Why Do Cable News and Television Networks Avoid The Issue of Diversity

Or ignore the value of Black women journalists

Ezinne Ukoha
Oct 3, 2018 · 9 min read

According to AdWeek’s TVNewser, the month of August was a good one for Fox News, as the cable network once again claimed the winning spot as “the most watched cable news network in both prime time and total day in total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.”

And it doesn’t end there: “FNC achieved 26 back-to-back months as the most-watched basic cable network in total viewers, delivering 1.3 million.”

It’s no shocker that the top shows responsible for the blessings unfolding at Fox News, include Hannity, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and The Ingraham Angle.

All three anchors are White, and very much aligned with the hateful messaging that helped to get Donald Trump elected. They are passionate about being the high-profile extension of a toxic administration — that is committed to upholding the principles of White supremacy.

But aside from racists anchors helping to propel the impressive track record of a racist news network, there’s also the open secret of how the transparency that anoints White men with the privilege of being the most trusted faces in newsrooms — both in front and behind the camera.

Interestingly enough, we’ve been privy to how the formula of prestige Whiteness doesn’t always deliver predictably honorable results. Take for instance the epic downfall of former NBC News superstar, Brian Williams, who spent a decade as the stoic anchor of NBC Nightly News.

Back in 2015, after an exhaustive investigation, it was discovered that Williams had purposely embellished the events that transpired while on assignment in the Middle East — during the Iraq War in 2003.

As punishment for his crime, the beloved and “boyishly-handsome” newsman was placed on a six-month suspension without pay, before being rerouted to MSNBC to serve as chief anchor.

That seems like a very small price to pay when you consider how Williams essentially utilized his highly-visible position as one of the most reliable faces in TV news, as leverage for a selfish ploy — that involved the booster of how he almost “lost his life” in the name of journalistic pursuits.

Williams basically shit all over the valiant efforts of real life heroes who are actually stationed on the front lines of intense battles, that end up devouring their bodies, but not their legacies.

But it isn’t that surprising to witness the seamless recovery of a White millionaire, who misused his authority in the worst way possible — multiple times — in an effort to garner the respect and empathy that he neither earned nor deserved.

White men in America are valued beyond reason, and are able to get away with abhorrent behavior, and emerge on the other side without a single scratch.

Disgraced media personalities like former CBS staple, Charlie Rose, long-time Today show anchor, Matt Lauer, and even the recently departed CBS honcho, Les Moonves, won’t be silenced for long. The accusations of sexual misconduct are still pending, but there’s already rumors of the imminent comebacks of both Rose and Lauer — that will be orchestrated for the benefit of coerced redemption.

As for Moonves, his epic pay day, will surely leave doors wide open for future engagements, but in the meantime he can chill out and enjoy the fruits of his labor, while his alleged victims deal with the painful logistics of his misdemeanors.

When the roster of powerful players in the industry, who were mostly White men, began to expand as the daily supply of allegations of sexual harassment were logged in, there was a brief assumption that the major shakeups would inevitably lead to the manifestation of more talents of color in anchor chairs and on the floor of prominent newsrooms.

The feeling was that if White males can’t be trusted to deliver breaking news without the temptation of exaggerating events for the lure of heroism or habitually demeaning the value of female co-workers — then perhaps it’s time to rebrand the face of news networks with a healthy variety of hues.

But so far, the “diversity” initiative in media is still struggling to take off, and the reason is embedded in the fact that old habits die hard.

While watching the Showtime docu-series, The Fourth Estate, that centers around the headiness of covering the Trump presidency, and how the talented and hardworking reporters at the New York Times manage to remain sane, while accommodating their various roles — the striking theme was the lack of diversity in the newsroom.

All the main players, both veterans and experienced, were White men and White women, with a couple of exceptions, that included, Executive Editor Dean Baquet, and reporter Yamiche Alcindor, who was briefly spotlighted doing what she does best — but that exposure wasn’t nearly enough to convince Black women like me — that we have a chance to score similar opportunities.

Incidentally, Alcindor who has since moved on to covering The White House for PBS News Hour, recently got entangled in a awkward web of lies, courtesy of former co-worker Maggie Haberman, who falsely asserted that Alcindor never covered Trump’s campaign back in 2016.

Of course without missing a beat, the seasoned journalist brought the receipts, and defended her honor against a fellow reporter, who was hellbent on downplaying the robust resume of a very talented and accomplished Black woman, who is brilliantly navigating an already hostile environment.

The New York Times isn’t the only illustrious outlet that prefers to assign White men and White women to sought-after positions, because when you take a snapshot of the anchors presently dominating the TV news cycle — the gross negligence is staggering.

Both CNN and MSNBC only boast a handful of Black women anchoring morning or nightly shows. Joy-Ann Reid has become the recognizable face of MSNBC, thanks to her thriving weekend morning vehicle, AM Joy. Fredericka Whitfield has been CNN’s consistent anchor for the weekend daytime edition of the newsroom.

And for the most part, that’s where it ends for the visibility of Black women anchors on both networks, as the meaty spots are occupied by mostly White men and White women, with a handful of exceptions — and those are mostly men of color.

Interestingly enough, CNN and MSNBC are quite vigorous when it comes to filling up roundtables with Black women pundits, who are invited to share their particular brand of “wokeness”as it pertains to how Trump’s America is eating Black America alive. And there are expansive moments that showcase the vibrant intelligence of Black women tackling various topics — that aren’t necessarily race-related.

But even with the glaring evidence that validates the worthiness of Black women journalists — there’s virtually no indication that popular cable news networks are remotely interested in deviating form the standard formula of Whiteness — that still serves as the template of excellence.

Distinguished broadcast journalist, Soledad O’Brien, who lent her incomparable skills to CNN, has publicly chided the hiring practices of her former employer, by challenging the lack of diversity in the newsroom.

It’s one thing to station Black women journalists like CNN political correspondent April Ryan, in the fields, where they hunt for the latest Trump-related scandal, while mandatorily butting heads with White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders — but it seems that all bets are off when it comes to populating the news desk with women of color — who are more than up to the task.

Where are the talented and trustworthy Black women who are awarded the chance to give Katy Tur, Brooke Baldwin, Kate Bolduan, Poppy Harlow, and Hallie Jackson a run for their money based on journalistic prowess?

Why do cable news and television networks avoid the issue of diversity?

And why are Black male journalists luckier than their female counterparts when it comes to securing prominent anchoring gigs?

Perhaps the reasoning behind the instinct to exclude Black women from the anchor chair is related to how they’re generally an afterthought for anything that requires the beaming spotlight. And it only gets worse when our features aren’t transferable — due to the sin of looking as Black as we really are.

In entertainment — the music industry is still stuck on Beyonce and Nicki Minaj prototypes. In film and television, despite the conclusion that diversity is finally catching up to feting Black women — there’s still the poison of colorism — and how dark-skinned actresses are left in the cold to shadow the unwavering desirability for lighter-skinned fare.

As a Black woman journalist and Gen-Xer — I grew up during the era of Barbara Walters and all the other notable White men that she had to conquer in order to build her enviable trajectory. And as much as I loved keeping track of current affairs both at home and abroad, it was hard to fathom the possibility that I could maybe tackle the news cycle as a well-respected anchorwoman — who conducts interviews with the world’s most fascinating figures.

Oprah Winfrey managed to break down the barriers by enjoying a decades long career as the Queen of Daytime TV — but her success is deemed an anomaly with little hope of being replicated anytime soon.

It’s quite unsettling to scan the landscape of media — and discover how very little progress has been made when it comes to the level of inclusion — that should indicate how the limitations of the past are behind us — thanks to the healthier climate of the present.

We are disastrously stuck in the biased mentality of how White men and White women are more capable of commanding the cameras, in ways that yield the kind of results that people of color are apparently unable to amass.

And yes, the diversity issue in media extends to other women of color, but as a Black woman, who could have enjoyed a fulfilling career as a newswoman in any one of the established cable news networks, my attention is naturally focused on talents that resemble me.

When Tamron Hall of NBC and MSNBC fame, was left in the dust after a very expensive and celebrated negotiation resulted in the ambitious hiring of Megyn Kelly, from Fox News, there was an online uproar. We couldn’t stomach the bitter taste of watching an irreplaceable television host, succumb to the supremacy that allowed a bigoted and lesser-talent to over-shadow her immense contributions.

As it turns out NBC inherited a multi-million dollar disaster with the addition of Kelly, whose morning show, Megyn Kelly Today, is tragically flailing, despite all attempts to revive it.

Who would’ve guessed that the trusted blueprint of the White blonde-haired woman with a penchant for on-air bigotry — would turn out to be an ill-advised gamble?

Hall, on the other hand is on to bigger and better, with a highly-anticipated daytime talk show on ABC — that’s scheduled to make its debut sometime in 2019.

The point is, like most industries, White women in media, have the upper hand, when it comes to landing the top spots, while Black women trail behind in an effort to play catch up. And this is based on the falsehood of how Whiteness carries the currency of believability and professionalism — that automatically bequeaths White males — everlasting authority in prestigious newsrooms.

Only time will tell if the years ahead will breed a brighter forecast for Black women in journalism, even though the climate of optimism when it comes to the attitude towards diversity is firmly rooted in the perception that things are improving.

However, the dismal statistics are enough proof of how women of color are woefully under-represented in the major facets of media, including print newsrooms and local radio.

As usual, Soledad O’Brien, who is the founder of Starfish Media Group, summed it up best when reacting to the discouraging report from the Women’s Media Center:

“There are so many micro-aggressions that come with being a journalist and female and not White.” “If you spend too much time seeing yourself — in terms of how they see you — as only those things, you will lose your mind. Because there are just a lot of slights.”

Truer words have never been spoken, and the only way to combat the virus of discrimination against the targeted population — still waiting to receive their due — is to take off the blinders and admit that diversity in media is a pending issue that needs to be seriously addressed.

The time for action is now!

In the meantime, check out this list:

Ezinne Ukoha

Written by

Juggling Wordsmith. I have a lot to say, so bear with me. https://medium.com/membership

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