In the category, “Questionable Studies From Professors,” Israeli researchers have concluded that more physically attractive members of Congress get more coverage on network television.
The New York Times says:
Two Israeli professors concluded that members whom a student survey judged to be better looking appeared more frequently on television — but not radio or in newspapers. The researchers argued that the networks were trying to attract larger audiences.
It gets even more unbelievable…
Not surprisingly, Professor Waismel-Manor and Professor Tsfati found that other factors, too, influenced coverage. Senators and representatives who hailed from larger states, were male, were black or espoused more extreme ideologies also tended to be featured more frequently. The effect of attractiveness on news coverage, the study found, was greater than the effect of tenure in office, or bill sponsorship. Frequency of news releases had no discernible effect on news media appearances. The study also examined coverage on NPR and in USA Today, and it found no correlation between the so-called attractiveness effect and coverage in those outlets.
Are we watching the same networks?
Here’s who I see most of the time, these days:
Here’s who the study says I saw most of the time:
That’s Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who most people may not recognize because she’s actually almost never on TV news shows.
Why the disconnect?
This explanation of the methodology provides a clue:
To avoid skewing the results, they eliminated, among others, members in top leadership posts and presidential candidates.
Top leadership posts? Here’s a person who doesn’t have a top leadership post, who nonetheless has had much more airtime than Rep. Blackburn.
Check the Sunday TV news shows sometime and see if it’s not the same group of leadership members of Congress week after week after week. Why? Because most members of Congress are there for show, and a small number actually influence anything and those are the people news organizations want to talk to.
How does the rest of Congress get some crumbs of attention? Here’s a little inside story:
Back in the early ’80s, I worked for a network news operation in New York. It was radio, but the situation is roughly the same. My job was to get interviews with people for upcoming newscasts. Over the years I was there, listeners heard a disproportionate amount of Sen. David Durenberger of Minnesota (a state, by the way, with which I had no particular affinity or knowledge).
Why did he get on the radio so much? He answered his own phone, especially on nights and weekends..