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The world knows that we lost a giant of American journalism when 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley died at the age of 65 on Nov. 9, 2006. Bradley established himself as an icon professionally, earning 20 Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, a National Association of Black Journalists Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Paul White Award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association, among many others. He left an even greater legacy as a human being, a person of class, compassion, humor, and an unmistakable, though quiet, strength. It’s no secret that Bradley’s passing leaves a huge void in his profession as well as in the lives of those who new him personally, who universally admired, loved, and respected him. However, as great as Bradley was as a journalist and as a man, his departure also underscores a different and more glaring void: the absence of African Americans in national network television news.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a quarter century since Max Robinson last signed off as the Chicago-based co-anchor of ABC World News Tonight. Robinson and Bradley (who became the only black network news anchor when he was named to helm CBS Sunday Night News in 1976) were symbols of hope and pride for African Americans. As a community, we had been accustomed to being a faceless, scorned, and pitiful presence on the national news scene, relegated almost exclusively to entertainment, sports, poverty, and crime stories, which were always reported by “trusted newsmen” who, by definition, could never be black. We fully expected that the trail blazed by these legendary newsmen would show the way to a new era of diversity in national network news, not merely because of their presence at these jobs, but because of the excellence with which Robinson and Bradley performed them.
Needless to say, it hasn’t turned out that way. In 2007, in an America where population growth among black and brown people is on the verge of forcing a new definition of the term “minority,” people of color remain a rarity in national television news. After a changing of the guard in the anchor chairs of NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, and ABC’s World News Tonight, the African American presence in national network newscasts is limited to a sprinkling of correspondents, including such notable journalists as Deborah Roberts of ABC News’ 20/20 and Harold Dow and Troy Roberts of 48 Hours on CBS. If you think that’s bad, here’s what’s really scary: Among traditional media, as represented by television, radio, newspapers, and magazines, television actually has the best record of diversity among the editorial professionals it employs. And if you discount those who work for minority-owned or oriented media outlets, the term “color TV” could easily be deemed an oxymoron.
The result is that mainstream media — and the news, in particular — is not trusted by many, if not most, people of color. African Americans in particular continue to be victimized by misrepresentations (remember the looting “refugees” of Hurricane Katrina), which