Is Meet the Press Trying to Diversify its Panels . . . Again?


After Jeff Zucker‘s trip to the Congressional woodshed at a House Judicial Affairs Committee meeting this week over lack of racial diversity at NBC, is Meet the Press about to take another stab at diversifying its panels and newsmakers?

Diversity media watchdog Richard Prince is reporting at his Maynard Institute column that NBC suggests it wants greater diversity at Meet the Press, with an NBC spokeswoman telling Prince the show is “committed to having a more diverse group of voices on the show whose opinions and expertise reflect, not just the news of the day, but the cultural, economical and political landscape of our country.”

The comment comes after Zucker was grilled by African American and Latino members of Congress during a hearing over the NBC Universal/Comcast deal. Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) repeatedly asked Zucker and Comcast chair Brian Roberts about the lack of diversity on their corporate boards and on both prime-time and Sunday morning shows, with Jackson-Lee telling Zucker, “[t]here is no diversity on the Sunday morning talk shows,” the blog Main Justice reported.

Looking at the schedule for Feb. 28 Sunday news shows, the complexion of guests and journalists is still very white.  MTP will have the Urban League’s Marc Morial and the Obama administration’s Nancy-Ann DeParle (who is Asian American) as guests and ABC’s This Week will have Elizabeth Vargas as host.  Face the Nation and CNN’s State of the Union will have no non-white guests or panelists (or hosts).  Only Fox News Sunday comes close to having good consistent representation, with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J) as a guest and regular panelist Juan Williams of National Public Radio.

If this all sounds familiar, it should.  In 2005, the National Urban League issued its Sunday Morning Apartheid report which criticized the Sunday morning news shows for lack of racial diversity in guests and journalists. Since the report, things haven’t changed much.

After the Urban League issued its report, MTP’s Tim Russert and executive producer Betsy Fischer about the lack of diversity on MTP, which traditionally had the largest panels on Sunday mornings.  Russert was famously supportive of greater diversity and was comfortable dealing with race, as Gwen Ifill related after Russert’s death. Ifill–who was mentioned as a possible Russert replacement and who hosts her own show on public television–said that Russert tried to increase the number of African American journalists featured on the show. Ifill, along with National Public Radio’s Michele Norris and the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson were often panelists during the Russert era after the Urban League report.

But the number of African American and Latino guests and journalists featured on the broadcast and cable news shows is still an issue of significant controversy, as Keith Olbermann’s recent defensiveness demonstrates. While Ifill often shows up on various panels and ABC This Week includes pundit Donna Brazile in their regular rotation of panelists, only NPR’s Williams is a Sunday morning regular.  There are no Latinos or Asian Americans who routinely show up on Sunday morning news shows.

MTP deserves credit for, again, voicing its desire to increase the diversity on its show.  But it shouldn’t take a testy Congressional hearing for the pledge to be made and, hopefully, this time there will be some tangible results.

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