What Kind of Diversity Matters on TV Shows?

The really surprising feat on cable TV news is having a show where the guests know what they are talking about.

Joe Concha of Mediaite says MSNBC host Chris Hayes focuses too much on racial and gender diversity in booking his guests, at the expense of ideological diversity. For real diversity, Concha argues, Hayes should mimic Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor":

"On Monday night, The Factor's opening segment focused on out-of-control government spending, citing specific examples of waste. Two guests debated the topic: A liberal radio talk show host and a Republican strategist, with the former calling for closing tax loopholes on the rich and corporations, and the latter calling for entitlement reform."

Concha looks at this and sees "The O'Reilly Factor" booking a conservative and a liberal to talk about fiscal policy. I look at it and see the show booking a talk-radio host and a political consultant to talk about fiscal policy. A variety of ideological viewpoints were represented in the discussion, but subject expertise was not. Which is more important?

This isn't unique to "The O'Reilly Factor." On Tuesday night, CNBC's "Kudlow Report" discussed the approval of the bankruptcy petition of Stockton, California. Stockton's bankruptcy raises a variety of thorny legal, moral and fiscal issues. Naturally, CNBC had a panel consisting of a political consultant, a pollster and a talk-radio host. The pollster was a Democrat, so there was ideological diversity. But where was anyone with actual expertise on municipal finance?

So much of cable news is like this: lacking diversity in the sense that most of the talking heads are chosen primarily for their talent at talking on television. As the Onion put it eight years ago, "Actual Expert Too Boring for TV."

Hayes is certainly focused on maintaining racial and gender diversity, though I know from experience that it is possible to be a regular on his show and a white man. But his guest-booking practices also stand apart in a more important way: In general, his panels consist of people who know what they are talking about. He's trying to demonstrate that cable news can feature substantive policy discussions among well-informed people without being boring.

Do I wish, like Concha, that Hayes's panels did not lean so far to the left? In some sense, sure; as someone close to the center of the political spectrum, I'd like any show better if it were built around my ideological predisposition. But Hayes is a liberal hosting a liberal show on a liberal network, so I don't know why I should expect him to tailor the show to me. (Concha also overstates the extent to which Hayes's guests tend to echo his views; I've been party to a lot of spirited discussions on his show.)

The better solution would be for Fox and CNN to create similarly smart shows that sit elsewhere on the political spectrum; so far, they haven't. And if they listen to Concha's contention that "Charles Krauthammer, Alan Colmes, Monica Crowley, Bob Beckel, Bernie Goldberg, Dennis Miller, Juan Williams, Megyn Kelly, Marc Lamont Hill, Kirsten Powers, etc." constitute a model roster of regular guests, they won't.

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    Josh Barro

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