- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2000

Consider the extraordinary announcements made recently by the NAACP, NBC and ABC, two of the four television networks under threat of an NAACP boycott for failing to feature minorities on the air in numbers deemed acceptable to the civil rights organization. At separate news conferences with NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, NBC president Bob Wright, and, later, ABC president Patricia Fili-Krushel, announced unprecedented, top-to-bottom "diversity initiatives" designed to recruit minorities for television industry positions, both in front of, but mainly behind, the camera, starting with ground-level page positions, extending to writing and directing slots, and reaching all the way up to boardroom executive seats.

In other words, under duress the negotiations have been widely described as "rancorous," "tense," and "difficult" a substantial sector of Hollywood (CBS and Fox are expected to follow suit within days) has agreed to create and, of course, pay millions of dollars for what must be one of the most extensive programs of racial preferences ever conceived of beyond the realm of government. With the help of the NAACP, the networks will revise their old "affirmative action" policies (they already had such policies, of course), institute new-and-improved diversity training seminars for all personnel, and set up minority internships, scholarships, and mentoring programs. Not least, they will pursue minority job recruitment with an unprecedented urgency. NBC has actually pledged to add an extra, novice minority writer to the writing staffs of every show that enters a second season ("It might get to be a little like having the boss' son on your staff," one executive ventured anonymously to the New York Times).

Not to be outdone, ABC has promised to tie bonuses and promotion to executives' "diversity" records. All of which will be taking place under the watchful eye of the NAACP, which is opening a Hollywood office, a kind of cultural commissariat, to monitor the networks' progress.

And not just within the networks themselves. Soon, Hollywood honchos will rub shoulders with the resident "minority sourcing executive," a new, NAACP-inspired post created to boost network commerce with minority-owned businesses. NBC, for one, has already promised to double their truck with minority-owned businesses over the next 18 months, budgeting an additional $10 million to do so. In short, at a time when the policies of affirmative action are increasingly discredited and suffering reversals in the courts and at the ballot box, Hollywood has pledged to create a new, permanent and downright Orwellian bureaucracy beyond the bottom line, conceived and dedicated to the entrenchment of affirmative action.

The networks may think they have tied up their diversity problems, but, of course, there are more minorities out there than Mr. Mfume speaks for. "Unbeknownst to us," Esteban Torres of the National Hispanic Media Coalition told The New York Times, "Mr. Mfume went to a press conference with NBC to address the issues and we were not invited. We thought we were working as a coalition." So did Sonny Skyhawk, president of the American Indians in Film and Television, and Norman Y. Mineta, the director of the Asian Pacific American Coalition. They, apparently, have grievances, too, ranging from Mr. Torres' desire to see "vice presidents for diversity" at the networks, to Mr. Skyhawk's hopes for redress for American Indians, who have, he has said, "the unenviable legacy of being the most egregiously maligned race in the history of [film and TV]." Now, it looks like the networks will have to negotiate more than a few separate peaces. Or, as Mr. Torres put it to the Hollywood Reporter on announcing new meetings with network heads in the offing, "We want to see inclusion on this thing."

It's quite a concept: Streisand politics comes home to the Land of the Bottom Line. We can't wait to see how this one comes out.

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