WHITE PUNDIT SUPREMACY
Vanity Fair Vanishes Black Talking Heads
Philip Nobile is the editor of Judgment at the Smithsonian, which
printed the banned Smithsonian script on the 50th anniversary
of the Bombs of August in 1995.
The people behind the Gentleman’s Agreement keeping blacks (and browns and yellows) down in mainstream media are smooth operators. They discriminate in silence, benignly neglecting diversity in hiring, promotion, and product, and usually without consequence.
Take popular magazines, one of the most Caucasian sectors of the industry. When was the last time you heard anyone complain about the racial make-up of the slicks? How pre-Brown v. the Board of Education are they? Of the approximately 527 editors and writers listed on the mastheads of GQ, Esquire, New York, Rolling Stone, Talk, Atlantic, Harper’s, Men’s Journal, and Vanity Fair, less than one percent are the color of Toni Morrison. In this sea of white ink blacks and their issues risk drowning.
Naturally, Clarence Page got a sinking feeling when he read James Wolcott’s 4,500-word article, "Who Wants to be a Pundit? 10 Easy Steps," in the February Vanity Fair. As a Pulitzer Prize columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a familiar African face on "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer," "The McLaughlin Group," "Meet the Press," and "Hardball," Page expected some mention. Yet Wolcott’s name-dripping text omitted him as well as primetime skinfolk like Juan Williams (Fox News), Jack E. White (TIME), Gwen Ifill (PBS), Stanley Crouch (New York Daily News), Tavis Smiley (BET), Armstrong Williams (syndicated), DeWayne Wickham (USA Today), Farai Chedaya (freelance), Tamala Edwards (TIME) and Michael Eric Dyson (Chicago Tribune). In fact, all 50-plus talking-heads cited in VF and all eighteen photographed were white. The monthly simply vanished Page and his pundit brothers from the political landscape.
"Nobody at this sophisticated magazine apparently felt embarrassed about publishing a story of this importance so obviously devoid of non-whites -- with pictures, yet!" "Frankly, when I saw Wolcott’s piece, I was astonished that nobody at this sophisticated magazine apparently felt embarrassed about publishing a story of this importance so obviously devoid of non-whites -- with pictures, yet!" said Page. "I am a big fan of Vanity Fair, even though their color-blindness usually translates to mean being blind to people of color."
Juan Williams, a permanent panelist on "Fox News Sunday" and host of NPR’s "Talk of the Nation," was likewise vexed by VF’s exclusion. "It’s aggravating, but I see it all over -- in Brill’s Content, in Columbia Journalism Review and in American Journalism Review," said Williams. "Whenever pundits are rated, they never go beyond whites."
Jack White, national affairs columnist for TIME, pops up less on the tube than Page and Williams, but he was equally perturbed by "10 Easy Steps." "Wolcott forgot to mention step one -- be white," observed White. "His piece read as if were written in the fifties, in Mississippi."
Perhaps Wolcott has a simple explanation for his bleached reporting. Maybe he received a pizza delivery every time a black commentator appeared on TV. Regrettably, we may never know what he was thinking when he disappeared Page et al. Neither Wolcott, nor VF honcho, Graydon Carter, responded to interview requests. Nonetheless, Carter’s opinion was clear. According to his "Editor’s Letter," Wolcott's essay was a "masterpiece." Piling on the praise, Carter gushed, "Wolcott, I know, sweats over every sentence. Each word has been chosen with care -- others were considered and rejected. Then the whole is polished over and over until he turns it in."
Controlling for whiteness, "10 Easy Steps" is a witty, wide-ranging critique of the talking-head business.
Controlling for whiteness, "10 Easy Steps" is a witty, wide-ranging critique of the talking-head business and personalities wrapped around "a 10-point program that will help prospective pundits not only get to the top, but to stay there." Wolcott’s decalogue included guidance like "Abandon Your Ideals," "Dress the Part," "Always End With a Hearty Chuckle," and "Bury Your Nose in Don Imus." He slapped around the usual suspects from Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tim Russert to Bill O’Reilly and Laura Ingraham, and he cracked on Tony Blankley’s "Jackie Gleason ensemble," Mike Barnicle’s "blowhard batteries," and Ann Coulter’s "Basic Instinct miniskirts and Fatal Attraction stare." At the end of the day, as talking heads say, Wolcott recommended five favorites -- Bill Kristol, Bill Press, Anna Quindlen, Katerina Vanden Heuvel and Chris Hitchens.
In addition to blowing off the brothers, Walcott ignored the related matter of race. For example, his detailed Imus section conspicuously avoided accusations (and admissions) of racism that have dogged the loose-lipped host on "60 Minutes" and "Larry King Live!," as well as in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Village Voice, the Washington Post, and TIME. How a writer with Wolcott’s taste for infamy failed to note Imus’s casual use of "nigger," as exposed by Mike Wallace on "60 Minutes," and the program boycott by former black guests, Ed Bradley, Stanley Crouch, Al Sharpton and Ifill, as documented by TomPaine.com’s "Imus Watch" series, remains a journalistic mystery.
As biased as treatment of the punditocracy in Vanity Fair was, the greater villains are the executives at the network and cable outlets who restrict minority access to the plum commentary slots. Page has a thriving guest career, of course, but he has no weekly, mainstream gig like hordes of white colleagues without Pulitzers. In 1997, after David Brinkley retired, ABC added Page to the "Sunday Morning" roundtable (in tandem with Bill Kristol) only to phase him out when George Stephanopoulos became available.
Juan Williams is the exception that proves the Jim Crow rule.
Juan Williams is the exception that proves the Jim Crow rule. The lone Fox News contributor of his race, Williams has a regular seat on Brit Hume’s daily "Special Report" via Fox cable and Tony Snow’s "Fox News Sunday" via the network. But like Page, he seems to have hit a ceiling. In effect, in my opinion, FNC, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and the nets have banned blacks from hosting primetime and weekend talk shows. What did he have to say about this seen but unspoken color line?
"I was a sub behind Mike Kinsley on 'Crossfire' and was up to replace him," Williams disclosed. "When I didn’t get the job, I asked a producer why. It all came down to the audience, he told me. Cable news programs try to push and pull an older white audience. They’re not interested in reaching out to minorities. The fear is that a black host will get a talkshow labelled 'black.' We live in a very segregated society."
A segregated society shored up by a series of agreements among the gentlemen.
EDITOR'S MEA CULPA: TomPaine.com is working to increase the diversity of its writers.
Published: Mar 02 2001