11/03/2012 02:44 pm ET Updated Nov 03, 2012

WaPo's Downie Blasts Tomorrow Morning's Sunday Show Line Up, But Misses A Larger Problem

Over at the Washington Post's "Post Partisan" blog, James Downie takes issue with the line-ups of this Sunday morning's political chat-shows, calling them out for allowing conservatives to dominate the panel discussions:

You’d think that the Sunday shows would be particularly sensitive to “balance” the weekend before Election Day. Instead, NBC’s roundtable has two conservatives (Scarborough and Murphy) and one liberal (Booker). ABC has two conservatives (Bush-Cheney ’04 chief strategist Dowd and The Post’s own George Will) and one liberal (Brazile). CBS has two conservatives (Lowry and Noonan) and one liberal (former Clinton press secretary Myers). And — stop me if you’ve heard this before — Fox has two conservatives (Hume and Rove) and one liberal (Trippi).

Lord knows that concerns of bias are a continually voguish complaint about the Sunday morning shows, and I won't be the first to point out that the arrangement of a panel quartet is often conservative-liberal-conservative-reporter. Fox News Sunday's roundtable lineup of Brit Hume, Karl Rove, Joe Trippi, and Jeff Zeleny is a good example of this.

But I have been watching these shows pretty regularly, and liveblogging them for nearly five years, in what I call "The Longest Running Exercise In Futility On The Internet." And while these arrangements favor conservative voices, they are not especially biased on this particular occasion, as Downie seems to imply.

I've seen that Fox News Sunday lineup dozens of times. ABC's "This Week" has a panel (George Will, Cokie Roberts, Ron Brownstein, Donna Brazile, Matt Dowd) that you'll see on any number of occasions during the year. These panels may feature the "2-on-1" ratio of conservatives to liberals, and that may be worth complaining about, but these pre-Election Day panels aren't actually some suddenly extreme example of conservative panel domination -- these are standard Sunday Morning lineups.

To my mind, the things that make these Sunday shows so terrible isn't the balance of conservatives-to-liberals -- it's the ratio of hacks to non-hacks. It's a problem that never, ever goes away.

For example, Karl Rove is a shameless hack of the highest order, but Joe Trippi is, to my mind, one of the most overpraised political consultants in the country. So that's all bad from my perspective. Joe Scarborough, who will be on "Meet The Press," weaves in and out. You never know which Scarborough is going to show up -- the guy who eloquently called out the Obama administration for its drone policy, or the guy who thinks Nate Silver is wrong because Scarborough doesn't understand how math works. Matt Dowd is a conservative, but he has a very low hack-rating. I am usually relieved to see him on a panel.

Beyond that, what are these shows going to offer viewers tomorrow? On "Meet The Press," you will see David Plouffe and Eric Cantor. On "This Week," you will see Plouffe and Ed Gillespie. On "Fox News Sunday," you will see David Axelrod and Romney political director Rich Beeson. Are you wondering what these men are going to say, in what will amount to at least one solid hour of aggregated, televised chit-chat? SPOILER ALERT: Plouffe and Axelrod will talk about how Obama is going to win the election, while Cantor and Gillespie and Beeson will talk about how Romney will win the election.

There are not going to be any surprises on the Sunday morning shows tomorrow. No one will make news, or say anything remotely surprising or engaging. It will be many hours of hackery, stacked end to end, saying nothing whatsoever about contemporary life in America. Sunday morning will feature the most eminently skipable round of Sunday shows of the entire year. As always, I will be watching them so you don't have to.

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