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Bread-Breaking with Broder, Bradlee and Brokaw

Should "Meet the Press" Desegregate?

by SCOTT PELLEGRINO

Wanted: A host for Meet The Press: We’re the oldest TV show ever, produced by General Electric/NBC, one of the world’s most toxic and deadly conglomerates. We’re pretty easy-going here at NBC. You don’t need to be competent or anything – we’ve got Chris Mathews for Christ’s sake. We kept him on even after what he said when the Saddam statue tumbled, "What’s he [DNC Chair Howard Dean] going to talk about a year from now, the fact that the war went too well and it’s over? I mean, don’t these things sort of lose their–Isn’t there a fresh date on some of these debate points?"

Preparation and skepticism when interviewing major GOP candidates? Don’t be silly. Matt Lauer, and Karl Rove’s dancing partner David Gregory, rolled right over for Romney when he claimed religion wasn’t a litmus test for the presidency despite his previous statements that Americans "want a person of faith to lead them." And what about Brian Williams, the Ken doll we installed at Nightly News? See how he describes McCain – who was wildly inaccurate on every aspect of the war on Iraq – in one of our recent McDebates, "a Republican with vast foreign policy expertise and credibility on national security." Inquisitiveness? Are you on crack?!? Dig our Tom Brokaw who was completely oblivious to tens of thousands of anti-war protesters six years ago in DC, "you have to remember, the opposition voices were not that many in this town, for example, in Washington. There just weren’t that many." Anyway, get your application in soon. December’s not far off. Oh, and one last thing. You MUST have a schlong, and you MUST be white!!! No exceptions. If you’re a woman or, god forbid, a person of color, just go rot. –

Wow! Pretty harsh want-ad. But pretty true. Meet The Press has been with us for 61 years. Originally created by journalist Martha Rountree as a radio show called The American Mercury in 1945, it migrated two years later to TV where Ms. Rountree hosted until 1953. There have been 9 permanent hosts since then. All of them white and all of them male, as though the Civil Rights and Women’s movements never happened. Not surprising though. Why would anyone expect better from a vile outfit like GE? The ultimate question is, why are huge companies allowed to have anything to do with our public airwaves to begin with? It all started in the mid 1920s when NBC and CBS commenced their successful grab of our media via their cronies at the Federal Radio Commission. Basically, that’s why we and our grandkids will have to suffer Carson Daly for the next half century unless a meteor mercifully intervenes. Corporations, especially those as huge as GE, have little interest in ethics or concepts like racial justice unless there’s a way to cash in. That’s why white males like the previously mentioned clowns and Saint Russert are so appealing to them. They’re not hired for what they might do or say, they’re hired for what they won’t do or say, and for their skill at looking the other way.

Tim Russert made his lackey bones from ’76 to ’82 by working for the wicked Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the most blood-soaked politicians in modern history. When Moynihan was a Kissinger toady and ambassador to the UN under Gerald Ford in ’75, he went out of his way not to interfere with Indonesia’s plans to invade East Timor. More than 200,000 East Timorese were killed, a third of East Timor’s population. Moynihan then had the balls to brag about this in his book, "The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success." Would a decent person want to work for a filthy bastard like Moynihan? Of course not. Nor did Russert ever express an ounce of criticism or contrition regarding his hard-drinking mentor.

Race-wise, Russert was a perfect fit for whites-only Meet The Press. Much has been made of his challenging David Duke on economic issues rather than KKK issues when Duke ran for Governor in Louisiana (where Duke actually got 55% of the white vote despite tanglin’ with the Saint). Truth is, he really couldn’t challenge Duke or any other white knights on racial matters due to his own predilections. Russert (like many an NBC load) was tight with uber-racist Don Imus, and remained cozy following the I-man’s comment on Russert’s black female colleague Gwen Ifill, “Isn’t The NY Times wonderful, it lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.” Despite opposition Russert stuck by his old racist chum even after Ifill herself publicly upbraided Russert and his white pals, in the NY Times. Ol’ Russ wasn’t completely blind to racial matters though, he pressed Obama in 2006 to condemn a Harry Belafonte quote, and pressed Obama again earlier this year to comment on Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. How many white candidates did he ever quiz on Belafonte or Farrakhan? The number would appear to be zero, but I’m still searching and would delight in being corrected.

Some have cautioned that it’s a waste of time to pressure NBC into desegregating Meet The Press because even if they jettisoned the Apartheid, they’d likely hire journalists of color who are just as tacky and shallow as their whites. Circus freaks like Juan Williams or Armstrong Williams would get the nod as opposed to quality reporters like Mary Mitchell (Chicago Sun-Times), Deborah Mathis (Tribune Media), Les Payne (Newsday), Ann Tripp (WBLS), or Juan González (NY Daily News). Tough to argue against that, but I still think it’s worth it to begin deflating the sense of entitlement enjoyed by NBC’s Neidermeyers and Marmalards. This would also make it somewhat easier to apply pressure in the future because NBC wouldn’t abide decades of entrenchment for hosts of color as they do for their whites.

For this piece I approached about twenty big-shots associated with NBC, Meet The Press, and/or Tim Russert. Chris Mathews, Olbermann, Brian Williams, and Jeff Zucker are still hiding under their desks, but I did manage to connect with David Broder, Ben Bradlee, and current Meet The Press host Tom Brokaw. My question to them was, in light of the past and present de facto quota of 100% white hosts at Meet The Press, should NBC make a point of following Brokaw with a host of color? Broder, who’s been on Meet The Press more than any other guest, expressed no concern about the history of the situation, and kept repeating that race would not be his main criteria for filling the job. "Quality" would be his main concern. He didn’t seem to understand that there are plenty of "quality" journalists of color, but they’ve never been given a chance. Russert’s close friend Ben Bradlee said that he was more concerned about there never having been a non-white host of NBC Nightly News or a non-white running Chase Manhattan. While agreeing with him that those were also important, worthy concerns, I explained that we were talking about Meet The Press right now. He then repeatedly said, "In the best of all worlds, it would be good to appoint a host of color." To which I repeatedly retorted, "what about THIS world, the one we actually live in with all the discrimination?" We went back and forth like this for about three minutes as if we were doing an old Burns and Schreiber routine. Following that I had an email exchange with Tom Brokaw which I’ll allow to speak for itself by including it here in it’s entirety, save for a few explanatory notes. About halfway through Brokaw cc’s NBC News vice presidents Mark Whittaker and Allison Gollust, and NBC News president Steve Capus – who all became and remained privy to the entire exchange. Capus was actually the first person I approached for this piece, but never heard back until he oozed up towards the end of the Brokaw exchange. Capus epitomizes the soulless, corporate hack who lives to thwart progress. Readers may recall how foolish he came off when forced to dump his beloved Imus last year. The exchange begins with an email to Brokaw’s charming assistant Mary Casalino following a phone call.

From: SCOTT PELLEGRINO
Subject: Requesting a quote from Mr. Brokaw for my piece on Meet The Press
6/23/2008 5:02 PM

Dear Mary,

Nice speaking with you. I’d like a quote from Mr. Brokaw for a piece I’m writing on the following. In it’s 61 year history Meet The Press has had 10 hosts including, now, Mr. Brokaw. All of them have been white. I’d like to know if Mr. Brokaw thinks it would be appropriate for Meet The Press’s next host to be a person of color, especially as there are so many quality reporters of color that could do a great job.

Thanks so much,

SCOTT PELLEGRINO

———-

From: Tom Brokaw (responding to my letter to his assistant Mary)
Subject: Re: Requesting a quote from Mr. Brokaw for my piece on Meet The Press
6/24/2008 9:07 AM

I am not in charge of picking Tim’s full-time successor but I am confident there are many men and women of all colors and backgrounds who are on the long list of possibilities.

———-

From: SCOTT PELLEGRINO
Subject: Re: Requesting a quote from Mr. Brokaw for my piece on Meet The Press
6/24/2008 1:27 PM

Thanks for getting back to me Mr. Brokaw. There may in fact be folks of color on the possibilities list, and there may in fact have been folks of color on the lists in the past, but for some reason 100% of the choices have always been white men. This is actually doubly ironic in that Meet The Press was created and originally hosted by a women named Martha Rountree from 1947 to 1953, as I trust you’re aware. I don’t have to tell you of NBC’s overall track record in these matters. I’d be delighted to be corrected but, for example, what major shows (other than weekend slots) on either NBC, MSNBC, or CNBC have ever been hosted by a black person other than Bryant Gumbel? NBC nightly news, the Tonight Show, and the other late night shows have only ever been hosted by whites. It’s now 2008. In light of that history, what would be wrong with consciously making an affirmative change with the open seat at Meet The Press? You may not be in charge of the decision, but no one else at NBC possesses the gravitas and influence that you possess, and a public declaration from you that it’s time to finally transcend the color line at MTP would carry an enormous amount of weight. What’s to lose? I can’t think of anything. What’s to gain? New dreams and aspirations for millions of young American folks of color who, very unfortunately, continue to be shortchanged at myriad junctures on the American dream trail. What do you say?

Best, and my sincere condolences for the loss of your friend Tim,

SCOTT PELLEGRINO

———-
Note to readers – the email below was sent to Brokaw, with a new subject line, following six days without a response.
———-

From: SCOTT PELLEGRINO
Context: No response for six days
Subject: Mr. Brokaw, very disappointed in your cowardly silence regarding desegregating Meet The Press…
6/30/2008 2:20 PM

Dear Tom,

Perhaps you missed it, but I’m again including my initial response to you below the dotted line (note to readers, see above). You have so much privilege, power, and wealth. It would take so little courage for you to help break down the racial line at MTP. Where is your conscience? Is your life nothing more than an exclusive white-male country club? What a shame, what a waste, and what a legacy.

Communally,

SCOTT PELLEGRINO

———-

From: Tom Brokaw
Subject: RE: Mr. Brokaw, very disappointed in your cowardly silence regarding desegregating Meet The Press…
6/30/2008 2:49 PM
Cc: Steve Capus, Mark Whittaker, Allison Gollust (who become and remain privy to the entire exchange)

mr. pellegrino,

what kind of self aggrandizing stunt is this?

for your information, i’ve spent most of my professional life reporting on issues of race and advocating racial fairness and justice.

just recently i completed a two hour documentary on dr. king’s life for the history channel. two years ago, in the wake of katrina, i did a prize winning documentary called Separate and Unequal about the economic and social consequences of the continuing racism in america. I won a DuPont for a documentary called Why Can’t We live Together?, a network specialon white flight in a Chicago suburb. I also reported on a documentary for NBC News on the inequality between the most black inner city schools of Milwaukee and the white suburbs. My network documentary on the affirmative action case at the University of Michigan won a number of prestigious prizes. The longest story NBC Sports brodcast during the Winter Olympics in Torino was my story of a black American Army officer and his heroics in World War II.

Throughout my career – in my books and in my television reporting – race has been a defining issue and no cheap shot columnist looking for an easy headline can take that away from me.

As I told you before, those making the decision about who will replace Tim have many choices – including African Americans, men and women.

———-

From: SCOTT PELLEGRINO
Subject: Re: Mr. Brokaw, very disappointed in your cowardly silence regarding desegregating Meet The Press…
6/30/2008 3:15 PM
Cc: Steve Capus, Mark Whittaker, Allison Gollust

Mr. Brokaw, if you’re so tuned in to matters of race, why are you afraid to come out publicly for desegregating Meet The Press after 61 years! You seem to be attempting to confuse the issue by pretending that I think you have the exclusive power to make the decision. I have not even approached insinuating that. I’m just trying to figure out why you’re reluctant to to do the very easy thing of making a public declaration that, in your opinion, NBC – not you, NBC – should make a point of hiring a host of color as the next host – following you – of Meet The Press since hosts of color have been closed out of that job 100% of the time for 61 years, and since there are so many journalists of color who are more than qualified to do the job. What is unclear about this? And what does this – "those making the decision about who will replace Tim have many choices – including African Americans, men and women" – mean? They’ve always had such choices, but the inevitable hirings have been exclusively white males since 1953. THAT’S the point! You don’t find this problematic? How is it in any way different than the segregated Golf clubs that your friend Bryant Gumbel has reported on. They always have folks of color to choose from, but ALWAYS manage to choose only whites?

———-

From: Tom Brokaw
Subject: RE: Mr. Brokaw, very disappointed in your cowardly silence regarding desegregating Meet The Press…
6/30/2008 9:14 PM
Cc: Steve Capus, Mark Whittaker, Allison Gollust

this all seems to be much more about you and your column than about racial justice but maybe even you can get this: if i say publicly that nbc must choose an african american as the new host of meet the press and then nbc management decides on an african-american man or woman based entirely on merit what do you think the reaction will be?

Oh, he/she got the job simply because they’re black.you can write whatever you want, mr. pellegrino, but i am much more confident about my judgment in these matters than i am in your judgment.

———-

From: SCOTT PELLEGRINO
Subject: Re: Mr. Brokaw, very disappointed in your cowardly silence regarding desegregating Meet The Press…
7/1/2008 4:59 PM
Cc: Steve Capus, Mark Whittaker, Allison Gollust

Not sure why you think it’s about me, though I’m all too acquainted with the folks I approach on such matters trying to divert from the subject at hand. I’ve been confronting racist media companies such as WABC, Disney, WOR, and NBC for roughly 26 of my 42 years, and my amazement at the excuses and triple-standards is perpetual (here are a couple of my pieces: New York Press – SCOTT PELLEGRINO – + SCOTT PELLEGRINO: Talk Radio’s Latest Assault on Blacks: Bob …). I think fairly privileged white/Jewish males like myself bear a particular responsibility to challenge racist media, especially in the New York area where the perpetrators both on the air and behind the scenes so often share some of my heritage. KKK-ish beasts like Bob Grant are befriended and defended by allegedly respectable figures like Joe Lieberman and Giuliani, and no one in the media calls them on it. Long before he got in a bit of hot water for tamer comments, Don Imus regularly referred to Arabs and Palestinians as "stinking animals," "stupid," "they ought to bomb ‘em all," "kill ‘em all right there," "goat-humping weasels," "ragheads," and after an Iranian airliner went down – killing 43 people – Imus said: "When I hear stories like that, I think ‘who cares’? Too bad it wasn’t all full of Saudi Arabians." If he said those things about Jews instead, is there a chance in hell you and Russert would have continued disgracing yourselves by sticking with him? Of course not. The question, Mr. Brokaw – and Mr. Capus, Mr. Whittaker, and Ms. Gollust – is why? And how do you think your colleague Gwen Iffil felt when you and Russert stuck with Imus after he said of her, “Isn’t The NY Times wonderful, it lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.” Back in the 90′s when CNBC was run by another racist creep, Andy Friendly, I used to regularly call many of their nighttime call-in shows (after bs-ing the screeners which was the only way to get through with an intelligent question) and ask why there were zero black hosts on the station. That’s why those shows eventually ceased taking any calls. It’s 2008 now, still no black-hosted shows there? Why do you think that is?

Your point about "he/she got the job simply because they’re black" holds no water, and is the exact same argument made by Affirmative Action opponents. Racists and the poorly educated claim favoritism when blacks are hired no matter what, as you well know. You want to continue catering to them, be my guest. If you want to do something useful and righteous, aggressively put the situation in context for the thinking public. Point out that for reasons both indifferent and nefarious (you may lean towards the former, myself the latter) folks of color have NEVER gotten anything close to a fair shake at NBC and it’s subsidiaries, and that not only have whites there benefited enormously from white Affirmative Action, but have actually been the the beneficiaries of a most extraordinary quota system. Do you think Carson, Leno, Russert, Letterman, Conan, yourself, Brian Williams, Keith Olberman and so on would have all been hired were they/you black, or Latin, or Asian, or Indian? Of course not. Would a piece of wood like Carson Daly have any job at all were he not white? Are you really comfortable with your kids having to suffer Carson Daly for the next 50 years?

We both know the prospect of NBC management deciding on an "African-American man or woman based entirely on merit" is a crazed pipe dream at this point in time. Just out of curiosity, how many more decades or centuries of whites-only should exist before you think folks like yourself should stand up and say something? Is there any limit? And exactly how many of the "deciders" at NBC are non-white? How would you address that?

Best,

SCOTT PELLEGRINO

———-

From: Steve Capas (responding in place of Brokaw)
Subject: Re: Mr. Brokaw, very disappointed in your cowardly silence regarding desegregating Meet The Press…
7/1/2008 5:12 PM
Cc: Tom Brokaw, Mark Whittaker, Allison Gollust

Tom has finished communicating with you. In fact, NBC’s done with you. We see no reason to speak with someone more intent on pathetic cheapshots and deranged rants. Tom gave you his original reply and you have proceeded to viciously attack him…. Real classy move. Thank you for your time.

-SAC

Steve Capus
NBC News

———-

From: SCOTT PELLEGRINO
Subject: Re: Mr. Brokaw, very disappointed in your cowardly silence regarding desegregating Meet The Press…
7/1/2008 5:32 PM
Cc: Tom Brokaw, Mark Whittaker, Allison Gollust

Back up your claim Steve. How exactly did I "viciously attack" Brokaw? And since you’ve come out of hiding now, what’s YOUR defense regarding NBC’s miserable record on the race matters I’ve raised?

Sincerely,

Scott

SCOTT PELLEGRINO is the president/CEO of Popdebate and Collegiatedebates and also a veteran talk radio producer, most recently with Roseanne Barr and Johnny Argent. He can be reached at pellegrinoland@aol.com