Political Animal


May 08, 2011 8:00 AM How the Sunday shows operate

By Steve Benen

A few months ago, the line-up for the Sunday morning public-affairs shows was especially egregious. The guest lists featured two Republican senators, three Republican House members, three likely Republican presidential candidates, and exactly zero Democrats from Congress or the Obama administration.

Today, with the Sunday shows turning their attention to bin Laden’s demise and national security, the lineup isn’t quite as bad, but it’s close.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, Tom Donilon, President Obama’s National Security Adviser, will have a very heavy presence, appearing on three of the five main Sunday shows (Meet the Press, This Week, and Fox News Sunday). Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) will be on Face the Nation, and former White House communications director Anita Dunn will be on CNN’s State of the Union.

And then, there’s the Republican side of the aisle.

* Meet the Press will have two Bush administration officials (former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former CIA Director, Ret. Gen. Michael Hayden) and a former Republican presidential candidate (former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani).

* Face the Nation will host another Bush administration official (former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld).

* This Week will talk to two other Bush administration officials (former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Liz Cheney).

* Fox News Sunday will have another Bush administration official (Dick Cheney).

* State of the Union will talk to one Republican senator (Dick Lugar) and a former Republican House member (Tom Davis).

If we expand this a little more, and include CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, viewers will also see two Bush administration officials (Rice and Hayden) and no Democrats.

So, the week that the Obama administration scores one of the most significant national security victories in years, the Sunday shows really want to hear from … Republicans.

As Ben Armbruster put it:

That’s right. Despite the fact that President Obama gave the order to take down bin Laden, only one Obama administration official will take part in this Sunday’s festivities. By contrast, there are 5 former Bush administration officials making appearances. In total, 7 Republicans are on the networks this Sunday versus 2 Democrats. Torture apologists have been arguing this week that Bush’s torture program is responsible for getting bin Laden. Conveniently, this Sunday, some of the Bush administration officials involved in authorizing it will get their chance to defend themselves.

Now, the guest lists have expanded a bit since Armbruster wrote that on Friday, but the ratio is no better — by my count, nine Republicans from Congress or the Bush administration will be on this morning, as compared to three Democrats from Congress or the Obama administration.

In other words, it’s a fairly typical Sunday — even after a major success story for a Democratic White House.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • c u n d gulag on May 08, 2011 8:06 AM:

    Well, in all fairness, maybe since Obama caught Osama they'll spend the time asking the Republican officials, "What the f*ck did you do wrong?"

    HAHAHAHAHAHA! LOL!!!!!!!!!
    Sometimes I even crack myself up!

    PS: Ditch the CAPTCHA, or better yet, KILL IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • DAY on May 08, 2011 8:07 AM:

    Thanks for the advance warning!
    -time to do a little yard work. . .

  • Daniel Buck on May 08, 2011 8:07 AM:

    OK, yes, a long-standing, shameful state of affairs -- but would not this story be better reported if you had called up several Sunday show producers and pinned them down, got them on record to explain themselves?


  • TR on May 08, 2011 8:12 AM:

    What Dan said -- the GOP bias on these shows was the result of endless conservative complaining. Let them know we're watching this too.

  • Ladyhawke on May 08, 2011 8:13 AM:


    I was anxiously awaiting your post this morning about the Sunday shows and the guest imbalance. It seems the media is, again or still, going out of its way to give the Bush administration members equal time so they can tell revisionist history tales about what they did and why they deserve credit for the capture of OBL.

    When you consider the wreckage they left for President Obama, you would think they would want to avoid bringing attention to their incompetence. But as we all know, the Republican Party has no shame and they can not be embarrassed.

    When I saw the post below at PolicicusUSA I immediately thought of you. You are not alone in your dismay.



    What do Democrats have to do to get booked on the Sunday morning talk shows? A Democratic president got Osama Bin Laden, and the media spends Sunday morning talking with six members of the previous administration that failed to get the job done. These are the same people who gave up looking for Bin Laden, and let him live in luxury in Pakistan. Yet the mainstream media has decided to mark the occasion by hosting Dick Cheney and a roster full of Bush administration officials.


    The answer is conservative media bias. Even if all of those Republicans go on the Sunday shows and lavish praise on President Obama, which they won’t do, their very presence is reinforcing the bogus notion that the GOP is the party of national security. There is no reason for the networks to fill their first shows after the death of Bin Laden with Republicans.

    Why are Dick and Liz Cheney on the air instead of the Director of the CIA, or experts on the Navy SEALS? The networks are giving these former Bush administration officials unopposed airtime with which to push both their bogus justifications of torture, and give themselves credit for death of Bin Laden. The networks aren‘t trying to be balanced, their shows, and I am looking at you Meet The Press, have turned into nothing more than Sunday morning GOP infomericals.


  • hell's littlest angel on May 08, 2011 8:13 AM:

    I wonder if the producers of these shows ever respond to any questions about their unbalanced line-ups. It's a very insular production. When I see a commercial for Archer-Daniels-Midland, it's pretty obvious, since I'm not planning to buy 50 tons of hydrolyzed soy protein this week, that I'm not the intended audience for this bullshit.

  • Holmes on May 08, 2011 8:14 AM:

    It's pathetic but not unexpected.

    I wouldn't have a problem with the disparity if I thought the 'journalists' on the Sunday morning shows were going to hold the republicans' feet to the fire, but experience tells us that is unlikely.

  • hell's littlest angel on May 08, 2011 8:16 AM:

    Thank you!

  • MonkeyBoy on May 08, 2011 8:30 AM:

    The demographic for Sunday talk shows slews heavily toward white men over 55. In marketing terms such men have stopped watching much TV in general except for news and pundit shows. So the best place advertisers have a good chance of reaching this market is the Sunday talk shows. Thus these shows are tuned to appeal to the over 55 white male that thinks Republicans should be listened to.

  • DelCapslock on May 08, 2011 8:39 AM:

    I say just let the corporate media continue to stroke the egos of aging white males on the Sunday news shows. They are a dying breed anyway.

  • AK Liberal on May 08, 2011 8:46 AM:

    HLA & MonkeyBoy offer the best explanation for this phenomena. They're booking the people their audience wants to hear from. That's infotainment, I guess.

    BTW: Thanks for darkening the font in the comments. That will help reduce the the eye strain!

  • Ron Byers on May 08, 2011 8:46 AM:

    Thanks for reminding me why I don't watch these dinosaur television shows anymore. At least John McCain isn't on this week.

  • JoeW on May 08, 2011 8:47 AM:

    If it's Sunday, It's Meet the Republicans

  • neil b on May 08, 2011 8:51 AM:

    I remember hearing someone talk about arranging for such "news" shows, and not even the recent ones. He said there was an unwritten rule, that there had to be more Republicans than Democrats. Anyone else have such stories?

    Yes, tx for darkening font and maybe a more readable Captcha. But instead of fixing SPI, you just got rid of it along with URL. Good grief, we've been needing that SPI/RPI and griping for years, now what ...

  • Holmes on May 08, 2011 8:51 AM:

    Even more ridiculous is McCain's absence. He is on those shows virtually every week, but the one time McCain doesn't tow the republican line, and essentially says the Bushies are lying about info gleaned from torture, he is excluded.

  • neil b. on May 08, 2011 8:55 AM:

    BTW, this SSOA (figure it ....) is IMHO mostly not the result of "endless conservative complaining." It is most crucially from the owners of the media wanting Republican voices to predominate, to better further the owners' agendas. Keep pushing, though.

  • DK on May 08, 2011 9:08 AM:

    So there are going to be six republicans on the Sunday morning talk shows?

    Hmm . . . That's probably two more people than the audience. Honestly, who watches anymore?

  • MSMProducer on May 08, 2011 9:10 AM:

    As the producer of one of these shows, I must point out that Republicans are still largely out of power in DC, and that Republicans must be double, triple, and even quadruple booked in order to provide an even playing field. Our host does a wonderful job of asking truly tough lines of questions that are presented with as little as 24 hours of advance knowledge to his guests. Contractual rules prohibit follow-up questions based on facts or data, but our host will sometimes ask one or two clarifying questions to better "set the record" before leaving it there. For example:

    Host: "Didn't Bush disband the unit hunting Bin Laden?"

    Guest: "Look, the facts are undeniable. President Bush always placed a high priority on getting Bin Laden."

    Host: "Yes, that's true, but didn't he also disband the unit responsible for finding Bin Laden?"

    Guest: "Bin Laden was always a top priority".

    See how the host grilled the guest? You people are whining about nothing.

  • Daniel Buck on May 08, 2011 9:39 AM:


    Thinking about the topic a bit more, is the cause of the disparity perhaps what the producers see as an inherent need for conflict -- fireworks, if you wish. David Broder once said that political reporters are essentially fight promoters (though he was not).

    To test this theory, one would have to go back and do a statistical analysis of Sunday morning talk show guests during the Bush administrations, did the lineups tilt toward Bush critics?

    And, by all means, ask the producers themselves.


  • Daniel Buck on May 08, 2011 9:45 AM:


    Re comments by "MSMproducer" who posted above me.

    "Contractual rules prohibit follow-up questions based on facts or data"? What contract? A contract that prohibits facts? Yikes.


  • Sean Scallon on May 08, 2011 9:52 AM:

    I think the answer to why these show skew Republican probably has to do with market research but I would love to see WaMo find a source in one of these programs to hear them acknowledge this.

  • Bernard Gilroy on May 08, 2011 10:00 AM:

    The explanation is really much simpler: The Republicans are available for whining and catfighting. The Democrats are too busy running the country, hunting terrorists, saving the economy, and getting stuff done.

    And that's a tack the DNC should take, repeatedly.

    Oh, and yes, the captcha is just horrendous.

  • blue on May 08, 2011 10:13 AM:

    Your worse enemy in your corporate media ...

  • John R on May 08, 2011 10:33 AM:

    Dan...Chill it's sarcasm.. damn good too.
    MSMProducer nailed it . When watching the today show on Sunday , I love the promos featuring David as he tells us alll about the "hard hitting" interviews coming up. I make a point of changing the channel or muting. They are all the same on every channel. Meet the Village as multimillionaire beltway insiders talk amongst themselves.
    Experts we don't need no stinking experts. Why would we when Louis Gomert or Peter King are available with their in depth analysis.

  • glendenb on May 08, 2011 10:42 AM:

    I wonder if Dems need to try some radical things to get onto the shows?

    There's a story in one of Henry Millers books. He was starving in Paris and he'd run into friends who would, inevitably, say, "Oh we should get together for dinner." But the invites never materialized. So he took to calling them and saying, "I should very much like to have dinner with you. What time should I show up?" A few said no, but most said yes and wined and dined him.

    Dems should try something similar. Call the schedulers and say, "So, what time should Senator so and so/Rep so and so be at the studio on sunday?" Just act as if the invitation was extended and let the shows figure out how to solve the problem.

  • Daniel Buck on May 08, 2011 10:44 AM:

    Broder's "fight promoter" quip and the above producer's remarks are helping clarify matters.

    The Sunday morning public affairs shows are really adjuncts of professional wrestling. Wrestling match bookers also write the story line -- in ring jargon, the "angle" -- for the match. Who wins, who loses, what happens when.

    If something happens that does not go according to the pre-written angles, it's called a "botch."

    On the Sunday shows, a botch is when someone tells the truth. (Michael Kinsley calls that a "gaffe.")

    But the objective of the talk show, like the wrestling match, is the story line, the broken chairs and fake blood.

    So, just remember, when you see Newt Gingrich on a Sunday morning show, he's actually The Nature Boy, and when you Liz Cheney (which is often), you are really watching Candice Michelle, of "Playboy Pillow Fight" fame.


  • jjm on May 08, 2011 10:58 AM:

    One of the reasons I could watch Keith Olbermann is that he never had the 'other guys' on: why should he when every other show managed to make them their centerpiece and their star, even on 'progressive' shows on MSNBC. (Bill Maher an even offender.)

    But someone ought to begin a systematic campain to complain to the networks about this horrendous lopsidedness in these shows.

    As a little child, I used to listen to the radio for meet the press, then television. Edward R. Murrow's interviews were gripping and compelling.

    These shows are nothing but showcases for Republican propaganda against the current administration and a platform for disseminating lies that grow legs because of this.

  • stormskies on May 08, 2011 11:03 AM:

    We need to remember what Scott McClellen, Bush's former press secretary, said about the corporate media relative to Iraq: 'there were actively complicit'. And that complicity applies to everything that the corporate/repiglican media does in order to advance their own agendas. Just look at the complicity today on these Sunday propaganda shows. The worse is that ugly corporate cum slut called swollen lips Gregories "Meet the Propagandists" .. This corporate whore has sold his soul. In it's place in nothing but a rancid abscess. In reality 'swollen lips' is actually a white collar criminal who should be hauled off the protection of his corporate set and put in jail.

  • bob somerby on May 08, 2011 11:23 AM:

    The Armbruster link shows Donilon on four of the five shows, not three. Kerry is the Democratic headliner on the fifth.

    Presumably, Donilon is on the four shows because he is the spokesperson the White House made available to the Sunday programs. (Do you think they would send Brennan out, for example, given his glaring misstatements last week?) It's just stupid to count up the nunber of White House officials in the way Steve does. What difference does it make whether the White House has one official on four separate shows, or four officials on one show each?

    At anhy rate, that's a White House decision. Do we really enjoy being stupid?

    At this point, it's hard to believe that Steve isn't lying about that February Sunday to which he refers. In fact, two Democratic officials were featured on Sunday programs that day, including the White House budget director in a solo segment.

    Conservative "leaders" have helped make the conservative base very dumb through thirty years of this kind of thing. In a similar way, Steve is playing his readers for fools--and his commenters are lapping it up.

    Final question: Is it possible that McCain wasn't on because he chose not to be? (This would be a way for him to avoid saying additional good things about Obama.)

    Answer: It isn't possible on this site, where liberals seem devoted to making themselves very stupid--with Steve's active help, of course.

  • Old Uncle Dave on May 08, 2011 11:31 AM:

    The Sunday shows skew Republican because the networks' ownership and management skew Republican.

  • Meah Bottoms on May 08, 2011 11:48 AM:

    It is peaceful and quiet in our home on Sunday mornings. No more yelling at the TV! The two Democrats who live here are sipping coffee, playing with the cats, listening to the birds, and reading and typing on our computers. Those shows lost us forever by 2008.

  • stormskies on May 08, 2011 11:49 AM:

    And the reason for putting on any of Bush's former officials is exactly what Somerby ? Perspective ? And what perspective would that be ? And for what reasons ? Why now ? You are the one that is stupid pal ..

  • jaleh on May 08, 2011 12:29 PM:

    I am trying to email these news stations and tell them what I think, it has taken me ten minutes and I have only found one contact. It would we nice if we all tell these people what we think. This is really frustrating since these people ARE the people who brought us this mess and now we have to listen to them to evaluate how President Obama has done. I am not watching any of these shows, however, I am sure millions are uninformed people watch.

  • Observer on May 08, 2011 1:10 PM:


    As I was patiently explaining earlier this past week, why don't you look at your own blog.

    For *your* explanation of the bin laden killing you quoted NO democrats other than Obama but your blog was full of quotes and posts revolving around things Republicans said. On Monday or Tuesday I noted that you had already quoted about 4 or 5 Repubs without a single quote from a Democrat. You even quoted Mitt Romney...why I'll never know.

    So, again, it's hard to take your whining seriously about the TV folks when your guilty of *exactly the same thing* on your own blog. Practice what you preach before complaining about TV.

  • Darrell on May 08, 2011 1:23 PM:

    Nobody watches Sunday news shows except political wonks and old people, so of course they mostly invite members of the old people's party.

  • Speed on May 08, 2011 1:37 PM:

    Agreed, especially in the internet age, who watches these shows? They're like museum pieces stuck in a time warp. If you're interested in what's going on in the world, you can find more in-depth, unbiased information on the web.

  • Joe Friday on May 08, 2011 2:14 PM:

    After watching this mornings shows:

    A) How does Candi Rice even show her face in public, let alone on TV ?

    B) Liz Cheney is a ridiculous buffoon.

    C) Can we just hire somebody to hit Rudi "9/11" Giuliani in the face with a pie everywhere he goes ?

  • Squeaky McCrinkle on May 08, 2011 3:59 PM:

    David Gregory is a disgusting bully, a coward and a fraud. He had the "balls" to try to humiliate an underling like Scott McClellan, but when it comes to powerful people like Cheney he rolls over to have his tummy tickled.

    A disgrace, and Meet the Press is an even bigger joke than when that phoney Russert ran it.

    But at least they didn't have Lieberman I suppose.

  • Squeaky McCrinkle on May 08, 2011 4:25 PM:

    On reflection, it wouldn't be so bad if people like Rice, Cheney and so on were forced to explain themselves and had to face rigorous questioning. But all the "gotcha" clips in the world can't replace persistent, intelligent interviewing. The lack of follow-up questioning on these American shows is amazing. I mean, what's the point?

    Here in Australia, the local public radio played audio of Peter King on Fox, when he told how waterboarding had led "directly" to the demise of bin Laden. When O'Reilly said, "you won't hear that anywhere else", there was great hilarity in the studio. The rest of the world knows Fox News is a joke - why don't Americans?

  • Kathryn on May 08, 2011 4:33 PM:

    Dear MSM Producer,

    If contractual rules prohibit follow up questions based on facts or data, what is the point of these shows? Obviously, you can't make these clowns answer directly but if you can't question their lies with known facts, these shows are useless, as we've noticed. What's the excuse for never putting Rachel Maddow on a panel, too smart, too direct, too knowledgeable comes to mind? I read that there was a Maddow bump in viewership when she was on Meet The Press (twice, but not in a long time) In my opinion, when you resort to calling critics whiners, your case is weak as are your booking requirements, 4 to 1, really. Oh while I'm questioning, why no representatives from the Democratic Senate of Wisconsin when they were protesting Scott Walker stripping rights from municipal unions. There were weeks of protests, hundreds of thousands of protesters in Madison, (also protests in Columbus and Michigan capitol) more people than Tea Party protests the summer before but no representative on Sunday talk shows to my knowledge. Why wasn't that of national importance? We saw every phoney burp of the Tea Party.

  • Kija on May 08, 2011 4:39 PM:

    It's the Democrats own fault. They insist on being rational and avoiding outrageous lies and false accusations so they are boring. The Republicans make sh*t up and will say anything. They don't hesitate to accuse Democrats of anything from treason to communism to fascism while Democrats are dull in their probity and fear of being controversial. If you doubt me, think how often Alan Grayson got invited when he was just a freshman congressman with no power. It's not power, access or information, it's gall and gracelessness that get you on the shows.

  • nk007 on May 08, 2011 6:12 PM:


    You write: "As the producer of one of these shows, I must point out that Republicans are still largely out of power in DC, and that Republicans must be double, triple, and even quadruple booked in order to provide an even playing field."

    If that is the case, how come you did not do the same when Republicans controlled the Presidency and Congress? After being criticized for booking overwhemingly more Republicans than Democrats for these Sunday shows, the MSM's answer then was that Republicans were in majority and in control of the government and people needed to know more of their policies. Why wasn't it important to have an even playing field when Republicans were in control of the government

  • nk007 on May 08, 2011 6:34 PM:

    @Daniel Buck, studies were done during the Bush Presidency by the publication entitled Fairness and Accuracy in the Media. The study revealed that more Republicans were guests at Sunday talk shows than Democrats. The same was also true of other talk shows during the week. In fact MSNBC required that Phil Donhue invite two conservative Republicans for every one Democrat. So, the claim by the MSM Producer that this was all about balance is demonstrably false. What we have here is MSM bias favoring Conservative Republicans.

  • bigtuna on May 08, 2011 7:15 PM:

    Is MSMProducer a parody ? You actually write for the Onion, no?

    You cannot be telling the truth!? Seriously- that is so funny ... "contractural obligations" - with whom? hee, hee, good one MSMProd ....

  • Barry on May 09, 2011 2:09 AM:

    Who watches Sunday AM televsion anymore? I was at Ohare a few months back and I actually saw Newt Gingrich.

    The man resigned in disgrace, holds no public office, has about as much influence on public policy as I do. And yet he was on one of the networks talking about Libya.

    Not sure anyone has ever asked him, you impeached a President about lying about a blow job, couldn't even get your Senate to convict him, and thus you will go down in history as both an ineffective, vindictive, partisan hack as well as being a serial adulterer. How do you feel about the harsh judgement of history that you've bought on yourself?

    Instead they are asking him about Libya!