In January 2010, MSNBC aired a highly promoted town hall meeting with Tom Joyner and Chris Matthews, hosted by Texas Southern University. The show was billed as a measurement of the state of America in the era of Obama. “Obama’s America: 2010 and Beyond” was part of MSNBC’s Martin Luther King Day observations.
Who would give Chris Matthews the role of moderating? He has very little restraint and cannot converse with anyone, Black or White. His constant interruptions and Tom Joyner’s snarky radio commentary did not translate well on TV. Both Matthews and Joyner were cheerleaders of the Obama Administration so it was hard to see objectivity.
The event was on the heels of the first anniversary of our country’s first elected Black President. The town hall meetings from hell during the summer of 2009, healthcare legislation debates, and “Skippy Gate” are incidents that exposed attitudes about race relations and the need for more ongoing dialogue. Those types of discussions need to be done with precision and care, not ratings-boosters for networks.
The usual suspects among Black “leaders” known as speakers from Tavis Smiley’s once lucrative, now defunct annual Negro super bowl, State of the Black Union (SOTBU), were itching to talk race relations. The SOTBU was once a coveted event where many were given a platform to strut their knowledge about all that ails black folks. Once Senator Obama became President Obama, the media gave the world a new coded label, “post racial America.” It was touted as the end of racism but many saw it as the beginning of cable news race-baiting at every opportunity.
The “post-racial America” label popped up everywhere, while race-baiting became a carefully crafted art form that has induced more fearmongering than the Jim Crow South for all races. The word “racist” has been used like toilet paper, describing anyone and every situation. Every network has tried dissecting the new terminology and the repackaging of racism in one way or another. CNN’s “Black in America” series hosted by Soledad O’Brien left many wondering: who worked at CNN? Surely not people of color. Some of the segments only further cemented the harsh stereotypes of blacks, and many criticized the network for not being fair and balanced with the stories portrayed.
On the “Fair and Balanced” Network, Fox’s Glenn Beck, accompanied occasionally by Dr. Martin Luther King’s niece, Alveda King, had several panels about race on his now cancelled show. Dr. King’s niece read biblical passages while Beck, a Mormon, gave commentary about visions revealed by God to him in the shower, in the limo, or at the bank. One of the visions left Beck with the belief that the President was a racist and had a “deep-seated hatred of white people.” Beck even had a town hall meeting of Black conservatives who had voted for Obama but later loathed their decision, or did not vote for the President because they detested socialism, Marxism, non-Christians, and/or anything that threatens Democracy according to the original intent of the Founding Fathers.
On Sunday, April 10, 2011, MSNBC’s Ed Shultz stepped into the arena of racial moderation via media outlet depictions as the host of “The Black Agenda.” Thousands on Twitter asked “Why?” and “Where is Tamron Hall?” Last year, “The Black Agenda” was hosted by Ed Schultz and Tamron Hall. This year MSNBC decided to drop the Black co-host and let Ed fly solo.
That was an ill-advised flight for MSNBC. Those who tuned in to watch shared their thoughts across the World Wide Web without mercy. The usual suspects from the Negro bowl were front and center, while Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come” and James Brown’s “Living in America” were played at commercial breaks. “The Black Agenda” gave viewers clowns on parade and coonery at every turn. The show was part of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network week-long conference in New York that was kicked off with the President as the keynote evening speaker. Earlier on the same day, the President launched his reelection campaign via the Web.
The MSNBC “Black Agenda” televised panel came at the end of the National Action Network’s annual summit. It was advertised as featuring prominent African American leaders from across the U.S. who are committed to furthering progress on critical issues impacting their community. Schultz and the panel will discuss pertinent topics affecting African Americans such as politics, modern civil rights, healthcare, education, and ways to help build a stronger African American community. MSNBC will ask the tough questions: What is the Black Agenda? What can the African American community do to help itself? How does the Black Agenda help to further the overall American agenda?
If reading the tweets on Twitter was an indicator, the show encountered turbulence after the opening credits. Hearing Ed Schultz from North Dakota rewrite Sharpton’s history showed Ed did not do his homework. Sharpton was given “a gift to the Black community” slant. The media loves contrived storylines. However, all that ails black folks were not changed to fit Sharpton’s new edit. No daddies, unwed mamas, no education, no houses, many jail cells, and only a few slices of government cheese were the usual problems seen through the same lens and told by the same voices whose protests and shouts are nothing more than punditry of another color. No solutions were given, no success stories to model were told.
When Rev. Sharpton and Princeton’s Cornel West began to sharpen their talking points, the plane dropped 30,000 feet for MSNBC’s new race relations expert, Ed Schultz, and the Sunday camera guy with no instructions on how to steer the debate back to a “give black folks more help” viewpoint. When the talk turned to how the President can help the Black Agenda, Sharpton and West had an on-air collision for the whole world to see. The carnage was ugly.
Two Black men, one with a perm and one with a blown-out Afro, yelling and shouting about who was doing more to help the Black Agenda was disastrous. The part of the exchange that has gotten the most attention was:
Sharpton: “Too many of us are putting it all on the President, if I see a [Paul] Ryan in Congress, where is the counterpoint to Ryan? That’s not President Obama’s job…He shouldn’t lead the civil rights marches against himself. Eveybody’s sitting around acting like we can’t do anything, Obama’s going to do it. That’s hogwash.”
West: “They have a black constituency and there’s a context in the nation that a criticism of President Obama is an attempt to support the right-wing vicious attacks of Fox News and others.”
Sharpton’s hood-lined Ralph Lauren White House makeover and West’s displeasure at not being in the inner circle and lover of all things Obama was evident. Both men made a mockery of anything good accomplished by people of color before or after their births. Sharpton’s “I’ll cut ya” tirades are becoming famous and West’s “my brother, I love you” while stabbing you with his dictionary of words that conceal hate are distractions.
The media folks’ biannual specials promoted as forums to discuss the status of race relations while putting on race-baiters 24/7 are futile and create further divisions. Media outlets need to examine how they have contributed to the decline of race relations in our country and look closely at the makeup of their staff, reporters, and anchors. Out of 815 newsrooms across the county only 64 have people of color at a management level, according to www.Root.com’s publisher, Donna Byrd. If more people of color were working in newsrooms, outlets like MSNBC would have known beforehand that a panel with Sharpton and West talking about a Black Agenda would crash and burn quickly.
On Monday, a less publicized Aspen Institute Symposium on the State of Race in America was held in DC. The panel was diverse and included women and younger demographics that gave solutions on how to show America’s diverse makeup, thoughts, and lives without preconceived filters. MSNBC’s Richard Lui was the moderator. However, this event was not advertised at every break throughout the day for weeks. The panelists spoke truth to power about the role the media plays in the dilution of the news and how the media has stoked racial flames at every turn, including the media’s influence on Donald Trump’s pretend run for president. As of yet, there has been no coverage of Lui’s role at the conference on MSNBC.
In the meantime, steer clear of cable news specials featuring old angry men with Jheri curls, permed hair, or blown-out afros discussing race issues, moderated by folks from culturally diverse states like North Dakota. They are only going to leave one with the foul taste of outdated government cheese thinking, which should be discarded for the sake of the country’s agenda of moving forward not backward.