Damn. So Don Lemon and T.J. Holmes are chopped liver? For a network that gave the unseasoned Eliot Spitzer a primetime slot to bomb in, this reeks:

CNN’s top executive has all but said that the on-air journalists of color it employs are not ready for prime time, and deployed Mark Whitaker, the former Newsweek editor who recently became a CNN news executive, to talk with the National Association of Black Journalists about finding more suitable ones.

…CNN on Wednesday canceled the political talk show “In the Arena” with Eliot Spitzer, filling his 8 p.m. time slot with Anderson Cooper’s “AC360” and unveiling a fall lineup that includes a new general news program with Erin Burnett, formerly of CNBC.

National Association of Black Journalists President Kathy Y. Times finds it’s hard to believe that CNN, in its wide-ranging searches to fill slots left by primetime hosts.

“I sent network news executives an open letter about the deplorable lack of diversity in their prime-time schedules . . . 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.”

CNN certainly cannot claim on-air experience as a qualification if they let Spitzer have his own show. During the day and on weekends there are plenty of black journalists on the air (mentioned in this article – TJ Holmes, Don Lemon, Russ Mitchell and Lester Holt, Robin Roberts, Al Roker, Roland Martin and Tamron Hall); one must assume that producers and executives rationalize in their narrow minds that none of these seasoned professionals can bring in ratings. If Spitzer can be handed the keys to the car, so can these people of color.

That said – if these execs have accurate surveys or demographics with findings that viewers won’t watch a black anchor during primetime, let’s see them.  After all, Bernard Shaw anchored at CNN for years, and certainly that didn’t hurt the network. I don’t think these decisions are based on any hard science at all, but personal perceptions and industry “norms” – after all, Whitaker is black. And it’s no mistake, I’m sure, that he was the one sent to the NABJ meeting. But he’s not the final say on who gets the prime time chair.  

But any statement that reeks of “we can’t find any qualified people” is just feeble when you have diversity elsewhere in your lineup. While we’re at it, where are the Asian or Latino journalists at any time during the 24-hour news cycle on the major channels?

Question –

Do you think it’s beneficial to have a more diverse CNN prime time lineup, or is it simply more insulting that they don’t recognize the talent within?

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding