CNN, NABJ in Standoff Over Diversity

Roland Martin

By Richard Prince, Journal-isms

Network Won’t Talk if Roland Martin Is Involved

The National Association of Black Journalists Tuesday called out CNN for a lack of Black news executives, but CNN responded that it will not discuss the issue as long as Roland Martin, NABJ’s vice president – Digital, and a former CNN commentator, is involved.

NABJ “is concerned about the lack of Black representation within the ranks of CNN’s executive news managers and direct reports to CNN President Jeff Zucker. This concern, coupled with Zucker’s refusal to meet with a four-person NABJ delegation, has prompted NABJ to place CNN on a special media monitoring list,” a NABJ announcement said.

It added:

“CNN President Jeff Zucker has no Black direct reports.

“There are no Black Executive Producers at CNN.

“There are no Black Vice Presidents on the news side at CNN.

“There are no Black Senior Vice Presidents on the news side at CNN.”

In response, a CNN spokesperson pointed to Martin’s role in a CNN “town hall” on March 13, 2016, which became part of a controversy over whether Donna Brazile, veteran political strategist who was then also a CNN commentator, had passed along to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton questions Clinton might be asked.

“For months, we have been working with NABJ to schedule a meeting because the relationship between CNN and NABJ is very important to us,” Tuesday’s CNN statement said.

“As we have told them many times, we look forward to a thoughtful discussion about how both of our organizations can continue to work together. Unfortunately, the significant and reckless damage that Roland Martin did to CNN while partnering with us during a 2016 Democratic Town Hall has made any meeting that includes him untenable.

“Mr. Martin displayed an unprecedented and egregious lack of journalistic ethics and integrity by leaking questions prior to the town hall. As a result, we have told NABJ that CNN will not participate in any meeting that includes him. We have made it abundantly clear that we would be more than happy to sit down with the rest of their leadership team as soon as possible, and that offer still stands.”

Martin was an on-air commentator for six years at CNN, ending in 2013 when CNN declined to renew his contract. The same year, Martin was named NABJ’s “Journalist of the Year” for his work on TV One’s “Washington Watch” and the “Tom Joyner Morning Show.” He now hosts a daily digital news show.

NABJ said in Tuesday’s statement, “Zucker’s refusal to meet with the full delegation is based on a personal issue between CNN and NABJ’s Vice President-Digital Roland Martin. The issue stems from Martin’s participation in a 2016 town hall meeting with Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Previously, former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile admitted, according to a Time essay, she inadvertently disclosed a town hall topic to the Clinton campaign that was part of Martin’s research inquiry for the town hall.”

However, Brazile told Journal-isms in March 2017 that despite interpretations of her essay by several mainstream publications, she “admitted” no such thing.

“At no time did I receive or participate in the drafting or dissemination of questions provided by CNN,” Brazile told Journal-isms by email.

In a follow-up telephone conversation, Brazile said, “I’m not going to allow the lies to stand.”

She said she needed no prompting to advise Clinton to discuss the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich. “I as a Black woman wanted Flint to be front and center in our conversation about who should be the next president,” she said.

The issue of leaking questions came after WikiLeaks released hacked emails from the account of John Podesta, chairman of the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign.

“Martin initially denied sharing his questions with anyone, but later said his executive producer and team at TV One had the questions in order to pass them on to the CNN team,” Hadas Gold wrote on October 31, 2016, for Politico. “Once POLITICO obtained further emails, Martin said he didn’t believe he consulted with Brazile about the questions. . . .”

NABJ said of CNN, “A special team will perform further research and an analysis of CNN’s diversity, inclusion and equity practices, per the NABJ Board’s directive. The special team will also publicly report on identified deficiencies in hiring a diverse workforce in news decision-making capacities at CNN. NABJ is also calling for a civil rights audit that examines the company’s hiring, promotion and compensation practices involving Black employees.”

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