President Jeff Zucker of CNN Worldwide attends a conference on 'Creating Better Content and Media' at the Mobile World Congress 2018 on February 26, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. Mobile World Congress 2018 is the largest exhibition for the mobile industry and runs from February 26 till March 1.
Photo: Robert Marquardt/Getty Images
Photo: Robert Marquardt/Getty Images

Journalist group says CNN lacks black executives at the top

Originally posted Wednesday, March 6, 2019 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

A major journalist group has placed Atlanta-based CNN on a “special monitoring list” because it lacks black representation in its top ranks.

The National Association of Black Journalists, in a release, said CNN president Jeff Zucker has nobody reporting to him directly who is black. There are no black executive producers at CNN, not black vice presidents on the news side at CNN and no black senior vice presidents on the news side at CNN.

CNN does have Hispanics and Asians at vice president levels. It also has black vice presidents in sales and legal. And there are plenty of women in vice president roles or higher. 

Zucker has refused to meet with NABJ’s four-person delegation to discuss the matter, NABJ said.

CNN, in a statement, said they were open to meeting but only if NABJ vice president and former CNN analyst Roland Martin were not included, claiming he leaked questions before a 2016 Democratic Town Hall between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. CNN described his actions as an “unprecedented and egregious lack of journalistic ethics and integrity.” 

Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile admitted she inadvertently disclosed a town hall topic to the Clinton campaign. She had a question that was worded exactly like a question Martin, a co-moderator that day, had sent to CNN. Martin denied at the time he passed the question to Brazile. 

"NABJ’s request to meet was and is focused solely on CNN’s diversity efforts, its results and our strategic priorities as an organization,” the group said. 

NABJ said “a special team will perform further research and an analysis of CNN’s diversity, inclusion and equity practices, per the NABJ Board’s directive.” 

This has been a chronic problem at CNN for years, said Tenisha Bell, a public relations specialist who left CNN in 2015 as an executive producer. “It saddens me that we’re still having this conversation in 2019,” she said. She notes that while CNN has plenty of black employees at lower and mid-level positions, it’s the top-level jobs that are where critical decisions are made. 

“That’s when you have a seat at the table,” Bell said. “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu... I applaud NABJ for pushing and challenging networks like CNN.”

Several lawsuits have been filed by former and current black employees against CNN and Turner over the years regarding their hiring and promotion practices. None have succeeded. An effort to create a class-action suit was thrown out by a judge in 2017

Former CNN anchor and reporter Soledad O’Brien has been a vocal critic of CNN’s recent actions, including giving airtime to “white supremacists” last November and this week for allowing Trump supporters to say “crazy stuff” for ratings. Last August, after CNN noted how the White House lacked black representation, she Tweeted, “Very terrible! But, uh, walk me through the senior black staff at @CNNPolitics or @cnn or, hey, I’ll take cable news.”

NABJ said it has met or have scheduled meetings with Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC to discuss similar matters. 

Other networks have been far more cooperative, said NABJ executive director Drew Berry in an interview Wednesday. “They know we bring value and can help them meet their diversity goals. We are working with collaboration with them already to help them improve their numbers”

Some networks are doing more than CNN in promoting blacks to positions of power though he declined to provide details. 

He said NABJ declined to accede to CNN’s demand to remove Martin from a potential meeting with CNN: “We would never exclude a board member and Martin brings a lot of value.”

NABJ, Berry said, simply wants to provide best practices and support to CNN to help the network develop a stronger pipeline of black talent so they have more candidates who could become executive producers, vice presidents and senior vice presidents. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.