MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now, we're going to focus on a new study about the people who decide what you see on America's television news. The National Association of Black Journalists, or NABJ, has just released its latest diversity census. The group says the picture is bleak for journalists of color who hope to get into television newsroom management. That's journalists who belong to all different ethnic groups.
To tell us more about that, we're joined by NABJ vice president, Bob Butler. Also with us is Felix Sanchez. He is the chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts and we invited him because he says that a lack of diversity is a problem that goes well beyond television news. They're both with us in Washington, D.C. Welcome to you both. Thanks for coming.
BOB BUTLER: How you doing?
FELIX SANCHEZ: Thank you.
MARTIN: So, Bob Butler, I'm going to start with you. I just want to clarify that this is a study of management, what you call decision-makers in network and cable news programs, not on-air talent and correspondents. And the study says that the mid-ranks of management are somewhat diverse. The upper ranks not diverse at all, but that the outlook for minorities who want to break into television newsroom management is bleak. Why do you say that?
BUTLER: Bleak because we've been doing this study now for five years and the first year we did this, we looked at the stations that were owned by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. And there were 61 people of color per - in management, one per station. Since that time - that's about 16 percent. Since that time, it's gone down to about 12 percent of all the managers being people of color, which is well below the 35 percent approximately that people of color represent in this country.
MARTIN: Isn't this a contracting industry, though?
BUTLER: It is a contracting industry...
MARTIN: So it's tough out there for - it's bleak for everybody, isn't it?
BUTLER: It's hard out there. To quote Three 6 Mafia, it's hard out there for a lot of different people. But the problem with people of color is that, when you lose one person of color in a station like this, your numbers go way down because we're such a small percentage.
MARTIN: What about the - well, we can sort of quibble about methodology in a minute and we are going to, but contrast the network scene - network and cable - with local news. You also evaluated the situation there. What did you find?
BUTLER: Right. Ironically, whereas the stations are at 12 percent, the networks actually are a little bit - are better. There are about - in some cases, 35 percent of the managers are people of color. NBC, MSNBC tend to be the ones that have the most diversity. But you also have issues with all of the networks (unintelligible) CNN. There's one person of color, an African-American executive producer. That's for Suzanne Malveaux's show.
MARTIN: And, again, the survey evaluates all ethnic groups.
MARTIN: You know, Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans...
MARTIN: ...Native Americans, for example. But, you know, Fox News did not respond with data at all, so you didn't include them. And, as I understand it, that ABC News did not confirm your data. You sort of offered your data and you asked the networks to confirm its accuracy and they didn't confirm. So how is this a valid study, then, when you have these two key players missing?
BUTLER: Well, see, what we do is get the information ourselves and then we ask the companies to verify it. ABC has not verified it, but we have - you know, we're reporters. That's how we get the information. Fox has been - last year, I sent a request to Fox, basically asking for the names of the vice presidents and the senior producers, executive producers for all their shows, and we're still waiting.
MARTIN: I'm speaking with Bob Butler of the National Association of Black Journalists and Felix Sanchez of the Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. We're talking about diversity in media and entertainment.
So, Mr. Sanchez, I'm going to turn to you now. You've written some tough letters to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - that's here in Washington, D.C. It's home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the National Opera. You've actually called for a boycott of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors because you say they virtually shut out Latino artists from recognition.
SANCHEZ: Yes. It's a real sad situation. The Kennedy Center Honors has been in existence for 35 years and 33 out of those 35 years, Latinos have been locked out of a Kennedy Center recognition honor. We have tried to meet with the Kennedy Center president, Michael Kaiser, and David Rubenstein, who's the chairman of - and they have basically rebuffed us because they say, you know, they don't want to meet with individuals trying to promote a specific individual for the honors.
But the issue is an entire community has been absent. I mean, not a single Latino awarded this honor in a decade. And, I mean, here's what's mystifying. The president and the first lady - they honor them at the White House. They sit in the presidential box and they basically preside over these events for three years, and no one says, where are the Latino awardees?
MARTIN: Well, let me just give you their take on this. We asked them for a statement regarding your assertions and, you know, and people can look up who the honorees have been.
MARTIN: That's a matter of public record. And the statement is a lengthy one. I'll just read the top line. The Kennedy Center has been and remains very supportive of Hispanic artists. In the last year alone, the Kennedy Center International Committee was in Spain honoring Pedro Almodovar, Sara Baras, Placido Domingo, Paco Pena and Tamara Rojo with the Kennedy Center Gold Medal in the Arts. They go on to point out a number of other things.
MARTIN: I would also point out that, among the first honorees were Chita Rivera and Placido Domingo. So are you saying that is there a number that's the right number. Is this a numbers...
SANCHEZ: Well, yeah. I mean...
MARTIN: Is this a numbers...
SANCHEZ: ...let's - well, let's. No, no. It's more than that. Let's look at it for what it is. I mean the Kennedy Center has to give you extraneous ways in which they've participated with the Latino community, but not directly. This is a - this is the premiere honors of the country and the president presides over it. And so it - the lack of recognition to Latinos since for a decade we haven't had a single Latino name.
Now, for example, last year, it was the 50th anniversary of the film "West Side Story," and Rita Moreno could've been a nominee. I mean she's an Oscar, Emmy Grammy, Golden Globe, Alma Award winner. I mean she has won every major accolade and yet not able to be recognized here. I mean if you're recognizing Led Zeppelin this year, why not Carlos Santana?
MARTIN: I'm going to ask each of you this question. Bob Butler is still with us. I think that the question now becomes, why do you feel that this matters?
SANCHEZ: It matters because as a nation we look to these awards to be the accomplishment of the artistic and the American mosaic. But when you cut out a significant part of the community for 33 out of 35 years, that is discrimination. I mean that is segregation in the digital age and that is a civil rights issue, and that is an important one that we need to rectify.
MARTIN: Bob Butler, why do you think it matter that the survey - however one might want to quarrel with, you know, the methodology or whatever - but the overall trend line, this is the fifth year that NABJ...
MARTIN: ...has done this survey. Why do you feel that this matters?
BUTLER: When you watch news on the television and you see something you find objectionable, I'll give you the case of last year in Chicago. A TV station put a four-year-old boy on TV saying he wanted to have a gun - playing it in such a way where you thought this kid wanted to be a gangbanger. The station cut out the part about the kid saying he wanted a gun because he wanted to be a police officer. That's what happens when you have - don't have people at the table that can decide what gets on the air and what form it gets on the air.
It's very important that you have people around the table - diverse voices around the table - that can make sure that you're covering communities of color properly and fairly.
MARTIN: But the example you just cited, isn't that just poor journalism? I mean that's changing the meaning of the person's statement. I mean shouldn't anybody be able to - anybody who is well-trained and has a sense of ethics - be able to make that call?
BUTLER: That is correct. But when you look at a station where this happens and you talk to people who have said this is not the first time it's happened, and then you find out there's nobody around the table that could've made a different decision, that's when you have a concern.
MARTIN: Felix Sanchez, going back to you, this isn't the first time in recent years that we've heard an activist complain about the presence of Latinos and cultural workers, you know, in the arts, their presence on, say, television programs or sitcoms or things of that sort. Or for example, a couple of years prior, Ken Burns, the filmmaker, documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns did a major project around the Second World War, and the number of Latino, you know, activists who said, you know, where's the Latino presence in that film.
But I think the question becomes - when you're talking about a cultural work, is it appropriate to apply kind of political strategies to cultural works? I mean does that, doesn't that kind of walk up to the line of checking off the box of this, there, that? I mean...
SANCHEZ: It may seem that way.
SANCHEZ: But I mean, you know, this is an establishment dedicated to the name of the Kennedy legacy. Caroline Kennedy has hosted those awards for nine years. And for nine years there's been no question: where are the Latinos? This, the problem here is that the board - the presidentially-appointed board does not select, it's left to the producers. And the producers have clearly done a pattern and practice here of leaving out Latino names for 33 out of 35 years. I mean two awardees out of 170? I mean, you know, the numbers don't lie and the numbers reveal, the numbers reveal something that we know to be true, which is that Latinos are left out because somehow the view or the vision of the producers is not the same view and vision of the country. And when those two things are in opposite, then we get the kind of backlash that we get about the Latino image being on the periphery as opposed to being in the mainstream.
MARTIN: Well, you know, there's a study out by Latino Decisions - which is a polling group - it suggests that - and again, here's, people can always quarrel with, you know, methodology - but it suggests that media images do affect the images that we have of certain groups. And is this your view...
MARTIN: ...that you think that the media images out there kind of portray Latinos in a certain light and that affects public perceptions beyond entertainment?
SANCHEZ: That's exactly the point. When we are left on the periphery, we can never reach for the mainstream, so we're easy to be the whipping boy on issues like immigration because the American consciousness does not recognize and understand our value and our contribution at every level - whether that be in the arts or whether that be in politics. But regardless, I mean this is an issue that, I mean the Kennedy family, you know, in the 1960 presidential elections were the first to outreach Latinos. Robert F. Kennedy marched with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta for farm worker rights. How can the Kennedy family allow its name and its legacy to be tarnished in this manner? And this is really a very - it's an issue that people just say - they don't really want to address it. And they don't want to address it because it's a power struggle within the Kennedy Center and it really doesn't have any authority resting with a presidentially-appointed board. And they do receive federal funding. And, you know, and this is really something that we need to look at. If you're receiving federal funding, if the show is presided over by the president and the first lady, if the show is broadcast nationally on CBS television, then for God's sake, make it diverse.
MARTIN: Well, it's always difficult to assess people's motivations when they're not there to give you what their motivations are. I will say that, as you said, you've asked for a meeting, you have not had a meeting. We do have a lengthy statement from the Kennedy Center, which we'll post on our website. People can read it. I didn't read it in its entirety. It's issued by John Dow, who is the vice president of the press office.
So Bob Butler, wheeling back to you here, you've talked about what the problem is and we've also talked about the economic challenge of a contracting industry. Does NABJ have some constructive suggestions for addressing this?
BUTLER: Yeah. We're not only just saying hire more people, we're saying we need to help train some of these people. That's why at our convention we do what we call our executive suite. One of the things you talk to news managers, they'll tell you when you we talk about diversity, I'd like to hire some more people of color but I can't find qualified people. So we have to not only be the ones to point out where the deficiency is, we have to help solve it. And I just, it's ironic that we're here at CBC week, and you know...
MARTIN: This is the Congressional Black Caucus having their annual legislative conference...
MARTIN: ...in Washington, D.C.
BUTLER: And the data that we're collecting for with our census report is actually mandated that the FCC collect, and it was mandated back in '96 when the CBC asked for Bill Kennard to make this thing called Selection 257, which basically says the FCC wants to make sure that people of color have access to ownership, to employment. And they're supposed to do that by collecting data, but they haven't done it since '96 and Congress is not asking them why not.
MARTIN: Well, interesting conversation. To be continued. Bob Butler is vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists. He was here with me in Washington, D.C., along with Felix Sanchez, chairman for the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.
Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
BUTLER: Our pleasure.
SANCHEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.