows as “highest rated” and have since amended our references to “popular” to encompass all. The reason we picked Megyn Kelley [sic] is that we wanted to follow all the 9 o’clock hour shows in the evening.
Yeah, well, we aren’t sure exactly where “highest-rated” as been amended to “popular.” The Cable Gamer couldn’t find it on the GA website, where “highest-rated” still appears in the criteria. And if the intention is to cover the 9 o’clock shows, why not just say that? Mind you, CNN doesn’t always run Anderson Cooper at 9 o’clock; sometimes they have documentaries and series like The Eighties in that time slot. What effect does that have on the stats?
This seems like a lot of finagling in what would otherwise be a straightforward contest among highest-rated shows. But what if it was as advertised: a contest among the most-watched programs? The results would be mostly as they are, except The O’Reilly Factor would replace The Kelly File. We started too late to capture the first part of May, but other than that we made a count, sticking to the criteria, and got these results for the last three weeks of the month:
- The O’Reilly Factor: 40%
In fact for the week of May 16th O’Reilly scored an impressive 46%—that’s higher than the measly 43% Anderson Cooper scored in his “hall of fame” week. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Mr. O’Reilly has a repertory company of female guests who appear regularly: Katie Pavlich, Eboni Williams, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Lis Wiehl, Martha MacCallum, Monica Crowley, Mary Anne Marsh, Dana Perino, Kirsten Powers, etc.
One would think Gender Avenger would want to throw a little “hall of fame” action O’Reilly’s way, as an encouragement to people who do provide the diversity GA calls for. But the rules have been quietly bent just enough to exclude Bill O’Reilly from contention. Funny that.
MSNBC is hitting back at charges (considered by some a bit thin) that their morning hosts are in the tank for Trump . By scheduling a surprise prime time Trump town hall, moderated by Joe and Mika, directly opposite CNN’s GOP town hall, MSNBC is doing more than just serving up payback to CNN. This is also a middle finger to CNN town hallers Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, two sitting Senators bigfooted by Joe and Mika’s audacious counter-programming stunt. MSNBC is betting their new best friend Trump wins the nomination, thereby making him titular head of the Republican Party. That would give the long-time “liberal” network an entré it has lacked into GOP respectability, aiding their attempts to build up fairness cred. And if Trump and Fox News are still at war, even a cold one, that might give MSNBC some extra leverage in bookings and the like.
Of course Trump might not get the nomination, and then MSNBC will have pissed off just about every GOP candidate except Donald Trump. That would only further isolate MSNBC from the GOP establishment. They’re out on a limb here, and that’s a precarious spot to be rolling the dice. Especially if they aren’t loaded in your favor.
The Cable Gamer watched some Thomas Roberts today, because somebody has to. She didn’t expect any surprises, and sure enough it was two hours of Lean Forward style news:
- Analysis by Huffington Post‘s Howard Fineman (everything is going great for the Dems)
- “Reporting” by ex-opinionizer, Salon scribe Steve Kornacki.
- Political guest: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D).
- “Reporting” by ex-Howard-Dean staffer Jacob Soboroff.
- Insights from Chuck Todd (he’s a straight newsman, though that came after he worked to elect Tom Harkin, running for President to the left of Bill Clinton).
- A clip from the big Lester Holt interview of Obama (we’re going to come back to this).
- More Kornacki, chewing over a clip from Morning Joe‘s Koch interview.
- Political guest: Steve Israel (D), to tell viewers that Republicans want to stop people from voting.
We hope you didn’t expect any pushback on that last one from Mr. Roberts. After all, he’s said the same thing himself! It hardly seems necessary to point out the lack of any conservative or Republican representation. That, after all, is how Lean Forward news works. But something in that Obama clip did spin the tumblers of The Cable Gamer’s mind.
The producers chose a soundbite where the President ridiculed the GOP complaints over the CNBC debate. Har har, they’re afraid of CNBC moderators! This echoes the meme that has been spreading among mainstream media voices that it’s outrageous, even “delusional,” for Republicans to push back on moderators, even ones as clumsy and incompetent as the CNBC hosts. Candidates shouldn’t be permitted to exert influence on questioning, graphics, moderators, or anything else. At least they shouldn’t when they’re Republicans.
Does anyone in the media have any institutional memory? Is it so hard to remember all the way back to 2007? That’s when the Democratic party went far beyond trying to influence the questioning or the choice of moderators. They completely cancelled a debate, because it was on Fox News. And Barack Obama was one of the angry villagers who demanded it be shut down. As is so often the case, the push to destroy the Fox Democratic debate was based on a shameless, thoroughly dishonest torrent of outright lies, capped by a fabrication about a Roger Ailes joke. (It poked fun at Bush, but was deliberately misrepresented as an insult to Mr. Obama in order to further the narrative.) And now here’s Rachel Maddow in 2015 going after the GOP because they’re “attacking the media,” as if that isn’t exactly what the Democrats did in 2007.
In fact, they’re still doing it. As Bret Baier has noted multiple times, Fox has repeatedly asked to host a Democratic primary debate but have been rebuffed at every turn. The Dems are exerting the ultimate control over the Fox News moderators—they’re not just nitpicking their questions but silencing them entirely by denying them the forum to ask anything. Yet we don’t see Ryan Lizza or James Warren writing lengthy pieces about the “outrageous, delusional” Democratic stonewalling of Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace. And Ms. Maddow has not expressed any of her uniquely clownish outrage.
Why do you suppose that is?
I’m still thinking about CNN’s self-congratulatory ad trumpeting a New Day victory (which in CNN-speak means finishing second while Morning Joe came in third). I’m not going to rehash the issues regarding how the ad was publicized; instead, I’ll let the numbers do the talking.
Any student of The Cable Game has to keep an eye on TV by the Numbers, where every weekday they publish detailed ratings of the cable news wars–including the morning shows. Taking all the available numbers for this week and averaging them out, here are the standings for the Big Three channels’ morning shows in the key 25-54 demographic:
- Fox & Friends (FNC): 272,000
- New Day (CNN): 131,000
- Morning Joe (MSNBC): 79,000
Points to ponder:
- CNN does have a lead over MSNBC.
- Fox News’ lead over CNN is almost three times the size of CNN’s lead over MSNBC.
- Fox News easily beats CNN + MSNBC combined.
- Fox News’ lead over CNN + MSNBC combined is larger than CNN’s lead over MSNBC.
Conclusions: While it’s better to be New Day than Morning Joe, the spread between them isn’t that large, especially considering the dominance of Fox & Friends. The fight for second place is a fight for a distant second place, one that shows little promise of advancing any time soon. Any notions that Morning Joe could become the morning show on CBS broadcast are dead–it’s more likely to transition to a little-watched online stream show, if it survives at all. And finally: with the numbers he has, Roger Ailes could run a helluva full-page ad, one that would expose CNN’s advertising ploy as the embarrassment that it was. But he doesn’t have to spend the money. People in The Cable Game are laughing at it already.