When Media Matters counted all the guests to appear on 13 cable evening news shows on CNN, MSNBC and Fox in April 2013, their mission was to chronicle what the face of an “expert” looks like. It turns out it looks disproportionately white and male: Caucasian men made up 58 percent of cable news guests, although they are only 31 percent of the population. This problem persisted across the networks. CNN had the biggest diversity issue—62 percent of its guests were white men—but MSNBC did only slightly better, inviting white, male guests 54 percent of the time.
The researchers broke down the results by show. On all 13 programs, male guests outnumbered women. On 12 of the 13 shows, white people were overrepresented. All In with Chris Hayes was the only exception. According to the Census, non-Hispanic whites make up 63 percent of the population, and they were 59 percent of Hayes' guests. Hayes did better than his competitors and colleagues on gender diversity as well, with 41 percent of his guests being women. (On that front, Rachel Maddow was his closest competitor, bringing in 37 percent female guests.) God only knows how much worse it would be if reproductive rights weren’t constantly demanding media attention.
The white maleness of the cable news circuit creates a self-perpetuating cycle. When most of the “expert” faces we see are white and male, white maleness gets associated with the concept of expertise. This, in turn, makes it harder for the producers of the shows to strive for diversity. Consciously or unconsciously, the people who book guests may worry that if they don’t deliver enough white male faces, audiences won’t perceive their shows as expert-heavy. So they bring on more white men, continuing the process by which white maleness and expertise are strongly, and wrongly, associated.
One way for producers to throw a wrench into this cycle is to set diversity as a deliberate goal. It also helps to cover more stories that hold special significance for women and people of color. But the real trick to it may just be thinking of women and people of color as potential experts on all sorts of issues—on tax rates, congressional budgets and foreign policy, for instance, as well as on poverty, racism, and reproductive rights. If cable news leads the way, the imagined link between white maleness and expertise can be broken.