The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) recently released an open letter to cable news executives about their respective networks’ lack of diversity.
For full disclosure, I am a member of NABJ.
The letter comes on the heels of CNN’s decision to hire former New York governor Eliot Spitzer and Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist Kathleen Parker to anchor a new political discussion show to air in the place of Campbell Brown’s failed 7 p.m. news show, and MSNBC’s decision to hire famed political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell for a new show to follow-up Rachel Maddow’s program.
Now, with Larry King’s recent announcement of his retirement in the fall from CNN’s 8 p.m. hour, the network has yet another opportunity to place a minority in that time slot.
Eliot Spitzer has recently become a media star of sorts by becoming a columnist for Slate.com and a MSNBC fill-in anchor.
Kathleen Parker is excellent (she won the Pulitzer!) and Lawrence O’ Donnell has worked for MSNBC since the network’s inception.
While they are all acceptable choices, both networks missed an opportunity to diversify their evening programs.
The lack of black anchors in evening programs is not the only problem for these networks.
Rachel Sklar noted in a recent article that these networks also make limited use of their black commentators and contributors.
Of course, we can catch black contributors like Roland Martin, Donna Brazile, Jonathan Capehart, John Ridley and Harold Ford, Jr., but these few are their ‘go-to’ people. There are an immense number of black commentators on well-known blogs, such theRoot.com, BlackVoices.com and theGrio.com. And get this: theGrio.com is owned by NBC Universal, yet they rarely use any of their own employees on-air.
Not only do some of these networks have problems with diversity in evening programs and their contributor line-ups, but also with their daytime news anchors.
Fox News has two black news anchors, Kelly Wright of Fox and Friends Weekend, and Harris Faulkner, a news break anchor who occasionally fills in for Shepard Smith on the Fox Report. MSNBC also has two black anchors, Christina Brown, a news break anchor, and Tamron Hall, who co-anchors the 2 p.m. news hour and occasionally shows up on the Today show.
CNN is the bright spot in the pack with six black anchors: T.J. Holmes, Fredricka Whitfield, Tony Harris, Richelle Carey, Don Lemon and Soledad O’Brien. They also have one Latino anchor, Rick Sanchez. CNN is also well-known for its groundbreaking documentary series “Black in America”, “Black in America 2” and “Latino in America,” which were reported by Soledad O’Brien.
MSNBC also deserves credit for their King Day special hosted by “Hardball” anchor Chris Matthews and nationally-syndicated radio host Tom Joyner and for the documentary “Meeting David Wilson,” which follows a meeting between a black filmmaker and a white man who is a descendant of the slave owners that owned the black man’s family.
The men share the same name.
To Fox News’ credit, they do have Uma Pemmaraju, the first Indian-American news anchor in network news.
I am not sure whether news executives like Roger Ailes of Fox News and Phil Griffi n of MSNBC really care about the importance of diversity. “CBS Evening News” weekend anchor Russ Mitchell said it best with this:
“I’ve been to journalism conferences over and over again, and heard some executive say ‘I’d like to hire more African-Americans, but I just can’t find any qualified ones out there.’ That was b.s. then, and that’s b.s. now.”
Whether we’ll ever see a black as anchor of an evening program on a major cable news channel is yet to be seen, but I encourage all the networks to use more black voices for their programming. FOX News’ Roger Ailes and MSNBC’s Phil Griffin should also take CNN’s lead and hire more black news anchors. Diverse newsrooms lead to diverse, accurate news coverage.
Now that’s ‘fair and balanced.’