Opinion

The Great Debate

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert liberal lions? The guest chair tells a different story.

By Chloe Angyal
August 22, 2014

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The summer of 2014 will likely go down in American journalistic history as one of the most news-heavy summers in decades. Ukraine, Gaza and now Ferguson have gripped the attention of those who cover and consume the news.

For those who consume news through comedy, it is no different. This summer, millions of Americans, especially younger ones, will have their understanding of these international and domestic crises filtered through the lens of political satire, thanks to the efforts of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and relative newcomer John Oliver. Stewart and Colbert are darlings of the left, icons of contemporary American liberalism. But neither has earned that status in one very important way: the majority of their guests are just as white and male as they are.

Colbert’s track record, in particular, is simply pitiful. This is both surprising and dismaying, given his status as one of the most visible liberal comedians performing political satire today, and the place he holds in the hearts of so many left-leaning American viewers.

Though the situation appears to be improving in writers’ rooms, the on-air underrepresentation of anyone who isn’t a white male remains acute. Of the 10 late-night comedy shows with the highest ratings, only one is hosted by a woman. All 10 hosts are white (and 20 percent of them are named Jimmy). This looks likely to change at the end of 2014, when The Colbert Report ends its nine-year run and Colbert takes over at The Late Show. Colbert’s time slot at Comedy Central will be filled by The Minority Report, to be hosted by The Daily Show’s longtime Senior Black Correspondent Larry Wilmore.

How Colbert’s place in the late-night comedy landscape will shift when he moves from cable to network remains to be seen. For now, however, he is highly influential. The “Colbert bump,” the effect created by having the host endorse a product or an idea, is demonstrable> In response to Amazon’s treatment of Hachette authors, the comedian urged his viewers to buy the debut novel by Hachette’s Edan Lepucki from other retailers. Lepucki’s California debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list. Authors and actors promote their newest releases on these comedy shows, and they are a way for public intellectuals to establish and build their bona fides. Appearing on Stewart or Colbert bestows credibility and respect on many of the people with whom the hosts choose to converse.

And yet when it comes to gender and race, their guest rosters more closely resemble a GOP national convention than they do the liberal vision of a diverse and equitable America. Of Stewart’s most recent 45 guests, 17 of them, or 38 percent, were women. This is closer to gender equity than many comedy and news shows manage, and it’s certainly a better showing than Colbert. But when you factor in race, Stewart’s numbers start to look very grim indeed. A resounding majority – 68 percent – of his guests were white, and of the very few African-American guests who appeared on his show, all were entertainers – the band Wu Tang Clan and the comedian Kevin Hart. Women of color fared similarly poorly on The Daily Show: Out of 45 guests, just three were women of color.

In Colbert Nation, the numbers were worse still: Of 45 guests, 73 percent were men, and 89 percent were white. And of the 12 women (12!) who appeared among Colbert’s last 45 guests, three of them shared a time slot. Of those 12 women, there was just one woman of color — District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Stewart has come under fire before for the lack of diversity in his writers’ room and among his correspondents. In 2010, journalist Irin Carmon, then a staff writer at Jezebel, wrote about the lack of gender diversity in late-night comedy generally but zeroed in on The Daily Show as a particularly poor performer. “As fiercely liberal and sharp-eyed an observer as Jon Stewart can be, getting women on the air may be his major blind spot,” Carmon wrote, provoking a firestorm during which Stewart stated on the air that “Jezebel thinks I’m a sexist prick.” Four years later, The Daily Show has one additional woman correspondent — for a grand total of two.

It was also a bad year in the guest chair for both Colbert and Stewart. Artist Jennifer Dalton chronicled a near 90 percent male guest rate in an exhibit called “Cool guys like you.”

Though Colbert came under fire earlier this year for his attempt to use racial insensitivity to mock racial insensitivity, he has not faced public criticism about the dearth of women on his show – but his failure to feature a diverse range of guests suggests that he should. Earlier this summer, Colbert interviewed white men on six consecutive shows. In short, Colbert and, to a lesser extent Stewart, are sending the message that the most credible, interesting and relevant people out there – the people viewers should hear from and know about – are almost all white and male.

Late-night comedy will be dominated by white men for the foreseeable future – hosts come and go so rarely, and we are so far from racial and gender equity that it will take years before the host population hits parity. But achieving diversity among guests can be solved much more quickly. If we must live in a late night landscape hosted by white guys, the least we can demand of those men, especially if we’re going to hold them up as liberal icons, is that they practice what they preach. Right now, the hypocrisy is so severe that it’s not even funny.

PHOTO: Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart present the award for outstanding made for television movie at the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles September 21, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story listed the number of Stewarts female guests incorrectly. The correct number is 17 out of 45.

Comments
29 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

From the article: “Of Stewart’s most recent 45 guests, 27 of them, or 40 percent, were women.” 27 is 60% of 45.

Posted by zliplus | Report as abusive
 

It’s also worth noting that roughly 1m viewers for each the Daily Show and Colbert Report; the View has 10s of millions, as does Ellen and Oprah (or she did before going to the howling wilderness of small cable).

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive
 

Chloe Angyal could have come up with very different results had she focused the entire series, rather than on the only past 45 shows. Colbert is famous for flirting with his female guests and telling his black guests, “They tell me you’re black, because I don’t see color.” He could hardly do that if the overwhelming majority of guests were white men. Also, the person who has made the most frequent appearances on the show is Neil Degrasse Tyson, and he’s black.
Her criticism of Jon Stewart is also inaccurate, as she wrote, “Four years later, The Daily Show has one additional woman correspondent — for a grand total of two.” Let’s see, there’s Samantha Bee, Jessica Williams, and Kristen Schaal. That’s three, not two. It’s also worth mentioning that Bee and Williams are two of the most frequent correspondents on the show.
Also, a previous commenter pointed out “From the article: “Of Stewart’s most recent 45 guests, 27 of them, or 40 percent, were women.” 27 is 60% of 45.”
Clearly the author of the article just wants to find something to attack Stewart and Colbert about- and she’s so hell-bent on destroying them that she’s going to ignore basic math facts. Ironic that Stewart and especially Colbert make a living out of attacking journalists who skew the facts to further their agenda. I can’t WAIT to see how they respond to this one!

Posted by BeckyR | Report as abusive
 

Or maybe more women could actually do something worthwhile to warrant an invitation instead of crying and begging for reservations?

Posted by DougAnderson | Report as abusive
 

You should point out how John Oliver has changed this situation in his show. Even though his late-night show hasn’t even ended its first season, Oliver’s already invited Keith B. Alexander (NSA), a soviet-born journalist Simon Ostrovsky, an indian-born journalist Fareed Zakaria, Pepe Julian Onziema a LGBT rights activist from Uganda and Sarah Silverman!

Posted by ebol94 | Report as abusive
 

Plus, they’re not funny.

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive
 

Males do nearly everything in life to amuse themselves and impress other males. Females are an after thought for everything but sex and other selfish comforts. And then there is the violence thing. As such, fewer women in industrialized nations are marrying and having kids after reasoning that both males and kids are too difficult to civilize, just not worth the effort, and little breaks through the dense matter between their ears.

Posted by timebandit | Report as abusive
 

Non-issue, manufactured “outrage”, media driven event, repeat ad nauseum.

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive
 

“Stewart’s numbers start to look very grim indeed. A resounding majority – 68 percent – of his guests were white” The author does realize that the U.S. is 72% white, right? That at 68 percent, whites are actually under-represented?

Posted by DD.V | Report as abusive
 

Hmm, 68 percent of his guests were white. The population of Alabama is 68 percent white, so … is Stewart catering directly to Alabamans? The population of the United States is about 70 percent white, so I guess that 68 percent number doesn’t look so bad after all … unless you’re statistically illiterate, that is.

Posted by MondayNothing | Report as abusive
 

The fallacy of this writer’s opinion, is that Jon and Stephen don’t make the news.

They just bring you what and who’s happening.

So, try again Chloe.

Posted by Celebrindan | Report as abusive
 

The Daily Show has Kristen Schaal, Samantha Bee, and Jessica Williams for a grand total of three, not two. Just how many of these numbers did you get wrong?

Posted by EdD. | Report as abusive
 

It’s a TV show that caters to a certain audience. It’s like complaining that 106 & Park underrepresents white people.

Posted by anarcurt | Report as abusive
 

These numbers don’t seem too surprising or alarming at all really.

As for Colbert’s numbers, you also have to keep in mind that he more frequently than the Daily Show will bring on conservatives than Jon does. His show is also much more tailored to portray a specific theme (Colbert of course plays a stereotypical conservative male).

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive
 

A remarkably lame argument with select-o-stats bias. Extending this dubious rationale….. “Downton Abbey viewers are 86% female. Apparently they should add some WWF wrestling scenes to attract the male viewer….”

Let’s see…. Colbert and Stewart are intelligent, funny, creative and cover a broad range of topics. If women aren’t tuning in, how is that their fault? And why does every show have to appeal to women or any specific group. And how does the % of white guests have anything to do with attracting women. Are women more attracted to black guests? Is this article about gender bias or racial bias. Me thinks the author is passionate but very confused.

Posted by HitGirl | Report as abusive
 

Chloe Angyal also points out to a poorly written article by noise maker and news fabricator, Irin Carmon. That pish posh about The Daily Show being sexist was utter foolishness written solely for getting more viewers to click on Jezebel’s website. This fact has been stated and that article has been regarded as media manipulation and poor journalism ever since the article came out in 2010, yet Ms. Angyal continues to use this as evidence of Daily Show sexism.

Shame on you, Chloe!!

Posted by Dudeness | Report as abusive
 

So what is the big deal. Women do not do everything well especially be funny.

Posted by elsewhere | Report as abusive
 

Who is Chloe Angyal? Do I care about her opinion? Nope.

Imagine a man writing an article about a TV program–such as The View–bemoaning the fact that there were so few male guests relative to female guests. Only whiny women do this sort of thing.

So we have quotas now? How many Reuters reporters are male and how many are female? What is the relative number of articles published by each gender?

So tedious.

So lame.

Posted by MaskOfZero | Report as abusive
 

Those who can, do. Those who can’t demand quotas.

Posted by ToshiroMifune | Report as abusive
 

Reuters, you’re really going down the toilet with your opinion pieces. Find good writers, not overgrown tumblr kids.

When half the comments in the comment section can effortlessly rip apart the writers logic, its time to reconsider the kind of people you are publishing.

Posted by molluscdude | Report as abusive
 

Why is the most recent 45 guests considered a representative sample? Some of Stewart’s most memorable guests (for me anyway) have been women, including Malala Yousafzai and Elizabeth Warren.

Posted by JamesClark | Report as abusive
 

The guest chair has misplaced her blame on a very important matter. Race and gender equity in media is lacking to the detriment of our society; however, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are not to blame. They are white males, and therefore understand and attract audiences similar to them. Expecting them to cross gender and racial boundaries is asking too much. On the other hand, expecting network and cable companies to do so is not. There should be more female and minority races represented in all of media, including late night television. Ms. Chloe Angyal, I would love for you to follow up this article with a more in-depth analysis of network and cable companies’ lack of equity (although, you were smart in reeling us in with celebs we are passionate about).

Posted by lukeeluke | Report as abusive
 

What has happened to Reuters the last couple years? This article is pathetic, no, beyond pathetic.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive
 

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are right up at the top of the 1% financial elite in America and they are men. Mr. Colbert is a catholic man. They have been on vacation most of the summer and when they returned from one break – after the five catholic male justices of the supreme court of the United States of America decided Hobby Lobby owners supposed religious ideas trumped the rights of women of America – they were strangely silent. It is NOT acceptable and they lost much of the respect I had for them. That said, I do appreciate the information they provided a few years ago that helped the rest of us realize how unequal America has become in every way. Now they, like the other top 1% global financial elite, need to pay their damn taxes.

Posted by njglea | Report as abusive
 

The “last 45 guests” sounds a little arbitrary.

However, going back for a little longer the proportions don’t get more balanced. I counted the number of guests of The Daily Show from 2011 til today (I didn’t want to dedicate more time to this). Unless I made grave classification mistakes the proportions are roughly 73% male, 27% female. About 40% of the guests were promoting a book, about 40% a movie, the rest something else. I have no idea how many (political) books are published by men, how many by women. The show’s proportions might be adequate.

Why again should I care about a gender gap in something as inconsequential as a TV show?

Posted by RotwangMabuse | Report as abusive
 

grasping at straws.

Posted by InfiniteLoop | Report as abusive
 

njglea, both Stewart and Colbert addressed the Hobby Lobby decision on their July 14th programs.

Posted by nerftwit | Report as abusive
 

Looks like Chloe Angyal wants the Colbert Bump…

You want to be statistically liberalism, go a head… just make sure your stats are right.

Posted by deach | Report as abusive
 

How about dividing up the guests by different criteria: how many were Americans or foreign; gay or straight, Jew or Gentile, handicapped or able bodied, former bankrupt or not … the perceived divisions could go on and on. Lots of fun but totally irrelevant.

Posted by Michael_ES | Report as abusive
 

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