The recent shakeup at CNN that is reimagining the network’s roster of on-air talent has drawn attention to the shrinking number of Black news anchors during the coveted prime-time TV broadcasting schedule among TV news stations.
The moves come amid concerns about the new direction being taken by CNN — long held as a liberal bastion covering liberal current events — as it hires more conservative personalities leading up the pivotal midterm elections.
Most recently, CNN moved Don Lemon from his eponymous show from 10 p.m. to midnight on weeknights to a revamped morning show that will team him with now-former White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins and anchor Poppy Harlow.
While Lemon expressed gratitude and glee at having his show end, missing from the conversation has been any mention of what it means for the diversity of who delivers the news on TV when viewers are tuned in the most.
“I was honestly floored when Chris Licht asked me to do this and I’m honored by his belief in me,” Lemon said in a statement about CNN’s new CEO whose personnel reshuffling has been accused of being “politically motivated.”
Lemon also insisted it was “time to shake things up,” according to a news article published by CNN itself.
However, critics see Lemon’s move to the morning as a demotion, especially considering the fact that the TV news “audience is the largest” during prime-time hours, according to data from Pew Research Center.
It was not immediately clear what CNN planned to do to replace “Don Lemon Tonight.”
Licht told the National Association Of Black Journalists (NABJ) during a phone call last Friday that he was “unequivocally considering” Black on-air talent for CNN’s new and unannounced prime-time lineup, but that is no guarantee of anything coming from a man who recently hired a man accused of Islamophobia.
NABJ President Dorothy Tucker encouraged CNN to replace Lemon’s prime-time slot with a Black journalist in part because she said, according to statistics, that “Black viewers are the largest ethnicity subscribing to cable programming.”
NABJ wants its members to be considered to replace Lemon.
“There is a large pool of highly qualified and highly visible Black journalists who could take Don Lemon’s or another prime-time slot to another level with whatever type of program CNN is considering,” NABJ Vice President-Broadcast Ken Lemon said.
But given Licht’s recent moves — including hiring John Miller, the former NYPD leader who lied under oath about the police department’s policies of surveilling Muslims post-9/11 — NABJ’s wishes may not be granted despite its stated optimism that it has “no reason to believe” Licht won’t consider adding more Black talent to the network’s prime-time coverage.
“I hope that CNN is watching the kind of backlash and the response to this hiring, and they should take very seriously the voices of the Muslim community because we are viewers too,” Shahana Hanif, a member of the New York City Council, told HuffPost last week. “We too want objective news.” Hanif said Miller now has “a position that will give him a broader impact to an outlet that many of us trust.”
In another telling move, Licht ordered CNN on-air talent to stop using the phrase “the big lie” to describe former President Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine democracy by pushing debunked conspiracy theories about nonexistent election fraud in 2020, according to Mediaite. Such an edict could appear to be sympathetic to Trump, who is on the verge of being criminally indicted for those same lies to which CNN anchors are now forbidden from explicitly referring.
Licht is also pushing for CNN to have “more conservative guests,” according to former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who penned an op-ed for the Guardian voicing “concern” about the network’s latest moves.
The combination of the above has prompted social media calls to boycott CNN.
Lemon’s move to the morning leaves just MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid as the lone Black prime-time cable news anchor.
That all could change as the Black News Channel gets revamped by new owner Byron Allen, or if CNN decides to keep a Black presence in Don Lemon’s soon-to-be former prime-time slot.