Token Gestures and Table Scraps

Is Reverend Al ready for his close up?

From Media Bistro’s TVNewser:

Cenk Uygur was thrust onto the MSNBC schedule in January, when Keith Olbermann‘s departure set in motion several host changes on the progressive channel’s lineup.

Now TVNewser hears Uygur may be moved out of the 6pm hour, possibly to be replaced by Al Sharpton. When the host changes happened earlier this year, the 6pm hour was simply known as “MSNBC Live,” a telling sign that MSNBC was trying out Uygur.

Sharpton has hosted the 6pm show for the last two weeks. This past week, the hour was second, to Fox News, in A25-54 viewers Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

IF true, that’s great for Rev. Al.  Cornel West won’t be as happy for the “dear brother,” but even if I’m not a Sharpton supporter it’ is a step in the right direction to get some color on the television.  A good start is ALL it would be though.

This would still be just another non-journalist media “celebrity” receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition instead of their years of experience, training, ability and talent.   Hooray for popularity but for a veteran and seasoned Black journalist who deserves a shot at a show, they still have to go begging.

But this is what happens when we always go begging to the White man with our empty bowl and say, “Please throw us a crumb.”   If Al Sharpton gets a show at 6:00 pm, that’s cool, but it’s NOT primetime where Blacks and Asians and Hispanics are invisible on ALL the cable news channels unless they’re guest analysts trotted out to be the “Black authority” on a race-based issue.

Television executives have learned how to brush aside complaints their programming lacks diversity.  They find a Black personality willing to play ball with them, stick them outside of the prime time peak viewing hours and the minority pressure groups go away temporarily satisfied with the token representation.

Why not sweat the HNIC’s at TV One and BET to step their game up and switch out yet another “Fresh Prince” rerun for something like ONE news program during weekdays?   Why do they always get a pass when we have these debates about the lack of Black representation on cable?

I’m tired of the strategy of the National Association of Black Journalists and other pressure groups dogging out the execs at Fox, CNN and MSNBC saying’  “Please, baby, baby,  Please” but for Alfred Liggins and Debra Lee we won’t say shit even if we have a mouthful of the televised dung TV1 and BET programs.  What about Oprah Winfrey who has an entire network named after her?  What is there on the Oprah Winfrey Network that reflects Black life (and no, a talk show for Oprah’s gal pal, Gayle King does not count).

Once upon a time BET did have news programming such as BET News with Ed Gordon, BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley and BET Nightly News with Michelle Miller and Jacque Reed.  BET dropped most of its news and public affairs programming in 2000 and BET Nightly News in 2005. Viacom purchased BET in 2003.

With Viacom’s money behind BET there is no question the dollars exist for some news and public affairs programming, but where is the will for it?  It’s one thing to talk about the hot mess the BET Awards are, but its something else to remain strangely quiet about the lack of news on BET, TV One (with the notable exception of Mr. Roland Martin’s Washington Watch program) and the most powerful woman in the media, Oprah Winfrey and the OWN Network.

Meeting with the head of CNN to ask he consider giving an African-American some consideration for a program is cool.  But why should Black executives get a pass from the same scrutiny NABJ submits White executives to?

It’s cowardly to demand White men like CNN President Jim Walton do a better job of representing African-Americans while ignoring the Black folks like Liggins, Lee and Winfrey  who barely even acknowledge they exist.    The days when Blacks were supposed to feel a sense of pride when we got “one of our own” in a place where there were no Blacks at all has passed.  If accountability means anything at all, it applies to out-of-touch Black executives as well as White ones.

At what point do we demand the so-called “Black” cable channels provide more than music videos, award shows and bad reality TV instead of always pleading to the White man for a few hours of face time?   It’s past time we start building up our own networks and news channels to give us something more than the same safe, brain-numbing, unambitious crap.

The Al Sharpton Show would be great if it happens— for Al Sharpton.  For everybody else it changes nothing much at all.   Token gestures and table scraps are not enough and never were.   A real and systemic  adjustment needs to made in how  a job ALL the television networks represent Black people.  That won’t change until change is demanded by those who make the decisions whose stories are told and whose are ignored.
If you never ask the question the answer is always “no.”  I’m not asking BET, TV One or OWN to take on CBS, CNN or Fox.  I’m just thinking it’s not too presumptuous to ask for something more enlightening than another 30-year-old rerun of “The Flip Wilson Show.”

Oprah's network represents White women, not Black people.