Sunday, November 28, 2010

Still No Reason To Care About the Sunday Shows

Steve Benen continues to complain about John McCain dominating the Sunday shows; I continue to complain about his complaints. 

My main comment is that, basically, there are going to be Republicans on the Sunday shows, and it's not really up to liberals which ones get on.  If Harold Ford is asked to represent liberals, then liberals should (assuming they don't feel represented by him) make a fuss.  If John McCain is asked to represented Republicans, then it's really up to Republicans to complain if they're unhappy.  At the same time...who cares?  Sunday shows are watched by a relatively small group of unusually highly-informed political professionals and political junkies, and those shows neither set the nation's agenda nor have any chance of swaying undecided voters. 

All that said, Benen also says: "If there's a good explanation for bookers' obsession with the failed presidential candidate, I can't think of it."  So, while I don't think it matters much, I'll suggest some reasons.

Number one by far: regulars are regulars, whether it's who shows up as guests on the Sunday shows or which academics get quoted frequently in news articles, because...they're willing to do it.  Odds are that quite a few of what have been 41 GOP Senators just had no interest in spending their time appearing on Meet the Press, since few of their constituents -- and practically no swing voters -- watch that show.  Others may not be willing to talk about subjects outside a narrow area of expertise. 

McCain, obviously, is willing to claim expertise on every foreign policy/national security topic, and most domestic topics, whether or not he actually knows what he's talking about.  And he evidently likes doing these shows.  That accounts for most of it.

A second issue is that John McCain presumably is not running for president.  The networks try to avoid favoring any particular presidential candidate, mainly because it will spark complaints from the other candidates (I'd guess that McCain's dominance of the Sunday shows tailed off in 2007, during the primary campaign). 

Third, it's certainly possible that McCain gets higher ratings than would a generic GOP Senator; as a former presidential nominee (and after 2000 as a former serious candidate for the nomination), he at least is a lot better known than pretty much any other potential guest. 

Similarly, the Sunday shows also compete on prestige, and a former presidential nominee probably is, as they say, a bigger "get" than a no-name committee ranking Member.  At least in the next Congress the shows can turn to House committee chairs, but that wasn't available on the Republican side in 2009-2010. 

And, again, the biggest points are probably the first one here -- that he says yes to bookers -- and the absence of a negative, that conservatives don't complain about him being on. 


  1. You're making some assumptions here that I don't see any evidence for.

    First, you assume that McCain is the only big-name pol who is willing to regularly go on these shows. Why? This not only lacks evidentiary support but also seems totally counter-intuitive. I mean, you'd think that any one of our 535 primadonnas on Capitol Hill woud jump at the chance to appear on national TV for a softball interview. And yet, it's McCain that is asked to appear, over and over again.

    Second, you assume that no conservatives complain about McCain's near-weekly appearance on these shows. Why? How do you know that conservatives aren't howling about this and the network execs simply don't care?

    Third, even if it is true that no conservatives complain about McCain's constant presence on the Sunday shows, you are assuming that this fact somehow represents their tacit approval of this. I mean, for all I know, conservatives don't bother to complain about McCain's appearances on these shows because the shows also regularly feature people like Jim DeMint and Eric Cantor. Why should conservatives complain if the typical line-up is (for example) Joe Lieberman, Harold Ford, McCain, DeMint and Cantor?

    In other words, you're assuming that McCain is asked to exclusively represent the "conservative" point of view. But it's just as likely that he's asked to come on because of his (former) reputation as a "maverick" who won't necessarily toe the party line. In which case, Benen certainly has standing to complain about McCain's ubiquitousness.

    Finally, for some reason you assume that, because the Sunday shows are watched only "by a relatively small group of unusually highly-informed political professionals and political junkies," that the regular appearance of a particular politician has no effect on public opinion or electoral dynamics. It seems to me that it's the professionals and commentators and political junkies that craft the conventional wisdom that the rest of the media latches on to, and that eventually filters down to the electorate.
    To give McCain a weekly platform to express his views is to lend him legitimacy and credibility among the media elites. And that, in turn, affects the way he--and his positions--are portrayed, both in the political press and every local newspaper in the country.

  2. Hard to improve on Andrew's comment, but I'll add this: First, you ignore the most obvious possibility - complete laziness on the part of those booking the shows. They are completely uninventive and will almost always go with the conventional tried and true. Second, and perhaps even more important, and one of the reasons for liberal upset, is the fact that McCain articulates totally predictable Republican anti-Obama talking points. You know exactly what you're getting - someone who can be counted on 100% of the time to say exactly what he is brought on these shows to say, while nominally given more credibility because he's not a candidate or a Republican official. The fact is these shows all lean conservative - the evidence is overwhelming that liberal equivalents are invited far less frequently. Finally, I would bet big bucks that McCain doesn't increase ratings at all.

  3. Lots to cover here...

    First of all, he's not one of 435; he's one of, really, just 40 or 41 in the last Congress (some of whom are running for president, so that's an issue, as I said above). Senators are higher profile than Members of the House, and he's taking up a GOP spot, not a generic Senator spot (yes, some minority party Members of House get on those shows, but not very many).

    Second, I don't think it's correct that all GOP Senators want to be on the Sunday shows, at least not always. Some, sure, but not all, and not on all subjects. And some may not be up to it (e.g. Bunning), or actually not represent mainstream conservatives (Snowe, Collins, maybe a few others). It's a smaller universe than one might think.

    (Oh, and there are also governors, but they're not going to get invited on to talk about foreign policy/national security normally. Yes, I know, McCain doesn't actually know what he's talking about either, but he has credentials that others don't have).

    As far as conservatives (by which I mean top level Republicans) not howling -- it's possible they are, but I do read a fair amount, and I haven't seen it. Could they be behind the scenes? Sure, but it would be odd if they are and no one is blogging it or making it an issue on talk shows, etc. Again, I could be missing it, but I don't think so.

    Now, if they're asking McCain to represent some sort of moderate Republican or maverick view (if it's a DeMint, McCain, Kerry lineup), then Dems have a legit complaint -- but that's not about McCain being on too much, but about a lousy balance.

    As for these shows giving McCain legitimacy, that's silly; he's the most recent GOP presidential nominee. *That* gives him legitimacy. Moreover, again, other than the issue of balance, *someone* is going to get that GOP slot. My point is it's not up to liberals to choose which Republicans get the Republican spot.

    As for bookers being lazy...yes, I agree with that; thought it was covered in the post, but if not, I do agree they get in ruts.


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