Even before it began, it was clear what Sunday night’s presidential debate would revolve around.
Republican nominee Donald Trump came into the town hall event reeling from the publication of a hot-mic video in which he used lewd and predatory language about women, including speaking about grabbing women by the crotch. He responded attacking Bill Clinton for his sexual indiscretions. He then went further by holding a panel broadcast on Facebook Live just before the debate with women accusing the former president of sexual harassment and assault. He then seated them in the front row during it.
The entire episode became fodder for the debate, adding yet another chapter to a campaign defined by gender: from the historic nature of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy to the routine misogyny from the Republican nominee.
And yet, when it came time to analyze the one-and-a-half-hour affair, the viewing audience was offered a male-dominated perspective among the anchors, reporters and pundits tasked with dissecting the evening’s key exchanges and scoring the respective candidates.
In the hour after Trump and Clinton begrudgingly shook hands, male talking heads outnumbered female talking heads by more than 2-to-1 on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, according to a Huffington Post tally. This tally didn’t include campaign or party officials or post-debate focus groups.
On ABC, CBS and PBS, post-debate coverage only went around a half-hour after the debate ended before cutting out to local east coast news broadcasts (NBC stuck to its lucrative Sunday night football franchise). On those three broadcast channels, the ratio of men to women talking heads was 14 men to 9 women.
All told, the ratio across six broadcast and cable networks was 37 to 20.
While total on-air staffing may appear lopsided, five of six networks notably featured women journalists as anchor or co-anchor.
It’s impossible to draw firm conclusions as to how this gender disparity affected debate analysis on television. Certainly, there were plenty of male pundits and reporters who were critical of Trump’s gambit. There were also female pundits and reporters who concluded that he’d had a relatively effective night ― stabilizing a campaign that was considered on the brink of collapsing.
And that may have contributed to the conventional wisdom immediately following the debate ― that Trump had a relatively decent night ― while the public opinion polls ended up showing Clinton the clear winner.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.