CNN Dumps on Diversity

CNN doesn't believe any of these people can host a show on CNN

Last week CNN took pity on the dozens of viewers of In the Arena hosted by Eliot Spitzer the black sock wearing, prostitute chaser and former New York governor, and mercifully put down the dog of a show to sleep.  Nobody cared.

Then as predictable as thunder following lightning, the NAACP and the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) leaped into action issuing statements expressing their hopes CNN might replace Spitzer with an African-American.

Pretty please?  With sugar on top?

Not happening.  CNN simply moved Anderson Cooper 360 to 8:00 pm., plucked Erin Burnett from CNBC to host a news program at 7:00 and kept the widely ignored Piers Morgan at 9:00 pm and will air reruns of AC360 at 10:00 and there is your diversity NABJ,  Please go kick rocks.

NABJ issued a letter nobody paid any attention to decrying the lack of diversity after CBS replaced the failed Katie Couric experiment with Scott Pelley as the face of the network’s evening news broadcast instead of Russ Mitchell, a capable replacement who has done the weekend news and inserts for years now.

NABJ President Kathy Times said in her letter,  “The Big 3 networks and cable news channels have undergone a series of rare changes behind the desk.  While the replacements are all seasoned journalists, what is glaringly missing in the flurry of changes is the failure to elevate African Americans to any of these positions.”

The National Association of Black Journalists finds this troubling – particularly since there are dynamic African Americans poised to ascend to these coveted positions. For nearly four decades, NABJ has worked tirelessly as advocates for diversity, calling out those guilty of maintaining the “status quo.” 

As America inches toward a world that is more black and brown, corporations are adjusting their cultures to embrace diversity because they know it makes good business sense. But too many network executives are ignoring this reality.

Current (but outgoing) NABJ President Kathy Times

I’ve been a member off-and-on of NABJ since the Nineties and I’ve seen ’em come and seen ’em go.  NABJ presidents only serve for two years which means there’s always a turnover in leadership and initiatives, even good ones, tend to fall by the wayside if the new president chooses to blaze their own trail instead of picking up where their predecessors left off.

So what does NABJ do after CNN fills their in-house vacancy with a new hire from another network and bypasses their own roster of Black talent?  When in doubt, NABJ writes another letter that will be promptly ignored by the executives in Atlanta who make the hiring decisions.

Once again a mainstream “liberal” media outlet gives the back of their hand to diversity and inclusion and once again NABJ plays the part of the indignant supplicant.

Times wrote, NABJ Vice President of Broadcast Bob Butler and I talked with Walton late Thursday, and he told us the network continues to seek and develop a candidate who has the image and substance to carry a prime-time show. I invited Walton to mount an innovative search during the NABJ national convention next month in Philadelphia. It will be packed with outstanding African American talent.

Is she serious?  The problem isn’t that CNN is lacking outstanding African American talent.  The problem is CNN will not promote the outstanding African American talent they already have.

I’ve spoken with Bob Butler following NABJ’s decision to pull out of the UNITY coalition of minority journalists and I know he’s a good brother not afraid to speak truth to power.   Times I don’t know at all, and while I generally agree with her plea for greater racial diversity at the networks, the lack of an action plan when those pleas are ignored bother me.

CNN knows they have a black-out of their Black talent and the days of Bernard Shaw providing the news is over and done.  It’s easier for a blonde newspaper columnist and a disgraced ex-governor to wander in off the street and get a primetime show than it is for veteran Black journalists at CNN.   This is a network that already has a strong roster of talent to be tapped in Don Lemon, Joe Johns, Suzanne Malveaux, Soledad O’ Brien and Roland Martin, but pointedly ignores their in-house talent to bring in a refugee from CNBC.

Between CNN president Jim Walton’s feckless lip service to diversity and Times’ ineffectual wishing on a star, the lily-White status quo of CNN’s primetime programming will remain unchanged.   Constantly playing the role of the powerless beggar has left NABJ in a position where news executives know they will be placated by a brief meeting and the only result will be an anemic statement minus any bite, backbone or plan of action.

Same as it ever was.

As Public Enemy used to say, “Here we go again.”

Good enough for NABJ, but for CNN, not so much.

Notice the difference in approaches. The NAACP “blasts” CNN for its lack of diversity in its primetime line-up.

How does the National Association of Black Journalists react to yet another black out of Blacks on CNN.

“NABJ sincerely hopes the next time there is an opening for a prime-time host, CNN will have found — and groomed – the “right person.” CNN must make efforts to ensure that its staff, both on-air and behind the scenes, is as diverse and inclusive as its audience.”

“Sincerely hopes?” The snark about finding and grooming the “right person” isn’t lost on me, but the line that “CNN must make efforts to ensure that its staff, both on air and behind the scenes, is as diverse and inclusive as its audience” works only as unintentional comedy.

Oh yeah? Says who? What if they DON’T?  I can see the carrot, but the stick seems to be M.I.A.

When its Kathleen Parker, Campbell Brown, Eliot Spitzer, Piers Morgan, Candy Crowley, Fareed Zakaria, Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer getting the face time, how obvious does it have to be that the exclusion of Black talent in high-profile primetime and weekend programming is purposeful, systematic and deliberate?

CNN’s position seems to be, “Hey, we gave D.L. Hughley a show and y’all didn’t tune it.  Why should we give another colored person a shot?”

Saber-rattling works best if you have one. Wishing and hoping has never convinced the mainstream media they have a serious lack of racial diversity and this ineffectual statement by NABJ won’t prod CNN to change their evil ways now.

5 thoughts on “CNN Dumps on Diversity

  1. Pingback: Parker: “Too Many Blacks Still Don’t Want To Be Free” « The Fifth Column

  2. It is not so much a lack of an action plan, Jeff, as it is a lack of time to implement any such plan. As you astutely pointed out, the President of the NABJ serves a term of two years, and each successive president is free to go his or her own way.

    I am not a member of the NABJ, nor will I likely ever be. I am not a joiner, unless the opportunity to create wealth is involved. I am as God made me. this being said, I know a little about the present state of the organization. When Ms. Times assumed the presidency, the organization was suffering under the strain of a predecessor whose profligacy left the organization in the red. Ms. Times was faced with the irony of having to lay off staff of an organization that is dedicated to protecting and preserving the jobs of journalists of color.

    Faced with such a backdrop, taking on the networks directly by necessity took a back seat. New policies and procedures were implemented that brought the organization back into the black. Even against this set pf obstacles, Ms. Times made great strides in leading the organization in a direction that positions them to take advantage of new technologies in digital and internet media.

    For this, at the latest NABJ convention and election in Philadelphia, Ms. Times was feted for accomplishing many landmark “firsts” in the history of the NABJ. Her “ineffective” pleas to CNN, by the way, were not met with silence or disinterest. Shortly before the Philadelphia event, Ms. Times was called into CNN headquarters in Atlanta to discuss their differences; enough negative publicity was generated by these pleas that CNN saw them as a problem.

    The meat and outcome of those discussions are not for me to say; it is up to the newly elected President to follow up on this progress, or not, as he will. Admittedly, I am not a disinterested observer; Ms. Times is my cousin. I was raised by her mother. who is my mother’s eldest sister. Kathy, who of her mother’s children is closest to me in age, and I are more like siblings than cousins. As such, I am somewhat biased.

    Be that as it may, even close kin and loved ones are not exempt from my critical eye when they have been remiss in performing their duties (as either of my brothers would attest). The two year term of the NABJ presidency is an operational inefficiency that even some of their most dynamic leaders have not been able to overcome, Such is the case with Ms. Times, in this matter.

    Perhaps it would serve well were you to urge the current President to continue to aggressively pursue this matter. A meeting with CNN brass was a good start for the organization. It is nowhere near a justifiable, satisfactory end.


    • At the last NABJ Board meeting she chaired President Times bemoaned the fact that some of the communications problems she experienced during her tenure stemmed from not having a press spokesperson. She could have used you in that role.

      I won’t sugarcoat my differences with Ms. Times, Tarnell. They were real and substantial, but I had even more with her predecessor. I am well aware of the dire situation she left for successor. Barack Obama could relate.

      My own perspective regarding meeting with CNN executives about their lack of diversity and how brazenly they bypass their own best and brightest is meetings alone accomplish little. There needs to be an equal amount of sticks to draw upon when offerering a carrot fails to yield results. Most NABJ presidents prefer gentle diplomacy over drawing lines in the sand. Maybe that’s the way the believe will produce the most favorable outcomes, but I’ve seen little evidence to convince me of its efficiency.

      Hopefully, the newly elected NABJ president will look to Kathy as a valued asset and an advisor as the organization makes baby steps to recovery and financial stability. I’m certain Miss Times will be glad to serve when called upon. First thing though I bet she would enjoy a nice long break from the grind.

      Thanks for reading and your comment.


  3. Jeff, for the record, I wrote the words “NAACP blasts.” It was a much appreciated and unsolicited response from the NAACP. I had been in contact with the NAACP’s leadership for years. It was my job to call out media outlets for their lax approach to diversifying newsrooms and disparate treatment of black journalists. It was also my job to offer solutions, and I did that while as Tarnell pointed out sustaining NABJ and growing its programs. Members told me they rejoined NABJ after leaving the organization because I offered them hope – solutions. Leaders offer real solutions, and I hope that you will step up and be part of the membership that volunteers to help the board, task forces and committees deliver solutions. It’s time out for openly crucifying the few people who make sacrifices to serve others. We are not members of Congress. The perks are few. The hours are long. The rewards are great, especially when you see the brilliant young journalists pursuing their dreams year after year at our conventions and in our boot camps.

    NABJ has a great team of volunteers and business partners who keep the organization afloat. Only 17 NABJ leaders really know what it’s like to walk in my shoes. M.J.’s Man in the Mirror was my theme song while campaigning for the presidency. The words inspire me to take on new challenges that I know will not only help me but help me to help someone else.

    “I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror I’m Asking Him To Change
    His Ways And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer If You Wanna Make The World
    A Better Place Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change.

    Jeff, what will you do to make the world a better place for struggling journalists and the communities that we serve? Forgive me if I missed your phone call(s) during the past two years. It’s never too late to serve.

    I’m enjoying some down time, but I took time this week to submit an op ed to the New York Times. Yes, I will be here to serve the new administration when called upon.

    Kathy Y. Times
    18th President of the National Association of Black Journalists


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