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Tensions Continue to Boil in NABJ and CNN Diversity Dispute

CNN faces more issues with diversity

Credit: Jessica McGowan for The New York Times

The president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), Bob Butler, has fired back at CNN, accusing the major network of calling him a liar.

Last Friday, Butler issued a press release that stated that CNN had “withdrawn support of NABJ for the 2015 Convention & Career Fair,” but CNN says that’s absolutely not true.

“They’re basically calling me a liar,” Butler said during an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog. “That’s very disturbing.”

While Butler insists that CNN made it very clear that they wanted nothing to do with the NABJ, CNN released a statement that contradicted those claims.

“Following NABJ’s recent comments about CNN, we informed them we were reconsidering our relationship, but we were clear that we had not made a final decision. It’s surprising to us that they would choose to make such a statement.”

So what “recent comments” caused tensions to boil between CNN and the NABJ in the first place?

A major diversity dispute kicked off between the two last month and has been causing a rift in their relationship ever since.

Butler recently visited CNN’s offices in New York to discuss further details of the partnership for the 2015 NABJ 40th Annual Convention and Career Fair.

Before Butler left, it seemed everyone was on the same page and ready to move forward for the benefit of the fair, which is scheduled to take place Aug. 5-9 in Minneapolis.

The only thing left was for the NABJ to send a “request for support” along with a detailed outline of what the organization wanted to see from CNN at the convention.

As fate would have it, however, that request for support showed up to CNN’s offices at the same time as a press release issued by the NABJ that cited “concerns” regarding the company’s relationship with their Black journalists.

Shortly after Butler met with the higher-ups at CNN in New York, headlines revealed a major lawsuit against CNN for wrongful termination and discrimination.

A former African-American producer who had worked for CNN for nearly 20 years filed the $5 million lawsuit.

The producer’s name is Stanley Wilson and the list of allegations in his lawsuit against CNN was too much for the NABJ to turn a blind eye to.

The lawsuit accuses CNN of denying Wilson promotions, assigning him to menial tasks, refusing to negotiate about discrimination and retaliation and failing to take a stance against discrimination and retaliation that many Black employees faced at their offices.

He also claimed that CNN passed him up for opportunities that were then handed to less experienced white employees.

According to Butler, the lawsuit was so alarming because it was also extremely familiar.

“I have talked to people who’ve said the same exact thing to me,” Butler said.

The press release issued by Butler and the NABJ pointed out that CNN has bid farewell to many African-American employees recently, including Soledad O’Brien, TJ Holmes and Suzanne Malveaux.

The NABJ allegedly offered CNN an opportunity to respond to the allegations before issuing the press release, but reports claim CNN declined.

Ultimately, this resulted in the press release and the request for support arriving at CNN’s offices around the same time.

Needless to say, it would be concerning for the NABJ to continue to move forward with CNN if the network was, in fact, creating an atmosphere that was unwelcoming to African-American employees.

Instead of getting a response to the allegations from CNN, Butler claims they received a call that clearly turned down the opportunity for CNN to partner with the NABJ.

“As a reporter, I would never have put this out had it not been said,” said Butler, who is a reporter for KCBS Radio in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, all CNN had to say about letting go of more African-American employees during another round of job cuts was, “The changes this week are difficult yet necessary. Out of respect for our colleagues directly impacted, we won’t be commenting on specific people or programs.”

In the past few weeks, CNN has lost another 300 employees through layoffs and buyouts as the network bid farewell to programs like Crossfire, Unguarded, Sanjay Gupta MD and CNN Money. 



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