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On Julie Chen, Les Moonves, and CBS: An Immodest Proposal for Media Diversity

jpozners Icon Posted by Jennifer L Pozner

July 22nd, 2010

Yesterday, from St. Petersburg Times media critic Eric Deggans, came the headline: “Julie Chen gets View-style talk CBS show; should wife of CEO have three jobs on the network?”

Chen, who anchors CBS’s daily Early Show and hosts CBS’s backstabby summer reality TV ratings staple, Big Brother, is oh-so-conveniently married to the network’s CEO, Les Moonves. Now, it seems, she’ll move from full time to part-time Early Show newsreader in order to make room for CBS job #3: co-hosting a new daytime chat show in the mold of ABC’s The View, to replace their canceled soap, As The World Turns.

As Deggans writes on his blog, The Feed:

“Way back when Chen first started hosting Big Brother, some critics complained that someone who was working on a news show was also taking a regular role on an entertainment show. Given the way Today show co-host Meredith Vieira and View co-host Barbara Walters now vault between entertainment and news appearances, such complaints seem quaint now.

But I wouldn’t blame some CBS employees for wondering why the boss’ wife gets three high profile on air jobs at the network — assuming she keeps both jobs she has now.”

I am one of those media critics who still warns that the continued disintegration of the wall between news and entertainment (and between editorial and advertising, for that matter) is deeply damaging to solid journalism, free and critical information, and creative, challenging entertainment. I am so tiresome, what with my constant tirades about how much cheaper it is to throw a few hundred bucks at the paparazzi for the latest Lindsey Lohan upskirt-while-drunk-driving picture than it is to pay investigative reporters or station international correspondents to uncover fraud, waste and fatal flaws at, say, oil spill cleanup sites or military operations in war-torn regions.

I know, I know — I am so “quaint.” Now: get off my lawn.

But here’s where I’m thinking that Deggans, and I, and many other media critics have gotten it wrong for so many years: We’re always talking about the vast underrepresentastion of women and people of color — and especially, women of color — in high-profile on-air (and behind-the-scenes) positions in news, public affairs and entertainment media. We’ve done numerous studies, year after year, documenting the homogeneity within the TV and larger media industries. Clearly, our research and documentation have not made much of a dent, nor have our passionate explanations of why media diversity matters. So, maybe we’ve been going about this all wrong: perhaps we should demand that every powerful white male media company CEO, CFO, and board member marry a woman of color, and then use that nepotism in the service of diversity casting, a la Moonves and Chen.

Sure, this strategy would be equally offensive as former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager’s (nepotistic, laughably unqualified) gig as a correspondent for NBC’s The Today Show… but considering how stubbornly media companies are holding on to institutional inequity within their ranks, it might be the quickest way we’d see a large jump in the percentage of women of color in power positions in the media.

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