Speaking For The Race During The Presidential Race
Black pundits, personalities called upon to provide perspective in an industry still struggling for diversity
Of all the TV pundits spinning (or trashing) President Barack Obama’s debate performance Wednesday night, very few were African American.
That’s long been a problem for broadcast-journalism-diversity advocates, who not only want a more representative sample of media workers in front of (and behind) the camera, but also recently took issue with the Presidential Debate Commission's decision not to select an African American moderator for any of the four election debates this month.
African American political junkies and debate watchers thus are left with a select few voices to deliver the perspective of an entire voting bloc.
Not all African Americans, however, are always impressed with the likes such voices as Roland Martin, Touré, or the Rev. Al Sharpton, on the left, or Crystal Wright or Juan Williams on the right.
“I doubt if anyone's in front of their TV yelling, ‘Right on, Brother!’” said Damond Haynes, a veteran educator and instructor with New York City's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Haynes has hosted events featuring some of the black faces regularly seen on cable TV news programs, and says most of them play it too safe to speak effectively to the issues of the African American community.
“I think it's useful to have our issues singled out,” Haynes said. “All of these guys are cut from the same cloth, there's really no alternative voice on expressing the many sides of our struggle.
“Touré is self-serving. Marc Lamont HIll is great, but very easy to digest. I don't think America is interested in separating issues by race, so the pundits walk a thin line; always connecting our issues to the ‘bigger issue,’” Haynes said.
Whether or not such pundits speak for all African Americans, the National Association of Black Journalists has long cried foul with media executives, whom the group says have put less and less emphasis on diversity, even while naming high-profile blacks, like Sharpton, to anchor or host positions.
Earlier this year, NABJ released the results of its survey showing four consecutive years of declines in African American newsroom staffing. This decline results in less diversity in programming and exacerbates the likelihood that the same news producers will call the same faces of color, said NABJ vice president of broadcast Bob Butler.
"I think [the lack of diversity] is a combination of things," said Butler, who noted how few African Americans were booked for coverage of the first presidential debate Wednesday. "When it comes to
finding the pundits or on air consultants, [producers] tend to call the same people. Groups like NABJ ask them to increase their circle of consultants. You want to get a more diverse viewpoint."
LIke every other pundit, African American voices took to Twitter to share their views on the first debate between Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Check out some of their tweets below and follow them yourself if you don't already do so:
A number of folks coming up to me at this NY debate party, stating they are Obama supporters, NOT happy with his performance #EssenceDebate— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) October 4, 2012
History will vindicate Obama, as much of what Romney said tonight wasnt true. But make no mistake, Romney won this debate. Hands down.— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) October 4, 2012
Obama looks directly at the camera when delivering a pop to Romney that he wants people to pay attention to. #Debates— Jonathan Capehart (@CapehartJ) October 4, 2012