According to various sources, including Michael Cottman at Black America Web, CNN is making some major moves this month. The network is allegedly planning to part ways with Roland Martin, Soledad O'Brien and perhaps even the great Donna Brazile.
Most ironic is that the network has given us the honor of cutting it's Black faces from the airwaves during Black History Month.
The decision has confused observers who'd been somehow misled into believing that CNN was a network seeking to become friendly toward people of color. After all, the company has earned millions from Black people with it's "Black in America" series, most of which I never watched, largely because I instantly got the sense that their goal was to study black people like lab rats rather than respect us as human beings. There is a difference between being interested in a group of people and actually caring about them.
Making matters even more peculiar is that the network also hired three new high profile journalists, all of whom are white: Jake Tapper, Chris Cuomo and Rachel Nichols. So, it's out with the black and in with the white, according to what we're seeing. At least Jeff Zucker, head of CNN Worldwide, isn't being subtle with his racial exclusion. Usually people stab us in the back behind closed doors.
Roland Martin's contract with CNN ends on April 8. Believing that one high profile black face can be easily traded in for another, there is speculation that CNN may bring in other black commentators, such as Van Jones and Cornell Belcher. Personally, I've always wanted to see more of the talented and highly-qualified political scientists, like Dr. Wilmer Leon and Dr. Michael Fauntroy, on the air. One might expect that after dedicating the last 15 years to studying political science, you might be given the chance to go on television to discuss politics.
CNN and Jeff Zucker's latest moves seem bold, odd and somewhat revealing. Both Roland and Soledad have been long-qualified to hold their own in prime time slots, but the network never gave them an opportunity. Given that their decisions are designed to reflect the preferences of their target audience, they are effectively telling us that their viewers just don't want to see black people on the air during prime time. Additionally, the network seems to believe that there is no black journalist on the planet as qualified as less-than-capable anchors like Nancy Grace. Anyone who has seen Nancy Grace on the air knows just how insulting this is.
Over at MSNBC, a preacher and civil rights leader by the name of Al Sharpton has a show that appears to be very successful. They've also taken a black professor (Melissa Harris-Perry) and given her a chance to hold her own during the weekends. Putting aside their pledge for unconditional, unflinching support for the White House, their success has been impressive. Even people like Steve Harvey, Michael Strahan and Wendy Williams are doing an amazing job competing in the landscape of daytime television. So, I'm admittedly stunned that CNN seems so determined to make hiring and firing decisions that look like they were made in 1959.
Perhaps Zucker has something else up his sleeve. The truth is that I don't know and I really don't care. As I expressed during an interview today with the Final Call (run by the Nation of Islam), the day must come when we become more focused on the creation and support of black-owned media outlets than we are on becoming high-paid servants to someone else's agenda. When we control the company, people can't toss us to the side when we're no longer the hot new negro on TV, and they can't force us to throw black people under the bus so that our civil rights leaders can end up marching for gay marriage. A black face on TV has almost no value if there isn't a black voice coming out of its mouth.
We can get angry at Zucker for making his decisions, but the truth is that CNN was never our network to begin with. You can't move into someone else's house and shift around the furniture, which is what makes me skeptical that true racial equality can EVER be achieved at CNN. The fact of the matter is that black people need to own their own stuff.
(Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the book, "Black American Money: How Black Power Can Thrive in a Capitalist Society.")