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Eric Deggans

Eric Deggans

Posted: June 21, 2010 12:30 PM

Why Doesn't MSNBC Embrace More Diversity?

What's Your Reaction:

Believe me, nobody hates a broken record playing as much as I do.

But what can you do when TV networks keep making the same mistakes, over and over, in a world where progress is a constant?

News that former West Wing producer and longtime pundit Lawrence O'Donnell is developing a 10 p.m. show for MSNBC is not a surprise. O'Donnell has filled in as an anchor often on MSNBC's signature primetime shows; a typical tactic for getting an audience used to a face before they go it alone.

He's a smart guy, with an insightful and pragmatic liberal voice -- a perfect match for the channel's prime time stars, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

But O'Donnell's promotion also brings up, once again, a pesky question for a cable newschannel which aims to be the lefty alternative to Fox News' GOP-obsessed reporting.

Where is the ethnic diversity?

With O'Donnell in the house, MSNBC will boast an anchor lineup packed with middle-aged white males from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., with one notable exception. From Dylan Ratingan's overheated financial industry-based grousing to Ed Schultz's talk-radio honed anti-GOP shtick and Chris Matthews' bombastic political analysis, there seems to be no room remaining for one of the principles liberals once touted so strongly: ethnic diversity.

Contrast that scene with the stuff these guys are covering, where a Louisiana Governor of east Indian heritage teams with a U.S. Representative born in South Vietnam to pressure a black president to crack down on a British oil and gas company. Clearly, the world of politics and big business is diversifying faster than the media arrayed to cover it.

Not that this is any different than the competition, where middle-aged white guys anchor all but one show from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fox News and middle aged (okay, in Larry King's case, not-so-middle-aged) white guys rule from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on CNN, excepting departing 8 p.m. anchor Campbell Brown.

Yes, cable TV news in prime time is essentially televised talk radio -- another medium dominated by middle-aged white guys. But it is hard to imagine that the three largest cable television newschannels in the world cannot find a single non-white person to host a show in the six hours spanning early evening and prime time.

But, the cable channel is giving disgraced New York Gov. Eliott Spitzer a tryout as a guest anchor. Longtime contributor Pat Buchanan has a well-documented history of prejudiced statements. Anchor David Shuster hasn't officially been discharged despite his suspension over taping a test show at CNN without informing his superiors.

So why can't the channel develop a few more anchors of color?

Ironically, the National Association of Black Journalists is giving MSNBC's parent organization NBC News a Best Practices award in San Diego in July for the quality of its diversity efforts. This, despite the fact that, of the 17 anchors listed on MSNBC TV's own home page, it seems just one -- midday anchor Tamron Hall -- is a person of color.

Frankly, I'm as tired of this kind of counting game as anyone. But when the numbers are this bad, someone must ask why. And when (or, more importantly, how) will it all change?

Wonder if anyone will spare a few words in San Diego to challenge MSNBC -- and everyone else -- to do a little better.

 

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