Why Is CNN’s ‘Face’ Invariably White?

People of color are sidelined when big anchor jobs open up.

Jake Tapper (CNN.com)
Jake Tapper (CNN.com)

The day before Roland Martin disclosed that his contract as a CNN commentator wasn’t being renewed, CNN President Jeff Zucker excitedly proclaimed his new hire Jake Tapper “the face of the new CNN.”

I can tell you from the position that I was in, the prospect of Jake Tapper being the face of the new CNN had me more excited than anything, and I can tell you after today, I know it was absolutely the right thing,” Zucker said, Patrick Gavin reported Monday for Politico. “I couldn’t be prouder. I couldn’t hope for more than for Jake and his team to take CNN into our next place, into our next century … This is the start of an incredible new era.”

It wasn’t lost on television observers such as Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times that “the face” of not just CNN but of all the networks — is white.

Just as Zucker steps forward with a new vision for CNN — which includes a new show featuring former ABC correspondent Jake Tapper and a new morning program built around former ABC anchor Chris Cuomo — two of the channel’s best known non-white on-air staffers are leaving the network,” Deggans wrote Wednesday for the Poynter Institute. The other is Soledad O’Brien, whose “Starting Point” morning show is being eliminated. O’Brien is forming a production company and is to continue to supply documentaries to CNN — and others — on a nonexclusive basis.

“And it’s not just at CNN,” Deggans continued. “MSNBC has had its own set of anchor changes in recent weeks, so far centered only on white male anchors. And Fox News Channel, which hasn’t substantively changed its primetime lineup in many years, features no people of color as anchors in those timeslots.

“Which raises the question: When big anchor jobs open up in cable news, why are people of color so often left on the sidelines?”

This wasn’t always the case. When Bernard Shaw, an esteemed black journalist, stepped down as CNN anchor in 2000, the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg wrote that Shaw’s “face is as synonymous with the cable network as that of Larry King or Christiane Amanpour.”

But that was long ago. On Wednesday, Deggans added, “More than anything, the lack of diversity in some anchor shuffles may speak to a lack of development for anchors of color in general. Maintaining diversity in the face of shrinking resources and cost-cutting often requires specific effort; if people aren’t being groomed for bigger jobs, they may not be ready when those prime positions open up.”

The critic also wrote on the topic Tuesday for the Daily Download.