Dwight Ellis, a vice president with the National Association of Broadcasters, is concerned about a problem in his industry: "Black men, to some degree Asian Americans, and a great degree Native Americans, are becoming endangered groups in the industry."
Pointing to trends of the past five years, Ellis told a recent NAB-sponsored conference on minority employment that "while white women increased their share of commercial broadcast employes in 1985 compared to 1984 by 1,125, and Hispanic men increased by 379 and Hispanic women by 343," the number of black women increased by only 135 and the number of black men by 113.
Percy Sutton, chairman of New York's Inner City Broadcasting Corp., sees a similar trend: "The percentage of black males is decreasing and patterns show that the ranks of white women and Hispanics are increasing at the expense of the continued growth of blacks, Asians and Native Americans . . . . "
During the turbulent 1960s, broadcast as well as newspaper managers began hiring minority professionals, in part to gain access to news unfolding in the ghettos. By the '70s, the numbers of minorities increased throughout the media, up to 4 percent in newspapers in 1978, and 5.72 in 1985. The numbers of minorities in broadcasting had reached 15 percent by 1985. And in the past five years, Ellis has seen a shifting trend toward the increased employment of women -- both white and minority -- while the employment of black males, Asian Americans in general, and Native Americans in particular, is decreasing.
Battling the trend in one city, Operation PUSH organized a boycott of CBS' Chicago station after veteran black anchor Harry Porterfield was demoted to make way for Bill Kurtis, who returned to the station after a stint as anchor of the "CBS Morning News." As the boycott continues, PUSH is seeking to increase minority employment at the station. The basis of the PUSH argument is demographics; more than 40 percent of Chicago's viewing audience is black. Yet few TV stations have black male anchors.
In its initial demands, the civil rights group specifically urged the station to hire two male minority anchors for its weekday news broadcasts that are currently anchored by white men. A black woman is the anchor of the Sunday newscast.
"Historically, white America has always sought to undermine black men and sometimes use black women as a double minority," said the Rev. Henry Hardy, chief PUSH negotiator in the WBBM boycott.
Asked why PUSH originally specified male anchors rather than simply asking the station to hire more well-qualified minorities, despite their sex, Hardy stressed that he was not "attacking black women . . . . It was our recognition of the need for balanced presentation."
While PUSH has backed off its initial demand for black male anchors, nonetheless it almost set a dangerous precedent.
"I went berserk when I heard about it," said Carole Simpson of ABC. "What is so amazing for me is that a civil rights organization that is against discrimination would put itself in the position of discriminating against black women."
It's hard for black women to respond from an objective viewpoint. Being at the bottom of the job and income ladder, they lag behind white and black men and white women.
"Black men have had more opportunity," says Simpson. "Name a black woman who has ever been in such a highly visible role as Bryant Gumbel [cohost of NBC's "Today Show"], Ed Bradley [of "60 Minutes"] or Max Robinson [a former ABC News anchor]."
According to George Gerbner, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Communications, "When a black child looks at prime time, most of the people he sees doing interesting and important things are white," an imbalance that teaches him or her to feel that a low social status for minorities is inevitable, even deserved.
Such realities as those Gerbner cites, as well as the trends pointed out by Ellis and Sutton, make it a good idea for PUSH to protest the declining number of minorities in broadcasting. But a civil rights group can't specify gender in its efforts to redress grievances for those minorities. As that overly trite expression goes, two wrongs don't make a right.