CNN personality Soledad O'Brien revealed in her new book that liberal activist Jesse Jackson put her down for her skin color during a private meeting in 2007. During the meeting, Jackson complained to O'Brien, whose mother is a black woman from Cuba, that there weren't any black anchors on CNN. When she pointed out that she was the anchor of American Morning, the activist replied, "You don't count."
O'Brien, who is now a special correspondent for CNN, recounted the 2007 incident in "The Next Big Story," which CNN.com excerpted on November 3. Just before her meeting with Jackson, the journalist had obtained "exclusive access to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s papers," as the lead-in for the excerpt underlined. Soon after this, as O'Brien recalled, "Jackson calls with an invitation to meet and talk." The two met at a restaurant "on the first floor of a famous hotel" and in the course of their conversation, the subject of the racial makeup of her network came up:
Today he is angry because CNN doesn't have enough black anchors. It is political season. There are billboards up sporting Paula Zahn and Anderson Cooper. He asks after the black reporters. Why are they not up there? I share his concern and make a mental note to take it back to my bosses. But then he begins to rage that there are no black anchors on the network at all. Does he mean covering the campaign, I wonder to myself? The man has been a guest on my show. He knows me, even if he doesn't recall how we met. I brought him on at MSNBC, then again at Weekend Today. I interrupt to remind him I'm the anchor of American Morning. He knows that. He looks me in the eye and reaches his fingers over to tap a spot of skin on my right had. He shakes his head. "You don't count," he says. I wasn't sure what that meant. I don't count- what? I'm not black? I'm not black enough? Or my show doesn't count?
The CNN personality continued by describing how affected she was by the remark:
I was both angry and embarrassed, which rarely happens at the same time for me. Jesse Jackson managed to make me ashamed of my skin color which even white people had never been able to do....If Reverend Jesse Jackson didn't think I was black enough, then what was I? My parents had so banged racial identity into my head that the thoughts of racial doubt never crossed my mind. I'd suffered an Afro through the heat of elementary school. I'd certainly never felt white. I thought my version of black was as valid as anybody else's. I was a product of my parents (black woman, white man) my town (mostly white), multiracial to be sure, but not black? I felt like the foundation I'd built my life on was being denied, as if someone was telling me my parents aren't my parents....The arbiter of blackness had weighed in. I had been measured and found wanting.
O'Brien might have been angry as well because early in 2007, the same year she had this racially-charged meeting with Jackson, she had defended him and his counterpart, the Reverend Al Sharpton, on-air during a February 19 segment on American Morning:Hate to admit it, but Jesse's on point here and Soledad's an idiot for pretending not to know what context he made his statement in. CNN does have a problem when it comes to diversity within its news staff and while they're not as indelibly white as say MSNBC, passing off light-skinned negroes to fill in your quota form just doesn't fly in the black community.
O'BRIEN: There will be people who might think watching TV that you and Jesse Jackson are the only black leaders in this country practically. Every time there is an event, a shooting, something to be said, something to respond to the black community, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are there in front of the microphones....But do Reverend Sharpton and Reverend Jackson speak for all African-Americans? One lawmaker (Rep. Maxine Waters) says if it seems that way, blame the media.