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With Ex-West Wing producer Lawrence O'Donnell developing 10 p.m. show for MSNBC the question arises: Where is the ethnic diversity?



Bionicwoman-2007-logo Believe me., nobody hates a broken record playing as much as I do.

But what can you do when TV networks keep making the same mistakes, over and over, in a world where progress is a constant?

News that former West Wing producer and longtime pundit Lawrence O'Donnell is developing a 10 p.m. show for MSNBC is not a surprise. O'Donnell has filled in as an anchor often on MSNBC's signature primetime shows; a typical tactic for getting an audience used to a face before they go it alone.

He's a smart guy, with an insightful and pragmatic liberal voice -- a perfect match for the channel's prime time stars, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

But O'Donnell's promotion also brings up, once again, a pesky question for a cable newschannel which aims to be the lefty alternative to Fox News' GOP-obsessed reporting.

Where is the ethnic diversity?

Olbermann  With O'Donnell in the house, MSNBC will boast an anchor lineup packed with middle-aged white males from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., with one notable exception. From Dylan Ratingan's overheated financial industry-based grousing to Ed Schultz's talk-radio honed anti-GOP shtick and Chris Matthews' bombastic political analysis, there seems to be no room remaining for one of the principles liberals once touted so strongly: ethnic diversity.

Contrast that scene with the stuff these guys are covering, where a Louisiana Governor of east Indian heritage teams with a U.S. Representative born in South Vietnam to pressure a black president to crack down on a British oil and gas company. Clearly, the world of politics and big business is diversifying faster than the media arrayed to cover it.

Not that this is any different than the competition, where middle-aged white guys anchor all but one show from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fox News and middle aged (okay, in Larry King's case, not-so-middle-aged) white guys rule from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on CNN, excepting departing 8 p.m. anchor Campbell Brown.

Yes, cable TV news in prime time is essentially televised talk radio -- another medium dominated by middle-aged white guys. But it is hard to imagine that the three largest cable television newschannels in the world cannot find a single non-white person to host a show in the six hours spanning early evening and prime time.

But, the cable channel is giving disgraced New York Gov. Elliott Spitzer a tryout as a guest anchor. Longtime contributor Pat Buchanan has a well-documented history of prejudiced statements and questionable ties to white supremacists. Anchor David Shuster hasn't officially been discharged despite his suspension over taping a test show at CNN without informing his superiors.

So why can't the channel develop a few more anchors of color?

Tamron1 Ironically, the National Association of Black Journalists is giving MSNBC's parent organization NBC News a Best Practices award in San Diego in July for the quality of its diversity efforts. This, despite the fact that, of the 17 anchors listed on MSNBC TV's own home page, it seems just one -- midday anchor Tamron Hall -- is a person of color.

Frankly, I'm as tired of this kind of counting game as anyone. But when the numbers are this bad, someone must ask why. And when (or, more importantly, how) will it all change?

Wonder if anyone will spare a few words in San Diego to challenge MSNBC -- and everyone else -- to do a little better.


Longtime Senior Political Analyst to Become Newest Evening Anchor
NEW YORK – June 15, 2010 – Lawrence O’Donnell will host a new weeknight primetime hour on MSNBC.  O'Donnell will begin work full-time with the network immediately to begin planning for a new 10 p.m. ET show.  The announcement was made by Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC. 

"Lawrence O’Donnell is an incredible talent, who our audience has gotten to know throughout the years, most recently as Keith Olbermann’s principal guest host on ‘Countdown.’  It’s great to have another anchor of his caliber on the network," said Griffin.  "This makes us a bigger and better network.”

“I've had a part-time job at MSNBC for 14 years,” said O’Donnell.  “Now that the network and I have gotten to know each other, I'm thrilled to be going full time.”

O'Donnell has been a MSNBC Political Analyst since the network’s launch in 1996, and has served as the regular guest host for “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”  He has also been the guest host for “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” “The Ed Show” and “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

O’Donnell was an Emmy Award-winning producer and writer for the NBC series “The West Wing” and creator and executive producer of the NBC series, “Mister Sterling.”

From 1989 through 1992, O'Donnell served as Senior Advisor to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In 1992, he was Chief of Staff to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.  From 1993 through 1995 he was the Chief of Staff of the Senate Finance Committee.  He first began working with Sen. Moynihan as Director of Communications in the Senator's 1988 re-election campaign. A writer prior to entering politics and government, O'Donnell published the book Deadly Force (1983), which was adapted as a CBS movie in 1986. He has written essays and articles for several publications including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, People, Spy, and Boston Magazine. O'Donnell has also appeared on NBC News’ “Today,” “Good Morning America,” “Nightline,” “Charlie Rose,” and several other programs. Suffolk University awarded O'Donnell an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, in 2001.

Born in Boston, O'Donnell is a graduate of Harvard College.

[Last modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010 2:15pm]


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