Sunday, September 02, 2012

30% isn't 50% (Ann, Ava and C.I.)

In 1991, NPR debuted Talk of the Nation which was then hosted by John Hockenberry (now co-host of PRI's The Takeaway).  Hockenberry was replaced by Ray Suarez who was replaced by Juan Williams who was replaced by Neal Conan.   You may have already picked up on the obvious. If not, let's add that Fridays, since 1991, have been hosted by Ira Flatlow.  All those hosts and they were all male.

The show's website asserts, "When Americans want to be a part of the national conversation, they turn to Talk of the Nation, NPR's live, midday news-talk program."  But it's a strange sort of 'national conversation' in that only some get included.

 a radio

In 1957's Desk Set (written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron), Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) takes a quiz from Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy).

Richard Sumner:  Uh, often when we meet people for the first time, some physical characteristic strikes us.  What is the first thing you notice in a person?

Bunny Watson: Whether the person is male or female.

Yes, it is rather basic.  Like other NPR shows (for example, only 18.546% of the guests on Fresh Air in 2010 were women), Talk of the Nation attempts to pretend it doesn't notice gender which allows them to discriminate and pretend they don't notice.

We tracked the show from Monday April 2nd through Friday August 30th, five full months.

During that time, there were 557 guests.  How many were men?  How many were women?

Better guestion: How much does NPR really care about diversity and equality?

With 557 guests,  a real attempt at equality would find one gender accounting for 278 guests and the other for 279.  Barring the booking of someone gender ambiguous like Julia Sweeney's Pat Riley or NPR's own Ira Glass, one gender would be represented by 279 guests.

But gender representation is never a concern for NPR as they make obvious every broadcast.

Of the 557 guests, only 171 were women or 30.7% of the guests were women.

In the US, women are slightly over 50% of the population yet, time and again, NPR refuses to make them even 50% of the guests.

You could complain.

But to who?

The ombudsperson?

The ombudsperson never does the work required no matter who holds the position. 

For example, right now Lori Grisham is handling issues listeners raised about political coverage (handling it badly -- if NPR wants to claim they are fair, as we noted in July, the test was how they covered Barack Obama speaking to the VFW and how they covered Mitt Romney speaking to the VFW with the same reporter speaking on All Things Considered, only one candidate got fact-checked).  What's the problem with Lori Grisham attempting to handle listeners' concerns?

For starters, she's not the ombudsperson.  Edward Schumacher-Matos is.

This isn't a new development.  Women are repeatedly under-represented on NPR.  Nothing is ever done.  Most ombudspersons never even comment on the imbalance (Alicia Shephard, to her credit, did weigh in).

We've covered it repeatedly here.  The reaction is always the same.  A few nasty e-mails from various NPR staff, a ton of e-mails from NPR listeners who wonder what can be done and phone calls from CPB friends insisting the CPB is aware of the problem and will be addressing it.

But if it's addressed, it's just blown off.

For example, earlier this year, we were noting that only 34% of the guests on The Diane Rehm Show were women.  You track it, you document it, you decry it and nothing changes because no one -- other than listeners (who are the ones keeping NPR alive) gives a damn.

On the national level or the local level, it just doesn't matter.  That was driven home earlier this year following the publication of "Would you pay to support sexism? (Ava and C.I.)" which resulted in some of the most vile e-mails we've ever received from someone whose work we've surveyed.

In that piece, we called out the refusal to play women at an equal rate as men.  On a very good half-hour 2 women would be played, on a usual half-hour one woman would be played and all too often no women were played.

Worse than the nasty e-mails from Dallas' KXT 91.7  pigs -- and, yes, those writing about our vaginas are pigs --  were the e-mails forwarded by readers who complained about the imbalance.  They were full of lies including that KERA has nothing to do with KXT.  They have everything to do with it and, in fact, they promote KXT.  They can't draw the line they're trying to.

Yet even on that basic, we can't get equality.  For those who missed the article KXT is a basically a commercial-free oldies station.  They're playing rock 'gods' of the 60s and 70s and, if the 'gods' a're still breathing today, they'll play new recordings by those people.  They can't find women to play.  They refuse to.  Not in an equal number.  And, as we noted in the article, Whitney Houston and others destroyed that sexism on popular radio.  With the emergence of the age of Whitney, the notion that two women could not be played in a role left contemporary hit radio for good.

Now here's public radio refusing to play by the same rules.

And they beg for your money but they don't want your input.  Many who complained to KXT following our article wrote us to explain how much money they had given to the station -- which depends on pledge drives to operate.  KXT is more than happy to take your money.  But they don't want your input on their playlist.  They'll take your money but throw away your opinions.

We wrote that article only after numerous complaints came in about KXT.  Our original feeling was that it was a local public radio station and there were other things to tackle and surely it couldn't be as bad as the readers were making out, not in 2012?  But as the e-mails came in from reliable, longterm readers and Ty would say, "Now ___ is writing to complain about it," we took a look at it and it was just as bad as people were saying.

And we wrote the article and it was very big (over 24,000 views to date) and resulted in a huge e-mail response that continues all these months later.  But nothing changed.

That doesn't mean we won't continue to track sexism and call it out.   It does mean that we've lost the belief that sexism happens by accident on radio and the hope that just pointing it out will change things.

To check our math (we encourage you to), you can refer to each day's guest at the Talk of the Nation website or look at Ann's posts below:

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