The New York Post has revealed that CNN is once again considering bringing in a person of color to one of their night time anchor spots. The move is long overdue, since black and brown people have been subject to the “All-white, all-night” phenomenon, where none of the major cable news networks have granted any of their nightly branded news spots to an African American host. This is nothing short of insulting, given that black people are very good at showing loyalty to those who don’t feel compelled to return the favor.
As John King is being taken to the carpet for his disappointing ratings in the 7 p.m. slot, CNN’s leadership is considering Soledad O’Brien as his replacement. Sure, Soledad isn’t everyone’s first pick, but she’s professional, talented and quite intelligent. She deserves to have a shot. All the while, I’d be remiss not to mention my respected friend Roland Martin, and other talented CNN personalities, like Richelle Carey, Don Lemmon, TJ Holmes, and Tony Harris (who just left for Al Jazeera English).
What’s saddest is that rather than seeking out high quality black journalistic talent, CNN leadership is looking for (surprise!) black entertainers and comedians to fill the void. Reports are that celebrities like Chris Rock are being considered for the post, which might be a solid, but premature move by the network. I find it quite interesting that none of the nighttime slots have gone to white comedians (can you imagine Jerry Seinfeld on CNN?), but when it comes to black folks, our first job is to make other people laugh. Perhaps one day, a major network will realize that black people can be productive even when we are not singing, dancing or dribbling a basketball.
But we can’t give up hope just yet.
"They are desperately trying to put together a show with Soledad at 7 p.m.," according to a CNN insider. "So she is getting another chance and will be shooting another pilot today."
One can only pray that someone within CNN understands how critical it is to give a black journalist a chance to be on the air. I find it amazing that no one has concluded that there isn’t a black journalist on earth as talented as the less-than-flattering Nancy Grace or the overly-articulate Jane Valez Mitchell (whose exaggerated style of communication reminds me of The Jerry Springer Show). Finally, we must openly question why defamed former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has a show, in spite of the fact that Rev. Jesse Jackson was fired from CNN for allegedly violating an ethics clause when it was uncovered that he had a child outside his marriage. So, Spitzer shows us that even white males with highly questionable ethics are preferable to the hard-working black folks (like Soledad, Martin and others) who’ve paid their dues within the organization and kept their noses entirely clean.
On a final note, there is another interesting racial dimension to CNN’s black on-air personalities: Is it me, or is every black person on the network light-skinned? I’m not out to accuse anyone of anything, but there are quiet grumblings in the black community about whether or not a Wesley-Snipes lookalike would get the same consideration as someone who looks like President Obama. All throughout our nation’s history, there has been a clear and undeniable bias in favor of light-skinned African Americans. That’s a simple fact. I wonder if CNN is also subject to the same bias that affects millions of other Americans across the country.
CNN’s effort to find the latest black man to make us all laugh takes me back to the DL Hughley debacle in 2008. In an ill-conceived effort to profit from the pending election of our nation’s first black president, CNN made comedian DL Hughley the first black man to host a night time show. The show was not only as dry as used toilet paper in the desert, but the jokes were incredibly insulting and stereotypical. The fact that a group of CNN executives got together and thought this show was a good idea is nothing short of shocking. So, perhaps much-needed diversity in front of the camera must be supplemented by additional diversity in the board room. Either way, CNN has some work to do, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was urgent.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition, with 55,000 members nation-wide. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.