“Fair and Balanced?” Justice Issues on Political Talk Shows

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Law and Justice

Publication Date



Like their news program predecessors, many political talk shows focus a considerable amount of their coverage on justice issues. Although numerous past studies have examined justice issue presentation in news programs, infotainment, and crime drama, to date only one forthcoming study has examined crime and justice coverage on political talk shows. Political talk shows often present issues in a debate format, as well as emphasize the balanced nature of the content in advertising, with one program even using the slogan “fair and balanced.” Building upon the format of previous media studies, we analyzed a composite month of videotaped footage of three popular political talk shows appearing on cable networks: CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Mathews, and The O’Reilly Factor from the Fox News Channel. Using content analysis techniques, this study examines balance in the form and content of these programs in terms of presentation of justice issues, political party identification of hosts and guests and realistic presentations of race and gender in the context of crime and justice. Results indicate that these programs tend to adopt an advocacy tone rather than an objectivist one. Furthermore, we demonstrate that racial and gender portrayals of crime and justice on these shows are significantly distorted from reality, with a priority afforded to white female victims of violent crime and minority male offenders.


This article was originally published in American Journal of Criminal Justice. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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American Journal of Criminal Justice


© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2010