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CNN’s ‘Black in America’ Goes ‘Survivor’ Route

Now that Soledad O’Brien is returning to the mornings on CNN as host of a regular program, a word about her “Black in America” and “Latino in America” series.

Let’s hope CNN rethinks the enterprise, at least in its present form.

SoledadThe latest special in the series, “Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley,” arrives Nov. 13, and it’s a particularly puzzling construct –- as if a news documentary about aspiring African-American tech entrepreneurs got shanghaied by the producers of “Survivor.”

Credit CNN with continuing to explore the situation of various minority groups. If only the net result were better.

The latest hour spends most of its time trying to build suspense regarding who among a group of African-American tech developers will land funding for their projects, while exploring the more provocative matter of whether there’s a bias against minorities in Silicon Valley.

On that latter question, journalist-turned-investor Michael Arrington appears particularly clueless and arrogant, coming perilously close to saying there are no black entrepreneurs because none of them measure up. “There just aren’t any,” he says flatly. (Arrington has since complained it was an ambush question, but given the tone, it’s hard to see how.)

In a broader context, though, Arrington’s confusion isn’t completely out of line. When he initially tells O’Brien asking about tech’s leading black entrepreneur is a “weird question,” there does seem to be an un-articulated point there — namely, when breaking in is so tough no matter what race you are, why focus on black entrepreneurs specifically? Admittedly, that’s giving him the benefit of the doubt, but even watching I kept thinking with all the other problems regarding employment — and especially high unemployment among African-American youth — the topic as presented does seem a trifle arbitrary and narrow.

So like most of the CNN’s “… in America” series, the hour poses some interesting questions but only scrapes the surface of its subject. Provided something truly rare in TV news –- the luxury of time — O’Brien’s adventure in longform news has patched together a series of snapshots but overall qualifies as a missed opportunity.

While things will probably be better in the mornings, don’t be surprised if I choose to sleep in.

 

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