September 13th, 2010
01:01 PM ET
10 years ago

Up close view for African Americans in White House briefing room

Washington (CNN) –The briefing room spotlight shines brightest on White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, but turn the camera around and focus on the front row and you might just catch a glimpse of history being made.

For the first time, as far as anyone can tell, three African American correspondents occupied front row seats together and peppered Gibbs with questions. It happened last Thursday as the controversy over the Quran burning hit a fever pitch.

"That is amazing," Gibbs said, surprised that in 2010 this milestone had never been reached.

Darlene Superville of the Associated Press sat in the seat of power. Tradition holds that AP get's the first question and signals to Gibbs when it's time to wrap with a simple "thank you Robert."

Wendell Goler, a veteran Fox News White House correspondent, pressed Gibbs on the Quran story, and the White House targeting of House Minority leader John Boehner over tax cuts for the wealthy. Those were similar to questions I had pushed from a different angle earlier, when Gibbs called on me.

"Three blacks sitting on the front row of the White House briefing room is long overdue," said April Ryan of American Urban Radio Network, (AURN) who recalls conversations she had with former President George W. Bush over the small number of minorities in the press covering him.

CBS News' Mark Knoller, the unofficial record keeper of the White House press corps, was intrigued when asked to verify this 'historic event,' but was stumped. He's crunched a lot of numbers, but has not tracked the African American front row traffic.

To be sure, circumstance as much as diversity is behind this development.

Goler, who has covered five different Presidents, got to sit in Fox's newly minted front row seat when Hearst Columnist Helen Thomas was forced out after making controversial remarks about Israel.

But some observers say it's hard to ignore other small signs of progress. For example, on the same day that three African Americans graced the front row of the briefing room, two others, Helene Cooper of the New York Times and Ryan of AURN, also got called on by Gibbs.

Then, the next day another apparent first which was noted by Gibbs. President Obama called on four African Americans during his East Room press conference.

Ryan said more important than just being on the front lines of questioning the President on the day's news, is the fact that she often focuses on topics that "no other news agency would care to formally probe." For example, she's taken the lead in pushing for answers over a delayed government settlement with black farmers. Other networks later picked up on the story.

Much was made when America elected the first African American President, but only a few stories focused on the race of the men and women who cover him.

No one sees "the front row three" or the "press conference four" as a sea change, but Ryan said it's a sign of progress that should not be taken lightly. "It falls on the news agencies to continue the progressive moves to hire all types of minorities to staff their various bureaus."

Filed under: White House
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    America has lost so much by chosing race over the most brilliant minds. If we are going to remain competitive now and in the future it's important to think smart and not along racial divide.

    September 13, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  2. T'SAH from Virginia

    Yes We Can!!!

    Now let's see what the IMPOSTER says about this editorial who is using my name in an attempt to impersonate me!! There is only ONE T'SAH from Virginia!!

    September 13, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  3. President Obozo: On vacation and OUT TO LUNCH

    If we keep calling out these great milestones based on race will we EVER be a color blind society? Just asking...

    September 13, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  4. Dave, Central Illinois

    How racist of CNN to notice. I just saw three Americans. Hyphenated Americanisms have no place in a color-blind society. That's one of the reasons I am not a Democrat.

    September 13, 2010 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  5. barry

    Why do we continue to focus on the color of peoples skin? We are Americans not Irish America, Jewish American, African American, etc. We should be proud to be American. Why race bait with a story like this? If these three Americans were the best for their respective jobs then that is great. That is what the American Dream is all about. Stop trying to divide the country with race. President Obama continues to try to divide this country with race. If you aren't proud to be American and want to divide on race or religion, maybe you would be happier in another country.

    September 13, 2010 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  6. Lillie

    lOverdue! can't believe we're still talking about a first as it relates to people of color in 2010 in America.....

    September 13, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  7. Donkey Party

    Such a travesty that a front-row seat is held by Fox News, which isn't really a news channel at all, but a foreign owned and operated propaganda machine leased to the Republicans to help the greedy, and to make the rich richer. If there is a God, he'd send someone to firebomb the place, or just do it himself with a massive bolt of lightning.

    September 13, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  8. Jim

    Why is everything about color and race? This is the most divisive president I've ever seen!

    September 13, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  9. felicia

    Why does everything has to be a first with AA's.

    September 13, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  10. save america, vote out republicans

    According to Newt and the Baggers, it might be unAmerican to let African Americans sit in these seats.

    September 13, 2010 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  11. W L Jones

    Why the reporter did not name the African country they came from?

    September 13, 2010 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  12. Seriously?!

    I was shocked and delighted to hear Obama call on the Russian reporter at his news conference. Great to finally see some more representation in reporters. Hope there's more to come.

    September 13, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  13. NC

    Well we are all talented, intelligent Americans. Sorry tea party I know you hate the thought that all Americans can be treated with respect.

    September 13, 2010 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  14. Peter s

    You see people!!! this what I call Yellow journalism or the yellow press a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers or draw a bigger crowd. Look here, Dan Lothian, people like you who have earned a bachelor's degree from Tennessee Temple University and a master's degree from American University in Washington, D.C. should have bigger cojones and stop seeing America in black and white "properly put as Caucasians and Negroids." SIR, YOU ARE THERE BECAUSE YOU CAN DO THE JOB PERIOD!!

    September 13, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  15. Mark

    Let me get this straight. Blacks make up 14% of the US population, but yet Gibbs is "shocked" that this is first time that 3 blacks were in the front row. 14% of the US population people !!! ...but yet every little event/article is trying to make White America feel bad....this madness has to stop!! Look at US television, tell me that it is a true representation of the US population. I had an Uncle from Europe over this past summer, spent 2 weeks, he watched a lot of television. When he found out that Blacks are only 14% of the pop. he was amazed/confused/bewildered, he thought it was around 40% all based on what he saw in passing on the t.v.

    September 13, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |