Two days after CNN hired disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer to co-host a new prime-time program, theNational Association of Black Journalists Friday blasted the cable news networks for their failure to place African American hosts in such prime-time slots[PDF].
"The company missed another opportunity to place a person of color in prime time," NABJ said in a statement. "It just seems that cable news can never find diverse candidates who are good enough to meet their standards. We want to know your standards.
"Are you telling us that CNN could find no one better than an ex-politician who quit being New York governor after consorting with prostitutes to grace America’s living rooms each night?
"CNN does have Tony Harris anchoring in the morning, and [Fredricka] Whitfield, T.J. Holmes, and Don Lemon on the weekends. But that’s not prime time. The same can be said about MSNBC which last week named veteran Lawrence O’Donnell as the anchor of its new 10 p.m. show."
CNN announced Wednesday that Spitzer and Kathleen Parker, a white conservative columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group, "will co-host a spirited, nightly roundtable discussion program on CNN/U.S.," filling the 8 p.m. Eastern slot to be vacated by Campbell Brown.
The CNN announcement prompted a story Thursday by Rachel Sklar in the online magazine the Daily Beast, "The Unbearable Whiteness of Cable."
"CNN just announced two new hosts for the 8 p.m. prime time hour recently vacated by Campbell Brown: Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker," Sklar began.
"Last week, MSNBC announced that the new host for its 10 p.m. prime time show would be network staple Lawrence O’Donnell. What do these three people have in common (and thankfully for O’Donnell and Parker, it’s not being caught with your socks down with a prostitute)? Pretty obvious: They’re white.
"They’re white like Chris Matthews is white, like Bill O’Reilly is white and Keith Olbermann is white, like Wolf Blitzer is white and Megyn Kelly is white and John King is white and Ed Schultz, Greta Van Susteren, Jake Tapper, Joe Scarborough, Bob Schieffer, David Gregory, Chris Wallace, Rachel Maddow, and Dylan Ratigan are white, not unlike the lion’s share of their guests."
The Daily Beast piece is not without its own irony: The Daily Beast has so far refused to disclose the diversity of its own staff, which appears to be almost as white as the prime-time lineups the piece criticizes. Daily Beast spokesman Andrew Kirk dodged the question again when Journal-isms asked about the site's diversity on Friday.
Journal-isms asked the three cable news networks for their responses to Sklar's article. Fox News Channel did not answer. MSNBC's Alana Russo said, "We don't have any comment on Rachel's piece."
CNN said through a spokeswoman:
"CNN has incorporated diversity into all aspects of its coverage, including on-air talent and those behind the scenes. From our correspondents at the White House, on Capitol Hill, and at the Pentagon; to CNN Newsroom to our Sunday morning programming with Candy Crowley and Fareed Zakaria, CNN's programming reflects our commitment to diversity. Like all our shows, the new 8 pm program will have a rotating panel of diverse guests.
"In addition, the network's commitment is demonstrated by this year's investment in a fully resourced production team, CNN's IN AMERICA unit, that is building upon our long-term record of success in covering communities of color and diversity in terms of culture and perspectives."
NABJ gave CNN its "Best Practices" award during its 2007 convention in Las Vegas. This year the award is going to MSNBC's siblings, NBC News and NBC's local TV stations.
David Bauder of the Associated Press quoted CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein on Thursday:
"Klein said CNN had considered scores of different personalities for the time slot but Spitzer and Parker stood out as iconoclasts. CNN arranged a meeting between the two about three weeks ago and was impressed by 'an organic chemistry' between them, he said."
In an interview published Wednesday with Dylan Stableford of theWrap.com, Klein said of Spitzer:
"I think any baggage any viewers have about him will be washed away when they see the show. It’s going to be intelligent conversation between two adults, both of whom are free of vested interests, beholden to no one. They are renowned for it."
In its statement, NABJ quoted CBS anchor Russ Mitchell speaking in Ebony magazine. "Mitchell told Ebony 'I've been to journalism conferences over and over again, and heard some executive say "I'd like to hire more African-Americans, but I just can't find any qualified ones out there." That was b.s. then, and that's b.s. now.' NABJ couldn’t agree more."
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