PAGE SIX is reporting—as if gossip pages “report” anything”—that Roland Martin and Anderson Cooper are bringing CNN’s Arbitron numbers down. I don’t know if there is any truth to that, and CNN isn’t telling. Personally, I'm like a "not" fan of Roland's: I don't watch him if I can help it, but I’m pulling for his success. Here's why.
I first met CNN’s Roland Martin in the early 2000s at an NABJ convention. He was wearing a dashiki, walking around selling something he called a “black power pack:” a bag of incense, a hunk of jerky meat and one of his self-published books. That’s a true effing story. We were both on the same panel and what stuck out to me was not just this brother’s unapologetic, sharp-elbow style of self-promotion, but his behavior off-stage. Martin was so well-read and razor sharp on the issues of the day off-stage that despite how friggin annoying as he was, I found myself hoping that this Roland Martin—the one who didn’t feel the need to tell you how good or how smart or how sharp he was—would find some success. Because truth to tell, he didn’t need the bombast—his intellect and ability to process and analyze through his black male apologist, woefully lefty filter was evident.
I'm not known for my humility, right? But something about his ego seemed to need screen time, and there were signs early-on that he was suiting up to be the next King Of All Blacks. And so it came to pass, that anytime mainstream media wanted to know how black people felt, Roland Martin was on Line One.
Years later, I would watch him explaining the nuances of nappy hair to Paula Zahn during the Imus kerfluffle and know that, while anyone explaining nappy hair to white people on national television is almost certainly taking an “L” by definition, his dream had come true. Roland Martin had successfully become a cultural touchstone and Negro Tour Guide, a title he seemed to wear without irony or self-consciousness.
Just like you, I’ve watched his star rise, watched him get chin-checked, and seen him check a chin or two. When I saw him doing double-duty for TV One and CNN on Election Night, I had to give that cat his propers. I mean, when it isn’t all about him, Martin is so much better than maybe he is aware. Whatever my criticisms of his style or his media profile, our personal run-ins or whatever, this must be said: when Martin is on, he is dead on. When he isn’t trying to impress you with how many jobs he holds, or how many personal electronics he carries or who he ate lunch with or whether he's smarter than thou, Jesused-up or ultra-black, he is pitch-perfect. Sadly, those moments have been few and far between lately.
I find myself getting more and more of my news from MSNBC around the “No Bias, No Bull” time. I’m not pining for Team Campbell like that, but Martin’s reportage is too uneven for my taste. I find myself wanting for more of the Roland Martin you are likely to get if you encounter and engage him personally versus the Roland doing the Lefty Buck-Dance cum Hollywood Shuffle on prime time. You can call it hateration if you want—I wouldn’t trade places with Roland on a bet. Would not wish the “King Of All Blacks” moniker on a goat because it’s an easy bag to get in, but it’s heavy falling out, Jack. I’m just trying to keep my house right—you won’t catch me on TV fronting like I know something you don’t.
I don’t begrudge Martin and his moment because the truth of the matter is, he is living his dream. He is living the dream of A LOT of black journalists. I like him a lot personally and have had fun getting at him here and there. If I had to grade him, I'd have to give him a solid "B" based on what I've seen. I mean, he's not trying to be Edward R. Murrow: It's news entertainment, for Christ's sake, and he's as entertaining as anyone else, I guess. But if you had to grade his tenure on CNN so far, what would you give him?
Single Father, Author, Screenwriter, Award-Winning Journalist, NPR Moderator, Lecturer and College Professor. Habitual Line-Stepper