May 23, 2005

The Gender Gap

Cable

Has the 24-hour news culture been more inclusive of women? Hardly. Females fared worse here compared with any other medium studied. Of the roughly 6,550 cable stories examined on CNN, FOX and MSNBC, just 19% cited a female source.

The 20-day study spread across nine months of the year included three program types from each network representative of three distinct parts of the cable day: daytime programming, the closest program to a traditional newscast and the highest-rated prime time talk show on each channel. These criteria resulted in the following programs: The 11-12 o’clock hour at each network; CNN’s “Newsnight with Aaron Brown” and “Larry King Live”; FOX’s “Special Report with Brit Hume” and “The O’Reilly Factor”; MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” and “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

Past research has found that cable news stories tend to cite fewer sources overall than do other news media. (1) This was borne out in the examination of gender as well. Indeed, cable stories were less likely than other mediums to even cite a male source (53% on cable versus 63% on network evening news and 88% in newspapers).

Nevertheless, the gap between male and female sources stood out. While most mediums were roughly twice as likely to cite a male as a female source, cable stories were nearly three times as likely (19% female versus 53% male.) The gap was so great on cable that these stories were even more likely to have two or more male sources (21%) than to have just one or more female sources.

On three different nights of MSNBC’S interview-style program “Hardball with Chris Matthews” (April 15, May 4 and June 16, 2004), every single guest on the show was a man. The segments ranged from the Iraqi prison scandal discussed with members of Congress, journalists covering the story and former military personnel, to a discussion with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about his new book, to the role of religion in politics, to election advertising strategies of the Bush and Kerry.

In one segment, Matthews ran a video clip of the wife of a solider accused in the prison scandal. Otherwise, every single source on these three nights—guest or other—was male.

Cable Channel Similarities

Looking more closely, the three cable channels appear quite similar when it comes to the gender of sources. Females were cited in just 15% of stories studied on MSNBC, 21% on CNN and 19% on Fox. Conversely, at least 50% of the stories on each of the three networks cited a male source.

Female Versus Male Sources on the Three Cable News Channels, percent of all Stories
 
CNN
Fox
MSNBC
Total
Females 1+
21%
19%
15%
19%
Males 1+
50%
61%
51%
53%

Among the three program types examined, the prime time talk shows were the most inclusive of women (especially “Larry King Live”). Among these talk shows, 28% of the segments cited at least one female source.

The 11 A.M. live news hour was the least inclusive program type. Just 11% of stories during this daytime period cited a female source—less than a third of those that cited a man (37%).

The evening cable newscasts had more sourcing, but the ratio of female versus male sources was not much different. Stories on these programs were also about three times as likely to cite a male as a female (58% male versus 19% female) and were even more likely to cite two or more male sources than to cite a single female source (34% contained two or more male sources).

(1) The Project for Excellence in Journalism, The 2005 Annual Report on the State of the News Media, Cable Content Analysis.