Network TV's Blind Eye
SAN DIEGO -- Some of my African-American media colleagues are worked up over the lack of racial diversity in cable television news -- especially in prime time.
The issue resurfaced after CNN recently canceled
the ratings-challenged talk show "In the Arena" hosted by Eliot Spitzer. The
National Association of Black Journalists complained that no African-American
journalists appear to have been considered to host a replacement show.
for them. This is a good cause that never gets old. In fact, as time goes on,
it gets more important. This is not just about getting jobs for journalists.
It's about something much bigger: keeping the entire journalism profession
relevant, vibrant and engaging in rapidly changing times. What good does it do
the executives who run the handful of media companies that produce most of the
news content to stick their heads in the sand and pretend America looks as it
did at the dawn of television?
it's too bad that so many African-Americans in my profession are narrowly
focused on what's good for them, and what might enhance their own careers. They
don't seem to have noticed that we've moved way beyond black-and-white
television. There are other colors in the spectrum that usually get overlooked
whenever the diversity issue is raised.
Not that this is easy to do when, for instance,
Latinos represent -- according to the 2010 Census -- 16.3 percent of the U.S.
population and African-Americans make up 12.6 percent. Or when you consider that
Asian-Americans are one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United
when the NAACP recently raised the issue of diversity in a press release, its
complaint was limited to the fact that "there are no African-American hosts or
anchors on any national news show, cable or broadcast network, from the hours
of 5 p.m.-11 p.m." Forget everyone else.
Certainly, it's normal for the NAACP to champion
the interests of African-Americans. Organizations representing Asians, Latinos
and Native Americans should do the same. If they don't, that's on them.
here's my pet peeve: Too often, those who push for more opportunities for
African-Americans pretend that they're advocating for all "people of color"
when really their agenda always boils down to the advancement of one minority
African-Americans want a black host in prime
time. Fine. But Latinos are starting from scratch. They don't have a presence
at CNN in daytime, prime time, or anytime. The same goes for other minorities,
such as Asians and Native Americans.
It's a numbers grab. Advocates take the 12.6
percent of the population that African-Americans represent and add it to the
16.3 percent for Latinos, the 4.8 percent for Asians, and the 0.9 for Native
Americans, and suddenly you're talking about a "minority" consortium that
accounts for 34.6 percent of the U.S. population. That's a hefty slice of the
pie, and it's hard to ignore.
As a Latino, I don't expect African-American
organizations to advocate for me. I can do that myself. But don't use me
the channel, my black colleagues also tend to get worked up whenever media
companies throw them a curveball like, say, hiring a racial agitator and
non-journalist to host a television show while passing over dozens of more
qualified African-Americans who've paid their dues as reporters, editors or
local anchors. This seems to be what is about to happen at MSNBC, where
executives are getting ready to give a 6 p.m. show to Rev. Al Sharpton, according
to The New York Times.
an odd decision this would be. The people who run the left-leaning cable news
network must be embarrassed that their prime-time lineup -- and, for that
matter, their morning and afternoon lineups -- is made up entirely of Caucasian
hosts. Imagine the odds!
the MSNBC executives are doing something flashy by hiring Sharpton, a celebrity
rabble-rouser who isn't trained as a journalist but who -- consistent with the
NBC mascot -- has gone before plenty of TV cameras and strutted like a peacock.
Sharpton's show isn't likely to last, and, when it tanks, MSNBC executives can
say: "Well, we gave that diversity thing a try, and it didn't work out." Then
they can go back to doing what they know how to do very well: hiring more
All this goes to show that, on television news as
with many other industries, you can lead folks to diversity but you can't make
© 2011, The Washington Post Writers Group