THE BLOG

If It's Sunday, It's Meet the Facts

03/18/2010 05:12 am 05:12:02 | Updated May 25, 2011

Jay Rosen, the NYU journalism professor and new media innovator, has been agitating for some fact-driven reforms to the Sunday political talk shows. This Sunday, he got some traction.

Rosen suggests a weekly accountability segment, to check the pols and pundits who populate the pulpit on Sundays. "Fact check what your guests say on Sunday and run it online Wednesday," he advised. Then the factually challenged would face consequences -- done right, this kind of segment could create its own news on Wednesday -- and repeat offenders might even lose their status as repeat guests. Rosen explains:

Now I don't contend this would solve the problem of the Sunday shows, which is structural. But it might change the dynamic a little bit. Whoever was [BS]ing us more could expect to hear about it from Meet the Press staff on Wednesday. The midweek fact check (in the spirit of Politifact.com...) might, over time, exert some influence on the speakers on Sunday. At the very least, it would guide the producers in their decisions about whom to invite back.

This Sunday, Politico's Michael Calderone followed up on Rosen's idea in a thorough, 1,740-word article, surveying reactions from TV figures and new media people. The coverage matters because without it, Rosen -- just like the Sunday show audience -- has very little dialogue with the Sunday shows. (He complained about this in his original essay, noting that MTP's executive producer "never replies" to anything he writes, despite maintaining a presence on Twitter. An ABC reporter briefly replied to his idea.) Yet once an article was in the works, MTP not only responded, it issued a statement from host David Gregory praising the idea and committing to discuss it with his staff:

The [fact-checking] suggestion by... Rosen kicked around Twitter and the blogosphere with such force that the show's host, David Gregory, said in a statement to POLITICO that it was a "good idea" and his staff is "going to talk about it."

That's a big shift from refusing to respond at all. And while it's an improvement, it also shows how these programs tend to be more responsive to other members of the media than to their audience. (Blogger Nisha Chittal tackles that angle today.)

The bottom line is that the Sunday shows still drive Washington politics and retain rare interview leverage over political leaders. The fractured media environment enables politicians to handpick most media appearances, if they want, avoiding aggressive questioning for years at a time. But even the most powerful candidates and politicians submit to Sunday grillings -- Calderone notes that Sarah Palin is one of the only national candidates to boycott the shows entirely. (And we all remember how her media strategy turned out.) So it's a real loss when politicians can dissemble through these appearances without any rigorous follow up.

UPDATE: Calderone posted a follow up item on Monday:

...The Nation's Ari Melber noted that NBC didn't respond to Jay Rosen's fact-check suggestion that he addressed to "Meet the Press" EP Betsy Fischer a couple weeks ago, but David Gregory responded in a statement for my piece."That's a big shift from refusing to respond at all," Melber wrote. "And while it's an improvement, it also shows how these programs tend to be more responsive to other members of the media than to their audience."

While I think it's good that big-name journalists, producers and broadcast networks jump on the Twitter bandwagon, the public will notice whether it's being used to primarily promote content rather than responding to suggestions or constructive criticism -- a "one-way medium," as Rosen put it. (Amidst my own self-promotion on Twitter, I try to push others' pieces out there and engage with users when possible).

Nisha Chittal, over on Mediaite, addresses the current use of Twitter among Sunday show hosts and provides a number of suggestsions for incorporating social media in the long-running programs.

We may be living in the YouTube age, but from the look of most Sunday shows you'd never know it. Remember the 2008 presidential election debates, where CNN and YouTube asked citizens to submit questions to ask of the candidates, and then featured selected video questions during the debate? Would it kill us to allow citizens to submit questions to the newsmakers and politicians on Meet The Press, Face The Nation, and This Week? Whether it's via Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube videos, allowing citizens to ask questions would give them a connection to the shows, engage them, and allow them to play a role in setting the news agenda. And talk show hosts like David Gregory and Bob Schieffer should help facilitate that citizen-politician connection. Although David Gregory, Bob Schieffer, and George Stephanopoulos all have Twitter accounts, their level of engagement with fans is very low. Schieffer and Stephanopoulos's Twitter accounts aren't even really them, but are merely RSS feeds of updates from their websites.

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Ari Melber writes for The Nation, where this post first appeared.