In response to CNN’s repeated failure to secure more African Americans to fill prime time slots, Kathy Y. Times, the President of the National Association of Black Journalists issued a statement July 11. This latest challenge to CNN’s lack of diversity was precipitated when CNN failed to use the opportunity created by the departure of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, to broaden it’s diversity during the 8 p.m. prime time segment.
The text of the letter follows below:
It has been 17 days since I sent network news executives an open letter about the deplorable lack of diversity in their prime-time schedules. Now, I am floored that CNN missed another opportunity to fill a void created at 8 p.m. The NAACP took notice too and blasted the network for a lack of black talent on the desk after former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s departure this week. Former CNBC anchor Erin Burnett will join the prime-time lineup. This is no slight against Burnett, who has worked as a financial analyst and anchored financial news.
But this is not the first time CNN has had an opportunity and failed to diversify its nighttime lineup. During the past two years alone, CNN has made several changes after the departures of Lou Dobbs, Larry King, and Campbell Brown. With each of those changes came an opportunity for diversity; yet in each instance, CNN went in another direction.
Exacerbating the issue is the fact that CNN has several times passed over its own qualified African American journalists for prime-time posts in favor of whites who possess celebrity (Piers Morgan) or infamy (Spitzer). He resigned his post as New York governor in 2008 after an FBI sting revealed a liaison with a prostitute. In October 2010, NABJ met with CNN executives, including President Jim Walton, after the network announced that Morgan would replace Larry King upon his retirement. At the time, CNN said it was looking for the “right person” and not necessarily a mainstream journalist when the next prime-time opening occurred.
NABJ spoke out again when the network hired Spitzer and Kathleen Parker to replace Campbell Brown.
NABJ Vice President of Broadcast Bob Butler and I talked with Walton late Thursday, and he told us the network continues to seek and develop a candidate who has the image and substance to carry a prime-time show. I invited Walton to mount an innovative search during the NABJ national convention next month in Philadelphia. It will be packed with outstanding African American talent.
Since our meeting last year, CNN has made progress in hiring diverse executives including managing editor and executive vice president Mark Whitaker, CNNPolitics.com editor and former NABJ president Bryan Monroe, and Chief Marketing Officer Janet Rolle, who had a similar role at BET. In fact, NABJ sent Walton a letter thanking him for hiring Whitaker and for adding Suzanne Malveaux to the lineup of midday anchors. Walton said he is proud of the senior level hires, but until a person of color is added to prime time, CNN’s progress will be “hollow.” Viewers do not see who’s making decisions or writing scripts.
NABJ sincerely hopes the next time there is an opening for a prime-time host, CNN will have found — and groomed – the “right person.” CNN must make efforts to ensure that its staff, both on-air and behind the scenes, is as diverse and inclusive as its audience.
Yours in service,
Kathy Y. Times
National Association of Black Journalists