Why CNN, HLN and MSNBC Won’t Have a Black Prime Time Anchor for a While

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

I recently noticed that the NAACP joined the call of other civil rights public figures (I’m not sure how I feel about the word “leaders”) in asking CNN and other networks to open the door for African American representation in nightly prime time news slots.  I was happy to see them speaking out, and it’s difficult to debate the merits of their argument.  The number “zero” is nearly impossible to defend as it pertains to diversity and it’s also the ultimate insult to black people (CNN couldn’t have a worse figure if David Duke were running the network).

So, in response to the NAACP’s statement about the glaring lack of diversity on CNN’s channels (including HLN, owned by the same parent company), they said the only thing they could: Absolutely nothing.  No apology, no explanation, no plan for the future…..nothing.  The network’s reaction is similar to that of a man whose girlfriend asks if he’s ever going to marry her, when both of them know that he just doesn’t respect her enough to do so.

The obvious conclusion from the deafening silence of the major networks on this matter is that there simply isn’t enough at stake for CNN (or MSNBC for that matter) to  make major changes.  They know that they can get black viewers without adjusting their lineups.  They know that it is probably more profitable for them to maintain their stance on racial exclusion than it is for them to show the courage necessary to move toward true racial equality.  The occasional appearance of a Don Lemon, Richelle Carey or Roland Martin represents a polite little donation to the “I Have a Dream” Charity pit, which helps their shareholders to sleep at night.  Let’s not forget the Time Warner/NBC colonization of several black-owned media outlets, including Essence Magazine, among others.

Let’s be honest:  There are few groups worse at organizing for a collective cause than the African American community.  CNN and other networks pursue obvious racial double standards, not because they are trying to be racist, but because they only care about the needs of those who give them a reason to be concerned.  Without significant outrage from the black community or any serious financial consequences, CNN will likely continue business as usual.  Their decision to use Shaunie O’neal as the delegate to speak on the serious and sensitive issue of black female images in media shows just how little interest there is in presenting commentary that reflects any meaningful representation of the African American community.

Another reason that the networks won’t change their policies in the near future is because many black journalists and CNN employees are afraid to stand up.  “Kitchen table activism” is very popular in the black community:  That’s where black folks secretly talk about the issues that bother them when they are around the kitchen table or in their offices with the doors shut.  But when it comes to confronting the powers that be, the “yes sir, thank you sir” response is most popular, along with (as my friend Yvette Carnell calls it) the “watermelon smile.”  That’s what us “corporaty, educa-macated” black folks call “playing the game.”  So, anyone who has the audacity to stand up is left abandoned like abolitionist John Brown at the Harper’s Ferry Federal Armory, who was captured and executed while waiting for slaves to join his revolt.  The truth is that black folks just aren’t that radical – we train our children to be timid in corporate settings, out of fear that white people just won’t like us anymore.

One thing that some of us must learn is that it’s difficult to engage in real activism while simultaneously hoping that you can be the beneficiary of that activism.  Most of the men and women who fought in the Civil Rights movement didn’t get a chance to become Congressmen or historical icons; many of them are dead.  On a less dramatic note, if I am the CNN employee who confronts company management about the lack of diversity in prime time news, chances are that I won’t be the one they choose for the job.   Activism can be analogized to a football game, where the person who clears the path for the offense is almost never the one who gets to dance in the end zone.

When I spoke publicly about Syracuse University’s racist hiring and promotion record, I knew my days would be numbered, and all the years I spent studying 10 hours a day to become a Finance PhD would be in jeopardy.  As expected, I was removed from the Business School (as had every nearly every other black faculty member in their 100 year history), but I took tremendous satisfaction from watching guilt-ridden and embarrassed administrators rush to hire as many black scholars as they possibly could.  Although I’d been labeled the “radical negro on campus,” I can name several faculty at my university who would not have jobs today had I chosen to be selfish and not sacrifice a piece of my academic reputation to confront an obviously racist system of hiring and promotion.

My actions at Syracuse don’t make me into any kind of hero – my ancestors lost a great deal more.  I was simply continuing the tradition of those who sacrificed before me, since they paved my way to a better life.   Whether we talk about the Civil Rights Movement, the American Revolution, or the recent liberation of Southern Sudan, the truth is that those who fight for freedom rarely benefit from the hard fought spoils of liberty.  So, it is imperative that those who receive the benefits of those before them carry the baton and move the collective dream to a better place.  Change takes courage, and as Attorney General Eric Holder said back in 2008, we really do live in a nation of cowards.

If the networks are going to hear our voice on this issue, we must make our voices heard.  Black journalists, including those at the major networks, must take the lead in fighting for this cause.  Those who watch CNN and believe that there should be more diversity must turn their vision to black owned media outlets (I personally get my news online).   Those of us who’ve appeared on CNN in the past who speak up on this matter must fully expect that the network is never going to give us a job.   It’s hard to bite a hand and eat from it at the same time, but all forms of change require a commitment from all of us.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.





  • Micwiljr

    Sadly I’m not surprised by the lack of African American hosts on prime time cable news.

  • God’s_Angel

    Just like Nas called out the death of Hip Hop, TimeWarner & JP Morgan Chase buying into Essence/Jet was almost the death of Black Media to me. Luckily, we still have online news sites. And most tech-savvy people (including our children) get their news online, right to their PC, cell phone, or iPad. So, maybe there’s still hope to stop the mind-control, and the notion that we live in a post-racial society.

    And the article says it best: people are scared to speak out about injustices in most cases, because they don’t want to lose their livelihood. They work for someone else, usually not a black-owned business, and speaking out could mean losing your job. Let’s face it, Corporate America runs America right now. Corporate America has shown us that those with money and power are even beginning to control the voice of Black America.

    One last thing. The article is right on point in that those who pave the way will rarely reap the benefits of their struggles. But their children may. Their grandchildren may. We cannot be so selfish as to say “Well I’m doing okay, so you gotta get yours the best way you can”. Because you never know, you may see your future generations suffering because you did nothing to make things better for their futures when you had the chance. 

    • Kevin Adams

      I agree, people have to be able to stand up and take a stance on whats right and whats wrong. Thank god for the internet.

  • Brian S.

    Great piece…this is why I stay on “the list” with employers…I don’t take to injustice well.

  • Mayne

    Well written piece.  Thanks, Dr. Boyce, for speaking out on such matters.  Also, in looking at the people in the above picture, I noticed none are “dark brown”.  The women could either pass for white or Latina.  So, seemingly, when they do hire black, they obviously must definitely be as light as possible. 

    • Ronniesaunders

      Mayne: You must be jealous of light skin people. When you’re light that’s right. When you’re Black you get back.
      What the hell did you expect in a racist ass country like the U.S.?  We have always lived in a color conscience sub culture and dominant culture.
      Negroes are still using terms like light skin and dark skin or red-bone, high yellow, dirty yellow, blue/black etc.
      The Plantation owners created the racial hierarchy in this country based upon skin color and those dumb Negroes have created their own racial/class system within the Negro race based upon the color of skin Yes classism has always existed within the Negro race.
      This mess happended long  before that Cracker Willie Lynch arrived on the scene from Barbados.
      The Crackers in the coroporate media don’t want to hire any dark brown or ebony colored people because they know damn well how racist the country is.
      Its all about the ratings.. What color is Bryant Gumbel? And the list goes on and on.
      If Barack Obama was the color of the famous Jackie Robinson that Negro would be just  like any other clueless Negro and he damn sure wouldn’t be President of the USA. Race and color always matter in racist and color conscience society and it ain’t always the Crackers that have the problem. White people are race conscience and Negroes are still color conscience.
      Stay on the Jewish Zionist owned corporations. Boycott then, send letters, interrupt their board of directors meetings, don’t buy their products, demonstrate in front of their cribs.. Quit begging those Crackers and “Take The Bull By The Horn with collective relentless action in concert with white progressives and others who are tired of seeing people of color treated like strangers in their own country.

      • Meccanaje

        Quit begging those Crackers and “Take The Bull By The Horn with collective relentless action in concert with white progressives and others who are tired of seeing people of color treated like strangers in their own country.

        strangers…you hit that on the nose!!!

  • Bluefootprints

    Thanks for this article.

  • Bluefootprints

    Thanks for this article. 
    But I did view a TV host show a few weeks ago where one of these anchors
    did not say kinds things about the place where they work.  There’s nothing wrong about speaking
    out.  But you have to use your
    professional in the process.  That is not
    kissing up to management, that is being smart and knowing how to play the
    game.  How did we as black people got
    where we are today?  Past leaders learned
    how to play the game and get elected to congress?  Past leaders learned how to win cases in the
    courtroom?  Past leaders learned how to
    perform well on exams that open the doors for others.  The opportunity is there, but black anchors have
    to be wise too.

  • Taankh

    It’s time to get out of the 60’s and into the 21st century.  There.  I said it.

    The goal of furthering our people is wonderful and in a racist society, unfortunately, that goal will always be with us.

    But it’s the “how” that has to change.  Asking white people to do the right thing is like asking your rapist to give you a lift to the hospital;  if he were that kind of a guy, he wouldn’t have raped you in the first place.  There’s no point.  They simply don’t have the capacity to do right by us without some sort of impetus.

    Now, what about the 60’s?  It was an era akin to lightning striking.  When lightning strikes in front of you, it shakes up your whole life.  No more business as usual.  You are changed, and you will never forget the experience.

    But it can paralyze you also.  You can stand by that same tree, waiting for it to strike again, and it is unlikely that it will in that same way.

    That is the effect of the 60’s on all of us.  Our modes and methods are outdated.

    What would you do if you were an executive and you wanted your company to target a certain market?  You would do your homework and show up to the meeting with all kinds of charts and graphs and powerpoint presentations to show why it is in the best interests of the company to do what you ask.  No way would you expect a company founded to make money to ever do anything that is not going to make them better off in some way, or do something for someone else.

    White people are that way.  You have to think like that when dealing with them.  You have to play the game.

    In my area, there is an anchor called Brenda Blackmon.  She got so popular with one of our local radio personalities (you may have heard of her – Wendy Williams), that Wendy began to refer to the whole broadcast as “Brenda Blackmon and them” and “The Brenda Blackmon show”.  More blacks started watching, especially since they were the only ones who would do stories, good and bad, of interest to the black community.

    If I wanted news to pick up black people, I would research the numbers on stations that did that, and if it had a positive effect on their advertising revenue.  Then I would take my report to the executives in charge of such things, making suggestions based on the formats they would likely accept.  For example, if they wanted to keep themselves mostly for white viewers, I would make suggestions of how a black anchor and a few black interest stories can make a difference.

    Play the game.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EGXZ26MK42CPGJ2FMIR3VXS4T4 flextime

    Lets be honest Negroes, You folks don’t have a problem trash talking Fox News but when your favorite liberal channels -that are suppose to be in your back pocket-don’t hire a lead Black anchor you curl up back into your shells. 

    Ask yourselves why is it so important to support a cable news network that still will not put a Black person in a pivotal position?  I would suggest a letter writing campaign or write the sponsors and let them know we might be slow on some issues but don’t have to buy their products or condone their behaviors.  Of course to many people are scared to do a boycott.

  • BrendaBW

    Excellent piece, I appreciate the news (and enlightment) I get from Your Black World and I share it with my network. Thanks for being here! 

    • mikeajeff

      Reverend Al Sharpton has been hosting the six o’clock spot on MSNBC’ for the past 7 days. I don’t know if Cenk Uygur is on vacation, ill or has been let go, but, Rev. Al has held down that spot very well!


    I thought there was one more woman on CNN/HLN THAT anchored at aprime time. I canot think of her name. HER picture does not appear on your line up. 

  • Anonymous

    B.E.T= failure from the begining. Do you all think we could get a network like a CNN and Fox? If so, how do we stay consistant with our POSITIVE message for the young Generations? That’s the question/problems we should try to fix. THERE IS A REASON WHY THEY WANT TO ENSLAVE US SO WE COULD ENSLAVE OURSELVES. I DO BELIEVE WHEN WE ALL START SHOWING OUR WORTH, THE WHITES WOULD SOON BECOME THE MINORITY. LET’S STAY FOCUS,OUR TIME IS COMING!

  • Ddix723604

    Just like old soldiers, racism will never die in America. 

  • Ttisbac

    As usual Flextime , your on the money !

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WOFUB2UGHPH5N5TU3HYJKZVTZM Chilltown

    With the exception of Soledad & Roland Martin, none of them has the personality or the talent to host a prime time show. I LOVE, ABSOLUTELY LOVE SUZANNE MALVEAUX (shes intelligent, pretty, & sexy) Fred is beautiful as well, & I like TJ & Don very much; but TJ bombed when he got the op to host CNN’s Morning Show because he does not have (& none of them do outside of Sole & Martin) the captivating personality to draw viewers & listeners in a timeslot that demands one. I knew it wouldn’t last the 1st time I saw him on the show. I would have loved for him to succeed, but he didnt. Ali Velshi is a much better fit. Roland, is just not an anchor, only good enough for commentary. Sorry folks, but stop blaming racism & say its just a lack of talent.

  • Afropick1

    I appreciate you sharing the story of your courage against the system of injustice no matter what is called on a local level. I agree with you and hope that mab others will also

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1179248963 Thelma Golden Williams

    All I can say is WOW!! I’m feeling quite proud right now!…Dr. Boyce, thank you so much for this article…it certainly gives me some comfort in knowing that there are others who feel a need to speak out against injustices…we must never forget that…”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” …Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • David2001

    IMO black people need to turn their collective attention to owning and operating their own TV news networks. These white news networks are not only racist in their hiring but how their portray black people. Hiring more scare negros isn’t going to change that. And lets be honest, just having a black face there doesn’t mean they are going to be sensitive or care about black people. Don Lemon is a perfect example of that.  When he came tumbling out of the closet to sell his book the first thing he did was attack black people. I for one don’t have much faith in who a racist company would hire. We need to start seeing these media outlets for what are.

    I can’t help notice in the pictures of the news anchors that all the females look white. IMO Soledad O Brian shouldn’t even be considered black because she isn’t. 

    • Ronniesaunders

      david2001: People can be whatever they want to be. You ever hear of the one drop-blood rule? Soledad O’Brein is BLACK. But I agree with you on the need to create our own institutions with complete control over said.
      Keep writing and stay on point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brotherap-Green/100002088326522 Brotherap Green

    Dr. Boyce, you are on target in your delineation of the problems of the Negro within the corporate environment.  As you know, it is nothing new.  However, they could at least do you the favor of throwing as many hams out the window to those down below who are not afraid to confront the problem; not for the dignity of them as much as for the dignity of our people as consumers in America and viewers of these discriminating networks.  If you know the advertisers you could then choose which ones would be worth a boycott of their product for continuing to support a discriminating network. During these lean times corporations cannot afford to potentially hear the word boycott.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EGXZ26MK42CPGJ2FMIR3VXS4T4 flextime

    People look at the diversity on the BBC.  There news show has so many different races on it…  what do you see on american cable channels….all the same color because there ain’t no dark folks on t.v

  • Brian Daye

    I agree totally with all points made, but – and maybe this is nit-picking, but so be it – why is Soledad O’Brien ALWAYS in the mix when African-Americans are discussed? Yes she is a person of color, but truth be told she is a Latina. Secondly, even with her documentaries on African-Americans, she notes the positives of our communities, yet the “shock” value of the negatives that go on in our community from her documentaries seem to get higher exposure on the tube (surprise, surprise).  Again, just asking. On a positive tip, Tamron Hall is on daily at 2 pm on MSNBC with her show “News Nation”. Let’s do our homework – she’s been a mainstay on MSNBC and she is as sharp, if not sharper than, those folks depicted. Again, let’s do our homework & give props to those who do indeed have the platforms.

  • Brian Daye

    Let’s also not forget the one African-American anchor CNN did have and who is now on AlJazeera English – Tony Harris (athough I’ve only seen him once on the network). Hmmm….

  • Longlvteach

    Why is Don Lemon pictured twice in this article?

    • Worldbran

      jajajaja no it’s Lemon twice, it’s the handsome Tj Holmes jajaja

  • Blackwomenresponseteam

    we need our own, we must create our own everything and stop asking white ppl to help,accept or allow us to do anything.  Most of these ppl hate us, every other race has done it.  I know It’s different for black ppl but we have enough black ppl with money to make something happen. If these idiot’s stop trying to be accepted by every one else.

  • Nikolehoward

    I totally disagree that these anchors should risk their jobs and join the unemployed to take a stand. However, as a teacher in metro Atlanta, I see the watermelon smile as a major cause of issues in the systems here. (and these systems are run by black masters!) We know what’s best for students, but are too scared to rock the boat. As a public servant, we should be more vocal about our profession.

  • Queen

    So true! That’s one of the reason I stopped watching any network news. I also get my news from the web. I stopped subscribing to Essence, especially when I felt they weretrying to bring back that “old slavery menality” debate of Dark vs Light complexion. We have to began, if we havent already,  a honest dialogue, in our families allowing our children to express their opinion without fear, or they will become the generation that Gil-Scott Herron spoke of in Winter in American….”Aint nobody fighting, cause nobody knows what to save……

  • Not jumping on this bandwagon

    I know y’all are going to say, “What have you done for me lately,” but you may not realize that CNN’s lead anchor and reporter in its infancy in 1980 and for years afterward, until he retired in 2001, was Bernard Shaw, a black man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gasstationdivas Gas Station Divas

    When blacks in this country own the means of production for a cable news station, they they can have all of the black anchors they want. When we do own the means of production and become economically viable for ourselves, I would not want anyone having the ability to dictate to us who we should hire. We’ll hire who we want. Let us leave the plantation if we cannot #ownit.

  • Yuman

    I believe that the NAACP is focusing on the wrong issue. As an ex-CNN employee, during my time working there I enquired with our CNN HR representative, a black woman, if Time Warner or CNN had a manager training program for minorities,because other corporations have these programs in place.  The answer was NO there is no need?  The next day I received several e-mails from CNN executive types asking me to come and talk to with them .

    The squeaky oil gets greased , I believe that is the expression, because all of a sudden there was a management position opening and I should put my name on the interview list, which I did.

    I politicked with all the “corporaty, educa-macated” black folks  “playing the game”  and let them know  to put their name on the interview list. The day before the interviews were to take place I approached my racist boss and told her to take my name off the interview list. If you have ever seen a white person turn beetroot red this would have been the time.

    ‘Why, Why are you taking your name of the list,’ well, I think that I’ll work my way up through the  ranks of Technical Director, Director I told her.

    Long story short, one of these educa-macated niggers got hired and I told him from the offset your not on our side you have to act as a team member . I guess he didn’t play the game well enough, because three years later he was fired  and would you believe that he never got a pay raise during this time? I ended up earning more that my immediate (black) supervisor.

    The NAACP needs to ask CNN about there number of black Technical Director’s and Directors that direct the shows we all watch (these are the highest  production positions that can be achieve in a news room by rank and file employees).

    The NAACP needs also to focus on the lack of minority middle and upper management at CNN.

    In 2001 AOL became the parent company of Time Warner and CNN. At the employee  welcome meeting , that took place in Philips Arena , half the arena was curtained off  to  the half-way mark on the arena floor.  When you looked into the bleachers there was not one black manager, the founder of MTV and principle at AOL, Rob Pittman,  pointed to the bleachers that we cannot have this, highlighting the lack of minorities in the ranks of CNN management.  AOL  and Time Warner are public companies, I urge the NAACP to contact CNN and asked for any video or minutes from the meeting if they are still available?

    CNN publishes a newsletter highlighting company achievements and recently they highlighted their award winning CNN BEST engineering department. Out of a picture of approx. 70 people only two are black, the secretary and the only ‘Black’  project manager ( who won black engineer of the year award??)  who they get to graft on his knees when it is time to rewire a new studio or studio build out. 

    The NAACP needs to ask them why  CNN’s  HR department is 90% African-American females,but the monitoring,hiring, and promotion of black managers is atrocious. The women report to white men of course, but that is no excuse.

    Again,  the NAACP needs to focus on those who do the hiring and firing  at CNN. Most of those in these position started with the company and if you follow the link between upper management you see the trail, but of course CNN is transparent in their hiring so there is no real issue (wink, wink).

    We know who and what Fox news is but do we really know about CNN?

    I concur with the Proff. watch and promote black news outlets.

    CNN loves black folk because they aired “Black in America.” 

  • Yuman

    Shut them down. How many times can you watch “Black in America”? We watch too much TV as A-Americans.

    Speak with our dollars. Period.

  • Yuman

    Don’t be fooled by the RENUCIATED Pronunciation of the BBC.  They as well as CNN and the other media outlets are all of the same rotten cloth. Do your research about those in power at these organizations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001965975223 Charles Linder Floyd


    Whenever, the Black/Afro-American stop trying to assimilate into this 1620 Revised Roman Empire-911 judged Babylon-Republic (MISSION ACCOMPLISHED) and awaken to their true TORAH/Biblical identity: then there will be a real need for Kushite Reporters.


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001965975223 Charles Linder Floyd

    GOOD NO BLACK TO REPORT SAME OLD JAPHETH/WHITE NEWSWhenever, the Black/Afro-American stop trying to assimilate into this 1620 Revised Roman Empire-911 judged Babylon-Republic (MISSION ACCOMPLISHED) and awaken to their true TORAH/Biblical identity: then there will be a real need for Kushite Reporters.UNTIL THEN STOP REACTING AND START THE HIRING PROCESS: ARE BLACK/AFRO-AMERICANS STILL TOO SAMART YO UNDERSTAND THAT POWER YEILD TO NO MAN, BUT THE MAN THAT TAKE IT?

  • Shpthompson

    Black People are cowards today because those who are fortunate to be  in what is perceived as a “good position” really don’t care about taking action for posterity.  It’s not just in TV /print media, it is every place –  in corporate America, government agencies & etc.  You are alone when you speak the truth about situations that reek of biases and discrimination.   I have this experience everyday in my role at as a middle level manager.  I hear you make me nervous, yet I risk it because I want to help those I can and most don’t even know they need help. 

    The fear of consequences rape Blacks of there courage to speak out on wrong actions.

    Most of the potential persons who would be candidates for the anchor jobs don;t claim to be Black.  They are classified as “Other”  and that also causes the powers not to take them serious.  They don’t even know who they are.  Prior Black Trail Blazers were not afraid or ashame to be Black even if they looked Caucasian.  Blacks need to get their own identity problems right before others will take us serious.  We want to be “Other”, Indian (Native American) or anything but Black except when it will benifit them.