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When Diversity Means Hiring A Not Really Different Version of the Same Thing

On Tuesday a friend of mine sent me MSNBC's happy press release announcing Democratic pundit and MSNBC part-timer Lawrence O'Donnell as their new 10 p.m. talk show anchor. I was sooo excited that I said to her, "Oh boy! More of the same! My FAVORITE! Goodness knows there just aren't enough white men of a certain age hosting cable news programs!"

More after the jump.

MSNBC, love them or hate them, is one of those places where everyone acts like it's this glorious bastion of Rainbow Coalition Liberal political thought delivered fresh daily. And while there is some variety among those who anchor the daily news reports, all the network big money show ponies are different versions of the same white guy ... with Rachel Maddow as the above-average token.

In 2008, for example, the Democratic party had one of the most diverse assortment of wannabe presidents ever. A former First Lady turned Senator. A governor with Latino roots. A biracial black male Senator from Hawaii. And ... um, Joe Biden and John Edwards. But the network that enthusiastically covered these people was front loaded with the same huffy kind of white guy. Entertaining to watch, for sure. It was hilarious to witness Joe Scarborough, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews trying to eat each other's heads while Rachel Maddow was the lone voice of reason. But there's nothing new about a bunch of old white screaming at each other on television.

I realize that in this Age of Obama, there are those who live in FEAR that they will turn on a TV and there WON'T be the slightly bloated face of some random white guy staring at them, telling them what to think. After all, the mish mash of Olbermann-Matthews-O'Reilly-Beck-King-Cooper-the Other King-Hannity-Blitzer-Smith must be preserved by adding more middle age white guys! Imagine how scared some must have been for a few moments when they let that random Maddow woman in. She'd become so popular by being, I don't know, different. But whew! That was just some kind of "Hey, we got one so stop bitching" fluke.

While I'm sure Lawrence O'Donnell is what's hot in the very exclusive, gated-community streets that MSNBC President Phil Griffin lives on, if more than half of the United States is female and you've got a CRAZY PANTS amount of blacks, Latinos and others running around -- many owning televisions and watching them on a regular basis -- it seems a little lame to just do what almost people from the upper echelons of our society do ... sit around and hire their friends.

Did they even bother looking at, auditioning, talking to talent that they had to actually get off their ass and look for? To folks like these, their idea of "diversity" is "He graduated from Brown." And you know that's a safe school and soooo doesn't count. (O'Donnell actually went to Harvard, so he's cool. Heaven forbid someone on television news not have an Ivy League pedigree.)

Rumor has it, that once when called on MSNBC's lack of diversity, Griffin replied that they'd looked for qualified black folks, but ... you know? He just couldn't find any! Of course he said this, allegedly, in front an audience where many minority and female media types were present, but he totally wasn't talking about them. They're cool. Just not cool enough for the 10 p.m. slot.

This story, of course, makes me think of how in 2008 Saturday Night Live auditioned a TON of people to potentially play Obama but ended up going with Fred Armisen's shitty Obama anyway. "There can't POSSIBLY be funny black people," he cried! "I looked, gosh darn it! I looked at my friend's house and went to The Groundlings and hung around Pauly Shore's mom's comedy club and went to parties with those kids from The Lonely Island and there just weren't ANY!!!!"

I swear. All of media is Dick Cheney conducting George W. Bush's vice president hunt, only to look into a mirror and choose himself.

Bollocks, I say.

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Reader Comments (25)

HA! This reminds me of that Murphy Brown episode when they were talking about a very, very young (at the time) Brian Williams getting a huge anchor job. And the anchor character was like, "whaaaat?!? Blasphemy! I need my news from an old white guy!" Heh.

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRum Punch

GOODness Knows...ENTERTAINING To Watch for Sure - Quite PITIFUL Actualy the 3% SEErazy Said The POWER - AMEN - Wink!

Very insightful, and dead on. Our African American home is flooded with MSNBC, on every TV set in the house almost all day and night, and you're 100% right. I've often wondered why they wouldn't seek out an African American talent besides the black female reporter (and I can't even remember her name right now and I love her, shame!), who anchors the daily MSNBC News. Why won't they give an African American Male or Female a top host show? Probably because they fear the Liberals wouldn't watch it. They talk a good game of support to all Americans and have been supportive of President Obama, but when push really comes to see what we get...yes, another old white man to tell us what to think...and God knows we don't need another one of them like it or not! Thanks for a great post.

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnnonymous

The sad reality is this: To add diversity, it is not enough that the candidate be as good as the good old boys. The candidate must be undeniably BETTER. This is why Rachel Maddow not only survived but thrives in that environment. She's smarter, cleverer, funnier and more likeable than any of the others. Untill there is someone who blows the others away like Rachel, the networks will always say "Gee, we couldn't find anyone." What they mean is: "All things equal, of course we will choose ourselves. Duh..."

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterB

Two words--John Ridley. He would be excellent . . .

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBill T.

So we need a political pundit quota? So where is BET with a political talk show?

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott

diversity doesn't automatically mean better. just because someone is "qualified," doesn't mean they're the "best available."

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLOL

@ Scott

Considering all of the major three cable news networks primetime shows are helmed by white men with the exceptions of Maddow and Van Sustern one can argue there's already a quota. As in, a white male old guy quota. Preferably one who went to an Ivy League school or worked in politics (or both). A quota as in, all spots should be secured by a variety of old white guys of different levels of charisma and talent, some deserving, some who make you scratch your head and go "How on earth did this dude get a job?"

As for BET, the network used to have regular news programming and still has some semblance of it, but BET is an entertainment network. Not a cable news network created to deliver news for everyone. Unless you're arguing that the big three cable newsers are just glorified entertainment centers. And in some aspects, they are.

O'Donnell is an all right guy, but you're not going to convince me that there were a ton of people clamoring for more of "that one guy who hosts Countdown sometimes and occasionally gets huffy on Morning Joe." He's OK. Not great. Not necessarily breath-taking. Not revolutionary. Just OK. Based on the logic of how the major cable newsers pick show hosts Oprah Winfrey would have never made it out of the local TV market. And part of the reason why Bill O'Reilly sometimes sounds so bitter was because even he struggled to get into the all exclusive, snooty pants land of network news because the Powers That Be were so limited in who they like and don't like. If you aren't in their clubhouse they sometimes have a hard time recognizing talent. After all, not everyone who has talent goes to Harvard, lives in New York or has a penis or is personal BFFs with the management. Often when people in all industries make the effort to recruit from places other than their backyard they get better results. America's strength is in its diversity of thought and people. Seems stupid to just kind of ignore all that.

June 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

I kinda have to agree with Scott above, why rely on msncb and cnn to give us diversity, yall remember the news show on BET? what happened to that?!?! BET is more interested in showing half naked black women and silly men with gold chain!

ps: but I will admit, I would have LOVED to see Eugene Robinson with his own show...he's brilliant! and I really like him! Why should he have to rely on MSNBC, channels like BET should be chasing him down.

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLayo G

I think you mean Tamron Hall and last time I checked it wasn't BET claiming diversity one minute then showing their ass the next by picking same old same old and the WORST part is most of these SAME people are the ones who decry 'affirmative action' while taking part in their own brand of it so back off!!

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandy Beach

I'm so used to the status quo that I don't even blink when changes are announced. Second verse, same as the first.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Wise

I would love to see Tamron Hall with her own show. She is smart, funny and could bring a very fresh perspective to the network.

I also have mixed feelings about the BET thing. On one hand, I wish that BET did invest in their news and politics programming (I will never forgive Bob Johnson for dismantling this), but on the other I don't know if I like the idea of qualified black journalists being relegated to a "chitlin circuit." It implies that black people belong on BET and no where else. Maybe I would feel differently if BET improved the quality of their programming.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDame Theory

Are we still expecting anything respectable from BET? laughable...

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterB


So you say there is already a white guy quota in place? Who enforces this quota? How do you propose to fix the problem? Do you want the gov't to enforce a quota or do you suggest that Uncle AL and Uncle Jesse shake the networks down until they hire someone that they approve of? As far as, "if you aren't in their clubhouse they sometimes have a hard time recognizing talent," that happens to white folks as well. Life isn't fair and no amount of gov't interference will make it so.

CBS, ABC and NBC are "entertainment networks" but yet they have news divisions and prime time news programs, so why can't BET? As you said BET, used to have news so why did they stop?

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott

Scott, et al: The television networks don't belong to white people. They didn't get their licenses to serve only white people. Their audience isn't only white people. Diversity applies to them also. This BET argument is a McGuffin.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandra77

@ Scott:

The point was a given that the fact that news organizations, like many other industries, often are exclusive in ways that affect all people. Not just black people. Hence why I mentioned Bill O'Reilly (not a brown person or a woman) and said this was an issue across the board. The "quota" remark was in reference to the fact that people like hiring their friends and people like their friends, often regardless of talent. (See Oprah's endless promotion of Gayle who, talent-wise, is so painfully average.) Also, you entered the word "quota" into the conversation, I didn't. I was only pointing out that historically you could argue that there's always been some form of unofficial quota. It only becomes more magnified when the degrees of separation between those in power and the people they hire is minimal. (See NBC hiring Tim Russert's son Luke or George Stepanopolis getting on ABC after having zero media experience because of his relationship to the Clinton White House.)

Because many in management happen to also be white men of a certain type they often only hire from this type. Hence why the common denominator between most cable primetime yakkers is that they are all loud, primarily white male, either used to work in politics or for a previous news organization, and many have ties to Ivy League schools. They are all just bloviating clones of each other. There isn't much variety. I didn't mention government involvement at all to regulate this (and have no clue why you brought it up). And if one, like myself, doesn't like how a network does business regarding diversity you speak with your wallet, your eyes and you make your opinion known as visibly as possible.

As for NBC, ABC and CBS, my whole story was about the cable news networks, not the major three TV networks. And again, those are the major three for-free channels that are larger, have larger audiences, have larger budgets and cater to everyone. Again, BET is a niche entertainment network owned by Viacom that only appears on for-pay cable. I don't watch BET because I have no interest in what they have to offer. Demanding BET to do more news programming would be akin to asking MTV to air a 60 Minutes style show or asking VH-1 to do stories on the President's agenda.

That ain't happening.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle Belton

This is why I <3 Black Snob! You are so in my head.

P.S. Why do people always throw BET in our faces with the hopes of making their POVs valid?

June 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter@SiaNyorkor_NJ

The reactions and comments above are kinda sad. It is that typical battle of white people always on top and black people get the scraps. Move on from that thought process and think for just a minute that maybe this new guy O'donnell is just as worthy of a host as a black man or woman. I have never seen him in action so I do not have a guideline I am going by. I unlike some others who have commented am being open minded. The more people who keep the black against white competition going, the worse we will get. We came so far in this racial comparing war and are slipping back into it being bad again. Who give a heck if he is black or white. Pay attention to his speaking and decide if you like what he represents or not If you don't like it don't watch. The comments about BET, I think are pathetic from both white and black folks. If you are black and feel the white folks always get on you for that, then you have some guilty conscience for something or other. Maybe if white people were allowed on there MSNBC would share the platform, is not doubt a thought of many people. This thought is ludacrist. Dedicating your time to write an entire article about another white guy shows resentment that maybe you have this site but not an anchor spot?????

June 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchamp01

Are you white or black champo1? Because it seems like every time a POC writes, rants or what have you about something involving racial disparity that's when comments like champo1 come out and tell US to "get pass this thinking." The Snob was pointing out her opinion of MSNBC and their lack of diversity in regards to picking the same old, ivy leagued, white males. With Rachel being the female exception, why do folks consistently get in POC's faces and tell us to shut up about past, present, and future of things that benefit the majority only?

And I seriously doubt we or Danielle have a guilty conscience,it's the white ran media who should grow the frick up and diversify.

June 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeia


Seems you take what I posted extremely personnel. My race is of no factor as well as anyone who writes on a blog, but since you clearly want to cry the same cry of its whites against black, I am Italian and French. To you, simply white. My comments about getting past things are valid. Those who get defensive have a chip on their shoulder. If "you" are past all that then you wouldn't have reacted as you have. The "white" media is not to blame for this only. it is everyone who keeps this battle between too many black people doing this and not enough white or vice versa. I am sure, although I haven't been lucky to see, but where are all the Asian or Latino's who aren't feeling completely accepted???? Are they as defensive as you? Blogging is voicing an opinion, and I did not attack anyone or most certainly not you.

I am certain that if any major network hired all blacks, this would not bring happiness to you or "US" you refer too. Perhaps you don't know what diversity means. It for one does not include maintaining and US and THEM mentality. I could not care less who gives me news. You know why? Because the color of them isn't the news but rather what they are reporting. White people are blamed for not diversifying but I have yet to read a black womans post who does not get her panties in a twist when something is mentioned about moving on in life and not keeping yourself down over unfairness. life is not fair. The sooner this is accepted the faster we as Americans can get past this categorizing hoopla.

June 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchamp01


Yes I first used the word quota, however, you are the one that made a silly claim that there is a quota currently in place. Hiring people like yourself or well connected people is not what the word quota means and you know it. It is funny that you bring up the fact that ABC, NBC and CBS are for-free channels and that BET is a cable network because MSNBC and CNN are both cable channels so why don't your BET standards apply to them as well? No one is asking BET to do a 60 Minute style show but isn't the lack of any real news telling?

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott

@ Scott

If you can't tell the difference between an entertainment channel that bills itself only as an entertainment channel and cable network that dedicates itself to news, we really aren't going to see eye-to-eye on this one. I don't hold BET to the same standard as MSNBC or the major three networks because they aren't the same thing. And if you don't know what it's like to work in a place where you are the only woman/minority, where historically they have only hired white men and largely continue to do so, I don't think you'll get what an "unofficial" quota is either. Case in point, I've been the only black person in every workplace I've been in, from St. Louis to Bakersfield to Washington, D.C. in my nearly 15 year work history. I think my reality is very different from yours.

June 22, 2010 | Registered CommenterDanielle Belton

Sorry Champ01, I can't help but be a bit offended by your assertions. I think that each culture is different, generally, in how they express themselves. I've actually encountered plenty of Latinas who have a problem with the lack of diversity not just on TV but in general. And Asian Americans don't typically go to the rest of the world to voice their opinions as culturally speaking they generally respond differently. If you're kind of tired of hearing black women have a problem with things (though this doesn't mean we just sit down and pout as I'm sure, historically speaking, you've read something about some pretty famous kick @ss black women who did a thing or two about injustice) then stop reading our blogs. I'm unclear what your purpose is. Are you trying to promote a "buck up, kiddo" mentality or do you want to read different opinions from your own? Though you could care less about who gives you the news, you are, sadly, not the only audience. This past election and in regular headlines, we see all kinds of kooky behaviors from people with regard to fear of them not feeling like they are the "norm" anymore. I don't think black women are being irrational we recognize people being reactionary to that fear, including news executives who run countless polls with regard to ratings and ads. For example, the South is still notoriously behind the times and that could reflect in dollars. If people don't speak out against this, then how will they know we don't like it? Just a basic question. We don't pause our lives and dislike something. We are able to function with twisted knickers. Being French and Italian, I would assume that you would be familiar with vocal protest. Just saying.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterttara


Really???? "our blogs" what year is this? I thought everyone is supposed to be much more equal then decades ago. The "our" "we" "them" thinking is a major problem. As you stated, I am not the only audience, but guess what??? black woman are not the only audience to a bitch fest blogging. I don't read for the sole purpose of seeing other opinions. I read because this is as much of affecting to me as it is to you. The opinions of others is what has gotten America where it is and as long as the opinions are on opposite ends there will never be a union or equality. As far as the comment about people not feeling they are the norm based on headlines or the elections. Obama is half white so he is half the norm and didn't boot out the norm because is repping more for the blacks. I am just as confident as well as many others having a President who is not the typical old white fellow.

June 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchamp01

this article assumes that liberals actually care about diversity instead of using it as a political tool

August 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteranon
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