Unmentionable: Best-selling Conservative Books and the Networks That Ignore Them
What follows is the executive summary of a New Culture & Media Institute Special Report (co-written by myself and Zoe Ortiz).
Since the 1940s, an appearance on The New York Times Best Sellers List has been the mark of commercial success for any book. Authors with titles on the list can count on media attention to help sell even more copies. Unless they are conservatives.
Conservative books and authors have been very successful recently, as evidenced by their showing on the best sellers list. Since January 2009, conservatives enjoyed 95 total weeks on the list, compared to just 80 weeks for liberal books and authors. At this writing Michelle Malkin’s “Culture of Corruption” is at No.1, and several other conservative titles have prominent berths on the list.
But as the Culture & Media Institute discovered, viewers of ABC, CBS and NBC might never know of the popularity and commercial success of conservative books.
CMI studied the coverage network news organizations gave to 25 books that appeared on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers List during the first half of 2009. Of those, 14 were liberal (either in subject or author) and 11 were conservative. The books in question covered current events and politics, political biography and economics. Analysts discovered a dramatic imbalance in the amount and quality of coverage.
CMI discovered a glaring imbalance in network coverage of liberal best sellers vs. comparable conservative titles.
• Liberal Books Favored: The networks covered liberal books three times as often (36 to 12) as conservatives.
• Liberal Authors Favored: 79 percent of the liberal authors on the list received at least a mention on the networks, compared to just 36 percent of conservatives.
• Levin Snubbed: The book that was by far the most successful in both longevity and position on the Best Sellers List, Mark Levin’s “Liberty and Tyranny” did not garner a single network mention.
• Interviewers Hostile to Conservative Authors: When conservative authors did appear on the networks, they were greeted with skepticism and adversarial questions. Conversely, liberal books were complimented.
• ABC the Worst: ABC was the least balanced of the three networks, favoring liberals eight mentions to two (four to one). NBC was a close second at 20 mentions to six.
• CBS the Best: CBS did the best job ensuring ideological balance in its book coverage, mentioning liberal books eight times and conservative books five times.
Networks must work to balance the quantity and quality of coverage they give to liberal and conservative authors. Some suggestions:
• Watch the Numbers: While one-for-one parity isn’t necessary, producers should keep in mind which authors and what books they’ve covered recently, and try to ensure diversity of perspective.
• Make it a Popularity Contest: Networks should consider the popularity of the books – they do viewers and themselves a disservice when they ignore remarkably successful titles.
• Even-handed Interviews: Interviewers should either read and compliment the books of both sides, or refrain from complimenting any of them.
• Consistency is a Key: Before interviewing someone from either side, on-air personalities should review the tone and type of questioning they used the last time they interviewed an author.