One of the dangers in being a pioneer is that you sometimes run into people who try to shoot arrows at your back. In your article "For BET, Some Static in the Picture" [Style, Nov. 22], not only did your arrows miss their target, but also the attack itself was unwarranted and undeserving of the space given to it.
The first misguided arrow was reporter Paul Farhi's decision to elevate a 25-year-old comic strip writer, Aaron McGruder, and his irresponsible and simple-minded comments to the level of a bonafide critic of all that BET Holdings has accomplished in its 20-year history. Farhi should know that McGruder previously approached BET about turning his cartoon into a BET television show, and we rejected it.
The most appalling of McGruder's charges was that BET "does not serve the interest of black people."
The 500 people who work at BET represent a cross section of this country's finest African American talent with a myriad of expertise and career experiences. It is inconceivable that these people would lend their service to BET without ensuring that BET has at the core a commitment to serve the interests of our African American viewers and stakeholders.
To set the record straight, let me point out a few examples that demonstrate this commitment:
(1) When we established a site for our corporate headquarters, we chose a site in Northeast Washington, one of the city's forgotten corridors.
(2) BET recently contributed $300,000 to the United Negro College Fund as part of our "Walk Of Fame" event honoring Diana Ross.
(3) BET donates more than $1 million annually to various charities and organizations. Most of these organizations focus on African American interests and the needs of our community at large.
McGruder also criticizes BET for running infomercials. No one has ever denied that infomercials are an important source of ad revenue for BET. Networks such as USA, Discovery, the Learning Channel, Comedy Central, Lifetime and CNBC all supplement their cable revenue with infomercials. Like these networks, BET does not air infomercials during our primary viewing hours.
Your article pointed out that BET is in a dispute with the Hollywood labor union, AFTRA. All media companies, broadcasters, cable programmers, film studios and, yes, even your paper are subject to union organizing efforts. Like those companies, BET reserves the right to establish business relations that are in the best interest of BET, and we don't invite unions into the middle of these negotiations. However, BET production affiliates have agreements with unions including the Directors Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and even AFTRA where we feel it's appropriate.
Another arrow aimed at BET targeted our music video programming. Music videos have been and always will be the anchor of our programming format. Music entertainment is the dominant cultural expression in African American society, and as the only African American entertainment network, we would be remiss if we did not provide full exposure to the music genres of rhythm and blues, rap, hip-hop, jazz and gospel.
Instead of interviewing Julian Bond about our music videos, perhaps Farhi should have interviewed Master P, Puffy, Lauren Hill, Whitney Houston, Babyface and the thousands of their fans who regularly watch music videos on BET. The fact is music videos were never produced to appeal to a 50-plus-year-old demographic.
Your reporter interviewed another critic who singled out BET's late-night variety show, "Live from LA." The viewer complained about one segment in the show, which she found distasteful. Yet this same show has aired more than 60 episodes since it premiered in September and has showcased more African American celebrities and performers than Leno and Letterman combined in their entire history.
Furthermore, "Live from LA" employs more black writers, producers, actors and directors than any other show in Hollywood.
Finally, it is ironic that Farhi would sum up his assault on BET by asking, "When will BET grow up?" considering that his article was based on the criticisms of a comic strip writer, a union activist, a 55-plus-year-old non-fan of music videos and one disenchanted viewer. The fact is BET already has grown up.
The writer is chairman
and CEO of BET.