There's been much ado about Sunday's Meet The Press (Colbert! Colbert! Colbert!) but when it came onscreen on Sunday morning, I noticed something instantly: Tim Russert's first panel featured Doris Kearns Goodwin, Kate O'Beirne, Judy Woodruff and Sally Bedell Smith — all women.
It's not that there are never women on MTP — there are plenty of regulars in addition to those mentioned above, like Mary Matalin and Margaret Carlson and Andrea Mitchell and Gwen Ifill — and it's also not rare for the opening panel to consist homogeneously of one sex (cf. Sept. 30/07, Sept. 16/07, Sept. 9/07, Aug. 26/07, July 22/07, and so on). It's just damned rare for that one sex to be female.
But, it has happened before! I asked an NBC spokesperson and was told that they'd had an all woman panel on before, on the topic of foreign policy. February 2, 2005, featuring NBC's Mitchell, the BBC's Katty Kay, and WaPo's Dana Priest and Robin Wright.. (I sent a follow-up email asking if now they could send me the date of the all-male panel. Ha, ha!) But seriously, folks: A glance down the guest list of MTP this past year does have plenty of women...just way more men. Obviously this reflects, to a certain degree, the numbers in the industry: There aren't usually younger faces on these shows, and though women are participating in the political discourse with gusto these days, the demographic represented by the guests skews heavily male (and reflects the atmosphere that dominated while these pundits were on the rise). White House Project founder and HuffPo contributor Marie Wilson wrote about this phenomenon earlier this week:
A few years ago, my organization, The White House Project, published a report called "Who's Talking," which highlighted the lack of women guests on the Sunday morning talk show circuit. Our research found that women comprise only 14 percent of guest appearances on these shows. Since that time, Meet the Press and other major talk shows have taken strides to rectify the situation and include more women opinion makers, journalists and experts. Sunday's show demonstrated what happens when you add women to the conversation: the discussion becomes anything but standard conventional wisdom-speak.
While the four women spent time addressing Sen. Clinton's campaign, one of the most important observations made during this discussion was about the enormous changes her candidacy has brought to the political dialogue. As pointed out by the panel, overnight male presidential candidates have started talking about women's issues.
Interesting! While I think it damns MTP's many male experts with faint praise to imply that that their views are "conventional wisdom-speak (just as I would recoil from characterizing the contributions of these women as "conventional lady-speak"), Wilson's point about broadening the discourse with the inclusion of different stakeholders is a good one. I did not ask whether MTP has ever featured an all-black panel, or an all-gay panel, but I imagine the results of those conversations would be far from conventional wisdom-speak as well.
Does this mean that NBC and Russert should institute quotas on their show? Of course not. But it's a great thing to be noticing, because the first step toward positive change is awareness. It's how an all-female panel came to be on Meet The Press in the first place...or a single female panel member, for that matter. Today, an all-female MTP panel is notable — and it's notable that it's notable, so, hopefully it will be noted. (NB: Just notin'.) From there will come the change that will make it less notable in the future. Even without an active decision to make those changes, MTP will move in that direction just by dint of the younger women who are now coming up the ranks as real experts: NBC's Norah O'Donnell is already well on her way, likewise former NBCer and now CNNer Campbell Brown and Time's Ana Marie Cox, but there's also people like the American Prospect's Garance Franke-Ruta, Slate XXers like Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick, Megan McArdle at the Atlantic, CNN's Jessica Yellin (who, we hear, is gellin' like a felon).
While MTP could certainly mix things up diversity-wise — on all levels — by tapping a more robust mix of younger writers, that's not necessarily what I am suggesting. There is no substitute for the wisdom that comes from experience (or the perspective that comes from, say, speaking with authority on the Reagan-Carter presidential election because you voted in it — a claim someone like Matt Yglesias can't make, seeing how he was born in 1981). But, there is also no substitute for the exchange of ideas that comes about from mixing different points of view. Demographics do make a difference...and that, we would humbly note, is worth noting.
Marie Wilson: Adding Women Changes Everything at Meet The Press [HuffPo]
Correction: We originally put Jessica Yellin at ABC; she moved to CNN this past August and is their Congressional correspondent.