CBS News has come under fire for a lack of African-Americans among its core team of on-the-ground reporters and producers set to cover the 2020 presidential campaign cycle.
Criticism of CBS News began to build during the weekend after associate producer Ben Mitchell tweeted a title card featuring images of CBS News’ “political embed unit,” composed of eight 2020 campaign reporters and four associate producers, including himself. The group does not include any African-Americans in either role. Among the eight reporters, four are persons of color: Musadiq Bidar, a native of Afghanistan, Alex Tin, Jack Turman and Stephanie Ramirez. CBS News is still in the process of assembling its on-air correspondent team for the election.
— Ben Mitchell (@bfmitchell) January 11, 2019
Christopher Isham, CBS News’ Washington bureau chief, called the group its “our boots on the ground for the 2019-2020 election cycle” in announcing on Friday an increase in politically-focused reporters and newsgathering resources for the upcoming presidential race. The unit is designed to deepen CBS News’ coverage of federal and local issues and personalities on the 2020 trail.
CBS News noted that the embed team represented only a portion of its broader election coverage plans. Lorna Jones, who is African-American, was promoted last month to the role of managing editor for Washington news coverage. And the division has long had other prominent African-American women in senior management roles.
“This group is the initial wave of what will be an outstanding and diverse group of journalists assigned to cover the 2020 election for CBS News,” a CBS News spokesperson said Sunday night.
The scrutiny over diversity on the political team at CBS News comes as the division is in the midst of a leadership transition. Susan Zirinsky, the first woman to run the storied news operation, is taking over from David Rhodes at a time when CBS News has been buffeted by the #MeToo movement and reports about a culture that was frequently hostile to women. Specific allegations resulted in the ousters of former “CBS This Morning” anchor Charlie Rose and former “60 Minutes” exec producer Jeff Fager.
Among the prominent critics of CBS News was Democratic superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, who called it “Unacceptable in 2019” in a message to her more than 2.3 million Twitter followers.
This WH admin has made having a functional understanding of race in America one of the most important core competencies for a political journalist to have, yet @CBSNews hasn’t assigned a *single* black journalist to cover the 2020 election.
Unacceptable in 2019. Try again. https://t.co/h7tmiBr9Fi
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 13, 2019
Kerry Washington, who played a Washington, D.C. fixer for seven seasons on ABC’s “Scandal.” acknowledged that CBS’ team did include persons of color, but she stressed that an African-American perspective was vital given the state of the country.
Dear @CBSNews, I am encouraged by the diversity you DID include. But when it comes time to discuss the inevitable role that race and racism will play in the election, who will you turn to for a perspective with nuanced & personal understanding of the African American experience? https://t.co/yqViF535oY
— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) January 13, 2019