Obama’s Press Office Needs Diversity

Roland S. Martin, CNN, February 4, 2009

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I got an e-mail Tuesday listing all of the various press folks and contact information, and hardly any African-Americans or Hispanics were listed. Granted, the deputy press secretary is African-American and the director of broadcast media is Hispanic. That’s not sufficient.

Unfortunately, this shouldn’t come as a shock, because the campaign press staff of then-Sen. Barack Obama was just as weak on diversity.

Just because there is a black president doesn’t mean that issues like diversity should be cast aside. President Obama should be held to the same standard when it comes to this issue as any other occupier of that office. I am a former national board member of the National Association of Black Journalists, and my support for diversity never wavers, no matter who is running the show.

One of the reasons this is important is because just like in the media, where there are bigger and better things awaiting the White House correspondent, a position in the White House press office positions someone for the next level.

When the press secretary leaves, the president normally chooses the next one from those ranks. We’ve never seen a black or Hispanic press secretary standing at the podium each day giving daily briefings, and when there are none on the bench, well, that streak will continue.

Looking at the roster of other offices, I don’t believe there’s even one African-American or Hispanic who is the primary spokesman or number two at any of the major departments, such as Treasury, State, and Justice.

These coveted positions often lead to the top jobs in communications firms in Washington and around the country, and even junior staffers now are tapped for senior jobs in the next administration (Look at how many junior staffers on President Bill Clinton’s team are now senior staffers for President Barack Obama).

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The election of President Barack Obama means that one barrier, albeit a major one, has been torn down. But that doesn’t mean that others don’t need to come tumbling down as well. For those groups that have often been marginalized, it’s important to have the doors of opportunity opened.

If diversity truly matters, then it must be emphasized and realized top down. The company leaders in corporate diversity got there because the CEO made it clear that it mattered, and they demanded their underlings make it a reality.

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If change is truly what this president wants to bring to bear, let’s see change across the board. He should make it clear that the clubby atmosphere in Washington of hire-who-you-know has gone out the window, and that window has been opened up for the next generation of talented individuals. The power positions matter a lot in the nation’s capital, and when you have a seat at the table, that’s what counts.

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I’ve been told that not all hiring has been completed in the White House press office and in other areas. OK, fine. But the A-team has clearly been hired, and that means anyone else coming in the door is on the B-team. And that just won’t cut it.

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Roland S. Martin

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