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.

11 thoughts on “Token Gestures and Table Scraps

  1. I can’t believe I’m commenting on this. But why fear my truth? Regarding Rev. Al or Dr. West? I come from a family of white liberals, with one exception–my mother is a bigot. The small upside to her is that she will sometimes listen (to someone like Dr. West). When Rev. Al speaks, it appears or sounds like an incite? When Dr. West speaks, it feels like he’s coming from a place to unite everyone, excluding no one. A white person could say that Rev. Al doesn’t like white people. Another could say Dr. West would try to find a common thread whereas, Rev. Al doesn’t care to.
    Should he? I don’t know. I just know the country is in turmoil, filled with a higher level of ignorance (or are they just coming out of the closet because our president is black? I believe so).

    Am I surprised at this level of hot, ugly racism? Yes. But I did see it coming when President Obama was elected. Although I did not see the Michele’s or Palin’s coming. Any and everything Rev. Al says will be used against him and any person not white. Dr. West would be best and do better at seeing everyone’s views. That’s how it appears to me. But let’s all wait and see.


  2. “This would still be just another non-journalist media ‘celebrity’ receiving a TV show based upon their name recognition, not their years of experience, training, ability and talent.”

    Is an organization like NABJ strictly interested in talent, skill and ability — or do they also take into account a members physical characteristics, like say, the shade of someones skin. I’m no fan of Sharptons, but I find a bias in favor of celebrity less objectionable than an obsession with race.

    Not strictly the same thing but the irony is tough to ignore.


    • You ask, “Is an organization like NABJ strictly interested in talent, skill and ability—or do they also take into account a member’s physical characteristics, like say, the shade of someone’s skin?” Well, let’s put it this way: Why do you think it’s called the National Association
      of BLACK Journalists?”

      A Black journalist’s organization is charged with the hiring, promotion and retention of Black journalists because right now, that isn’t happening. Let me ask you a quick question. Do you know how many Black journalists have a show during primetime viewing hours on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News?

      Zero. Zip. NONE. But a disgraced ex-governor who diddled prostitutes like Eliot Spitzer can waltz right off the street and into a show with no drama at all.

      I don’t expect you to agree with me, but it isn’t “an obsession with race” to note being of a certain race seems to always leave you with your nose pressed up against the window trying to find a way inside. When there’s as many Black and other journalists of color getting their shot to try (and possibly fail) as the mediocrities and nobodies on the cable channels who routinely do, race will will no longer be a factor.

      That day is not yet here.


  3. I don’t care what color any given commentator happens to be. I’m interested in their competency and their integrity. By that standard, I want the best journalist to hold the highest profile and most influential positions. I’d gladly join any association which promoted that noble aim, but one uniquely interested in the advancement of a particular sort of person isn’t my cup of tea.

    Is every racial disparity evidence of discrimination (past or present)? You haven’t given me any reason to suspect this one is.

    Outcomes generally don’t reflect the racial composition of the country, and that’s because races are not distinct boundary lines that separate otherwise equal persons. Instead, race is a crude and imprecise aggregate. Blacks may be, on average, younger or older, fatter or skinner than whites — but that doesn’t much matter since were individuals. No black hosts – so what? Proof of a conspiracy against blacks? Evidence of executives that only promote their ‘own kind’?…


    • You’ll have to find your own answers to your questions, Kmele. I already have mine and you’ve rejected them with a dismissive “so what” so I’m not sure what more I’m supposed to figure out for you.

      You may say “I don’t care what color any given commentator happens to be” but when all the commentators are White that matters. Not to you, but definitely to me and to NABJ. Because you may want t he best journalist to hold the highest profile and most influential positions, but that an abstract wish rather than an actual fact. The fact is journalists get passed over all the time for “celebrities” and if your standards were the standard, please explain to me how Eliot Spitzer got a show on CNN while ALL their in-house Black talent did not.

      I’ll make that one simple for you: White executives bypassed Black journalists to promote a White politician who had resigned his position in disgrace. That is a snub and a slight and an insult. Whether or not you agree is irrelevant. There’s NO justification that makese Spitzer better qualified than a Don Lemon or Soledad O’ Brien.

      Nobody said Black are owed or obligated to fill exclusively White spaces with Black faces. But when there are Blacks that are experienced, trained, talented and have the ability to do the job, they should get a fair shot at the job. Then if they succeed or if they fail, let it be based upon their performance.

      Don’t agree with that? Fine. It doesn’t make you right and it doesn’t make me wrong.


  4. “ll’l make that one simple for you: White executives bypassed Black journalists to promote a White politician who had resigned his position in disgrace.”

    But it’s not that simple at all — they also passed up every other qualified journalist on the planet — journalist of every race color and creed. I could cite the same evidence to make a case that they’re discriminating against Russians. Celebrity and sensationalism are the rule of the day. Those two factors earned a sanctimonious sleaze ball like Spitzer a prime-time show, for a little while anyway.


    • Okay, this will be my last comment to you on this topic because I’m not going to get into an endless loop where we keep this up endlessly.

      I’m not talking about every other qualified journalist on the planet and I don’t really care about the National Association of Russian Journalists. I’m talking about Black journalists who aren’t getting a fair shot at these jobs. And I get it that celebrity and sensationalism trump experience and qualification. But how it is does not follow that is how it must be.

      We will have to agree to disagree. I don’t want to beat this topic to death any longer, okay?


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  6. Pingback: The Al Sharpton Blowback: Stuck In a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of « The Domino Theory by Jeff Winbush

  7. Pingback: Sharpton Takes on His Critics |

  8. Pingback: Sharpton Takes on His Critics | marvinarrington

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