On Wednesday morning, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) delivered a floor speech before the House of Representatives, criticizing the lack of diversity at NBC and in news media in general. “Journalists of color bring a different texture,” the congressman said, “a different perspective on what issues matter and what should be discussed and debated on television.”
When we got our first color TV, it was a big deal in my family. We were working-class, Puerto Rican, and not used to such luxury. So when we got a color TV, we had really arrived. Every Sunday night, me and my sister would watch The Wonderful World of Disney that always started with the same announcement: “The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC,” and then you would hear the NBC chimes. [plays the NBC chime]
That was a long time ago. Now you turn on NBC and the farthest thing from your mind is color. What is going on at NBC?
Last week, Wake Forest University professor and MSNBC television host Melissa Harris-Perry was abruptly pulled from the airwaves without even a chance to say good bye. NBC said they wanted a show that was more about politics. But I have to say, when I watched her show, Melissa Harris-Perry was talking about politics in a unique way — like few others on the airwaves. She brought diverse voices to the table to talk directly and unapologetically about the politics of race in America — a major theme among candidates and a critical conversation to include on the airwaves. I am sad to see her go, just like Alex Wagner before her, but I am even sadder because I do not think these are isolated cases.
Anchorman José Díaz-Balart is another voice that seems to be disappearing from the English-language airwaves. You remember José? He is the Telemundo anchorman NBC would bring out to ask a question — and only one question — about immigration during the Republican presidential debates in 2012. You may have met his brother Lincoln who used to sit over there, or his brother Mario who still does. José had a two-hour show on MSNBC and did a very good job. But José is a lot harder to find these days. They cut him back, and now it seems they are cutting him out.
For example, MSNBC announced they were sending a team of reporters to Florida to report on the primary next Tuesday. But not José, one of the most respected and recognized journalists in America, who happens to be from Miami and a Florida political dynasty. Apparently he is not the right guy to report on politics in Florida.
And let’s not forget the great NBC racism flip-flop last year when NBC severed its ties to Donald Trump because of his racist remarks about Latinos, only to have him host their flagship comedy show, Saturday Night Live, last fall. Right about the same time last fall, NBC’s executives met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and NBC News president Deborah Turness told us, “We love the Hispanic community,” as she updated us on the strides they were making on diversity and hiring. She made it very clear she has our community’s interests at heart when she said, “Yo hablo español,” in her beautiful British accent. Most of the news coverage of this meeting was about when she used the term “illegals” to describe immigrants, which, in case you needed a reminder, is not a good idea when meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Well, forgive me for not noticing just how much progress NBC was making on diversity, when some of the most visible people of color at NBC like Alex Wagner, Melissa Harris-Perry and José Díaz-Balart are disappearing. But let’s be clear, this is not about quotas, window-dressing, or checking the diversity box.
Journalists of color bring a different texture, a different perspective on what issues matter and what should be discussed and debated on television. The reality is that our nation has become more diverse — and our television, our news media, and our political institutions — including the Democratic and Republican parties — have not kept up.
When NBC has a bad year when it comes to race, or when the Oscars have a bad couple of years when it comes to people of color, these are moments to talk about and confront the emotions and ideas we all have about race and ethnicity. It is a good time to think about what the phrase E Pluribus Unum really means in America today.
This is a discussion we should all be having — all the time: here in this body, on news programs and in entertainment. And it is a discussion I hope every family is having at the dinner table.