The White Stuff: Where Are The Black Faces on Cable News?

In January 2009, I wrote a media predictions piece for the Daily Beast, writing: “If 2009 isn’t the year of the black media star, then we are all doing something wrong.” Needless to say, it was not. Neither is 2010. In fact, with new shows being given to people like Eliot Spitzer, Kathleen Parker and Lawrence O’Donnell, it’s moving in the opposite direction.

Today I followed up with “The Unbearable Whiteness of Cable,” writing:

Let’s review: Carlos Watson got a show briefly on MSNBC and was canceled, then disappeared from the network entirely; Roland Martin filled in for Campbell Brown on CNN for two months, then seemed to fade away as well. MSNBC’s Tamron Hall has been spotted doing fill-ins on the Today show, but when it comes to branded TV real estate, the 3 p.m. hour with David Shuster doesn’t quite measure up. Even NBC’s Christina Brown, who used to be featured on MSNBC’s First Look, was shelved for a Rachel Maddow rerun leading into Way Too Early with Willie Geist. It’s competitive out there, even at 5 a.m.

…Yes, there are regulars: Apart from straight news (CNN’s Don Lemon and Fredricka Whitfield, MSNBC’s Hall), there’s the aforementioned Robinson, a staple on Morning Joe, plus Jonathan Capeheart, Harold Ford, and, occasionally, NBC News VP Mark Whitaker. Brazile is on CNN, Gwen Ifill on PBS, and NPR’s Michele Norris on an ABC or NBC Sunday-morning roundtable here and there. Touré was briefly a regular on Dylan Ratigan’s show, and we’ll see John Ridley on Morning Joe when they’re out in L.A. And hey, MSNBC viewers do see Tom Joyner all the time, but that, alas, is in an ad for his show.

You know that ad, right? I see it all the time. The juxtaposition always strikes me.

I’m not alone in noticing this. Per Eric Deggans:

With O’Donnell in the house, MSNBC will boast an anchor lineup packed with middle-aged white males from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., with one notable exception. From Dylan Ratingan’s overheated financial industry-based grousing to Ed Schultz’s talk-radio honed anti-GOP shtick and Chris Matthews’ bombastic political analysis, there seems to be no room remaining for one of the principles liberals once touted so strongly: ethnic diversity.

Contrast that scene with the stuff these guys are covering, where a Louisiana Governor of east Indian heritage teams with a U.S. Representative born in South Vietnam to pressure a black president to crack down on a British oil and gas company. Clearly, the world of politics and big business is diversifying faster than the media arrayed to cover it.

…and here is a slightly more exasperated take from Danielle Belton:

MSNBC, love them or hate them, is one of those places where everyone acts like it’s this glorious bastion of Rainbow Coalition Liberal political thought delivered fresh daily. And while there is some variety among those who anchor the daily news reports, all the network big money show ponies are different versions of the same white guy … with Rachel Maddow as the above-average token.

While I’m sure Lawrence O’Donnell is what’s hot in the very exclusive, gated-community streets that MSNBC President Phil Griffin lives on, if more than half of the United States is female and you’ve got a CRAZY PANTS amount of blacks, Latinos and others running around — many owning televisions and watching them on a regular basis — it seems a little lame to just do what almost people from the upper echelons of our society do … sit around and hire their friends.

As I said in my piece, no one is disputing the qualifications of O’Donnell, Spitzer, or Parker — they are all enormously impressive, especially Spitzer because Lord, he has managed to pull off what most of us would have called a miracle in March 2008. But — you can’t blame Belton for her frustration, or others in minority communities who saw the black faces newly popping up on cable during the election slowly start to drop away. As one said to me: “You have this change in the nation before their very eyes. No one would have thought that, when there was finally a black president, TV would get whiter.”

The Unbearable Whiteness of Cable [The Daily Beast]
Eric Deggans: Why Doesn’t MSNBC Embrace More Diversity? [HuffPo]
When Diversity Means Hiring A Not Really Different Version Of The Same Thing [The Black Snob]

***Headline shamelessly lifted from Jonathan Wald.

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