CNN’s Zucker Under Fire About On-Air Diversity

Jeff Zucker
Jeff Zucker

Recent headlines recently screamed “Jeff Zucker Shaking Up CNN” back when he was meeting with the National Association of Black Journalists earlier this week to express his commitment to African American journalists. This came after Soledad O’Brien lost her anchor slot which concerned the NABJ since O’Brien is CNN’s most visible journalist of color (she’s both Black and Latino).

Now we learn that he’s scheduled a meeting with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists on March 8, and agreed to look for talent at the group’s regional conferences, NAHJ president Hugo Balta said.

Soledad O'Brien
Soledad O’Brien

“It’s not an issue that is unique to CNN. It’s an issue that is the same for many media companies,” said Balta, adding that it’s “too early” to make a judgment about whether CNN is doing enough to encourage diversity.

“I know that CNN and certainly the senior leadership at CNN have welcomed NAHJ input and we are a vehicle for them to look at talent,” he added.

Jeff Zucker, whose previous gig was as President and CEO of NBC Universal, where he started as a field producer at age 26 on the Today Show in 1989, and worked his way up to the top position, also changed Bravo’s . Also under Zucker’s watch, Bravo programming direction towards reality television, seeing much growth with that strategy, while the newly acquired Spanish network Telemundo was positioned to be more competitive with leading network Univision.

Zucker’s early moves have got fears stirring that he wants to turn CNN into a “lily-white” network, as one well-placed employee told a reporter last month.

Zucker hired ABC News veteran Jake Tapper for a new afternoon show, then tapped Chris Cuomo for a Today-show styled morning show. Both are white men.

After Latina-Black anchor O’Brien announced she was leaving her morning timeslot last week, she also said she was happy to be able to start a documentary production company where she would continue at CNN producing documentaries. O’Brien is expected to be replaced in the morning by Cuomo and primetime host Erin Burnett, who is also white.

Diversity concerns at CNN began back in 2011, when the NAACP called CNN’s lack of African-American primetime anchors or hosts a “a glaring omission.”

CNN’s non-white on-air talent include Sanjay Gupta, Fareed Zakaria and Ali Velshi, who are of Indian origin. Anchors Don Lemon, Victor Blackwell, Lisa Sylvester, Isha Sesay and Fredricka Whitfield are African-American.

Meanwhile at MSNBC, CNN’s rival has at least five top black anchors or hosts, according to its website, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, Mara Schiavocampo, Craig Melvin, Tamron Hall and Melissa V. Harris-Perry. But where are the Latino anchors? Diversity is not just about African Americans on the air.

The Center for American Progress, as reported by Vanessa Cardenas and Sophia Kerby:

According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau population estimate, there are roughly 50.5 million Hispanics representing about 16 percent of the U.S. population. By 2050, when demographers tell us that there will be no racial or ethnic majority among the general population of the United States, it is projected that the Latino population will double to 30 percent. Consequently, the role of Latinos in shaping our country’s political and economic climate is becoming more significant.

Since Latinos are one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, it’s imperative that we address the challenges that this community faces. It is well-documented that communities of color, including Latinos, face significant disparities in health care, education, and economic indicators. Thus, it’s crucial that our local and national leaders put into place policy solutions to address these disparities.”

NAHJ president Balta said he hopes to see more Latinos on-air. Rafael Romo, a senior Latin American affairs editor, and Zoraida Sambolin, who anchors CNN’s early morning show Early Start, are among the network’s few Latino on-air figures.

As for Fox News, when the NAACP criticized CNN in 2011, it also said it has “come to expect” a lack of diversity on Fox News.


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Elia Esparza is a leading expert in communications and journalism targeting the burgeoning Hispanic market and has produced and written dozens of articles. President and CEO of Always Evolving PR and a Communications Specialist, Elia, incorporates her 18 years experience in the areas of entertainment and education public relations, and marketing. promotions, market research and translations (Eng/Span).