Nobody Wants to Talk About CNN's 'Ethnic' Problem
Last week, a bomb went off in the news media. But the media's own version of the Blue Wall of Silence held together again, which allowed the media to pretend nothing happened. Some in conservative media noticed and reported on the blast. But because the media protects one another almost as fiercely (and dishonestly) as it protects Barack Obama, a report that an executive vice president at CNN complained about the "ethnicity" of Soledad O'Brien's "Starting Point" audience has been memory-holed as though it never happened.
Betsy Rothstein at FishBowlDC first reported the incident. In the middle of a lengthy piece about the ongoing shake-up at CNN, Rothstein dropped this:
Many staffers were stunned when [Executive VP Bart] Feder constantly complained that the viewership of “Early Start” and “Starting Point” was “too ethnic,” based on the high concentration of minority viewers. This common complaint worked itself up through the company, to CNN’s Diversity Committee, and to other staffers, who were mortified that a CNN executive was squabbling over attracting minority viewers.
Later in the day, Rothstein added this update:
To clarify, Feder’s issue with “Starting Point” was that the audience was too small and happened to be predominately comprised of minorities. A source close to the show insists that the ethnicity of the audience was never the issue, it was the size. Feder in no way meant to imply that the audience was too ethnic.
So in the original report, we're told Feder "constantly" complained that O'Brien's audience was "too ethnic," and that this complaint eventually made its way to something called the "Diversity Committee." We also learned that "other staffers" were "mortified" over this.
Then an update is added that says never mind.
Because FishBowl issued an update and not a correction, this tells me that they have a source or sources who told them one thing, but that after the "too ethnic" bombshell became public, someone else from CNN tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
But how does CNN think it can go from "Diversity Committee" and "mortified staffers," to never mind? The two statements are contradictory, and the update in no way clears up the stink of a charge that claims a top CNN exec isn't interested in a viewing audience he defines as "too ethnic" (and isn't that a form of racial profiling?)
Trying to clear up this contradiction, I personally ran into the Blue Wall of Silence. Numerous calls and emails to CNN went unreturned. I even left a direct message for Feder himself, with a woman whom I assumed was his secretary. I couldn’t even get someone at CNN to verify whether or not there really is a Diversity Committee.
Moreover, no one outside of CNN wanted to discuss it, either. Inquiries to the NAACP and a couple of black journalists yielded nothing.
And where's the rest of the media? How is this kind of report about one of its own not news? Someone with real power at a major news outlet is reportedly writing off his own version of the 47%, or someone's lying about him, but no one in media, not even CNN's competitors, seem to care.
If Feder did say and/or act on this, not only is it objectively wrong, but it seems unthinkable to me that in this day and age, when the media hears racial dog whistles in everything from "Chicago" to "food stamps," that such a thing would be ignored when it might be occurring in the media's own backyard.
And then there's the potential hypocrisy of CNN itself. This is a network obsessed with identity politics. Good heavens, why hire a Soledad O'Brien if you want your audience to look like they just walked out of an Osmond concert. Not only is O'Brien one of the few minority morning anchors; she's also obsessed with anything and everything involving the divisive issue of race. What would we do without Soledad O'Brien to explain to us who's black in America?
If FishBowl's original source or sources are accurate, it sounds as though O'Brien was set up for failure. Politically, non-whites are to the left of whites, and if you’re going to put a far-left, non-white anchor on the air who's obsessed with race, who do you think is going to watch?
Eventually, I was able to verify that CNN does have something called a "diversity council," and did so with the help of Soledad herself. Here's what she wrote about CNN in 2010, almost two years before she would be hired and three years before she would be replaced as CNN's morning anchor:
CNN, a part of the Time Warner company, lives for news about everything and anyone. In the office, the bosses openly discuss the need for a diverse staff and diverse stories, and each time we draw new viewers, the effort intensifies. There is an active diversity council, aggressive diversity training, regular speeches from the highest officers of the company about how our country is changing and CNN has to be a part of that change. They see the demographics of the future and know they have to look at their hiring and reporting practices so that they appeal to the widest possible audience.
As CNN saw our growth in African-American viewership, they affirmed a fundamental truth of news coverage -- people will watch you if they see themselves in what you report. It doesn't hurt if the people doing the reporting look like them, too.
Not that my Mexican wife will ever have to be told to not watch CNN, but the thought that anyone -- much less a senior network executive -- might assess the value of an audience based on its racial make-up, makes me ill. But the fact that the entire institution of the media has ignored the story is alarming. If this were a report about anyone else from any other walk of life (except for Democrats and their supporters), the media would rightfully demand a better answer than never mind.
Whether it's Obama or some suit at CNN, nothing good comes from power that knows it can count on the media to cover up or ignore its misdeeds.
It's not just CNN saying never mind, it's all of the media.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC