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Supreme Court set to overturn Roe v. Wade

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In segments discussing the Supreme Court draft opinion revealing the court has decided to repeal Roe v. Wade, Fox News hosted an overwhelming number of men and white people, largely excluding voices most heavily affected by the decision to strike down abortion rights in the United States. In contrast, CNN and MSNBC hosted a majority of women to discuss the news.

Key Findings

In cable news segments that discussed Roe or the draft opinion between May 2, when Politico published the leaked decision, through 5 p.m. EDT on May 5:

  • Men made up nearly two-thirds of all guest appearances on Fox News (64 percent).
  • The majority of guest appearances on CNN (63 percent) and MSNBC (69 percent) were by women.
  • White people made up 87 percent of guest appearances on Fox.
  • CNN and MSNBC featured white people in 70 percent and 62 percent of such guest appearances, respectively.
  • Across the three cable news networks, 21 percent of guest appearances were by women of color — 24 percent of appearances on CNN, 30 percent on MSNBC, and just seven percent on Fox News.
On the evening of May 2, Politico reported a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, revealing the court is poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The possible repeal would roll back the clock nearly half a century and return abortion law to each state. It would trigger legislation banning abortion in 13 states and would lay the groundwork for an additional 19 states to enforce pre-Roe abortion bans that are still on the books or to institute regressive laws banning abortion extremely early, in the weeks before fetal viability.

The potential ruling would impact people of color the most, and it has already been criticized not only for standing on flimsy and unprecedented legal ground, but also for defying broad and categorical public opinion. In the communities that would be most affected, 63 percent of women, 68 percent of Black adults, and 60 percent of Hispanic adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Even though this decision impacts women and people of color the most, Fox News predominately hosted men and white guests in segments that discussed the end of Roe: 87 percent of guest appearances in such segments were of white people, 64 percent were by men, and 58 percent were by white men. Only 36 percent were by women.

CNN and MSNBC fared slightly better when it came to featuring a diversity of voices. Both networks featured more guest appearances of women than men in segments on Roe, with CNN featuring women in 63 percent and MSNBC featuring them in 69 percent of such segments.

Across the three cable news networks, 21 percent of guest appearances were by women of color — 24 percent of appearances on CNN, 30 percent on MSNBC, and just seven percent on Fox News.

Black guests also comprised much larger proportions of guest appearances on CNN and MSNBC than on Fox. Approximately 22 percent of guest appearances in segments discussing the decision on CNN and 27 percent on MSNBC were of Black guests. By contrast, only five percent of such appearances on Fox were of Black guests.

All other races and ethnicities – Asian-American/Pacific Islander, Latino/Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and mutiracial guests – were featured in 6% or less of guest appearances on any of the three networks.

It should be noted, however, that MSNBC chose to platform anti-abortion activists in its programming, featuring segments with Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life and Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List. In her appearance, Hawkins was allowed to spread anti-abortion misinformation unchecked.

Fox’s decision to host mostly men and white people in segments discussing the opinion might explain why the network’s coverage was largely focused on the leak rather than the damaging impact from the repeal of Roe. Rather than airing segments featuring guests who could describe the genuine impacts of such a decision, Fox News shows like Hannity featured panels of white men to feign outrage over the leak.

When cable media outlets – particularly Fox News – fail to feature guests who can speak to the personal impacts of the story, they fail to adequately inform their viewers about the horrifying ramifications of overturning Roe.

Additional research contributions from Erin Kee

Methodology

Media Matters searched our internal database of all original, weekday programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC (shows airing from 6 a.m. through midnight) from May 2, 2022, when the report of the draft opinion came out, through 5 p.m. EDT May 5, 2022, for guest segments that touched on the leaked Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

Media Matters searched our internal database of all original, weekday programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC (shows airing from 6 a.m. through midnight) from May 2, 2022, when the report of the draft opinion came out, through 5 p.m. EDT May 5, 2022, for guest segments that touched on the leaked Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

We reviewed all guest participants in the identified segments for their sex or gender and their race or ethnicity. We classified an individual as “male” or “female” based on their self-identification or publicly available biographical information; no participants in this study publicly identified as nonbinary. We based an individual’s race or ethnicity on their self-identification or publicly available biographical information. If a guest participant’s race or ethnicity could not be determined through such means, we coded them as “unknown.” For guests who identified with multiple races or ethnicities, we coded them as “multiracial.” We used categories as defined by the U.S. Census with the addition of “Middle Eastern” as defined by the U.S. State Department.


We coded guest participants as “white” if they self-identify as white or are of European descent; as “Black” if they self-identify as African American or Black or are of African descent; as “Latinx/Hispanic” if they self-identify as Latino/Latina or Hispanic or are of Spanish/Latin American descent; as “Asian American/Pacific Islander” if they self-identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander or are of Asian descent or Pacific Island descent; or as “Middle Eastern” if they self-identify as Middle Eastern or are of Middle Eastern descent.

We rounded all percentages to the nearest whole.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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