Tiffany Cross Takes Media, Pundits to Task for Erasing Black Voices

Lady against a white backdrop
Tiffany Cross, on-air political analyst, publisher, and author

Tiffany Cross is known for her deeply trenchant takes on America’s social and political landscapes. On-air political analyst, publisher, a Spring 2020 resident fellow at Harvard University Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics, and now author, Cross cut her teeth in cable news at CNN and later published her own digital-native news site, The Beat DC. She was the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for BET News and liaison to the Obama Administration for BET Networks. In her new book, Say it Louder: Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy (Amistad/HarperCollins), she examines the ways in which America’s political media shortchanges Black media professionals and Black voters alike, thus doing the Black voter and Democracy itself a disservice.

I recently caught up with Cross for a brief interview. You describe the backlash against Sen. Kamala Harris in your book. Harris, along with Stacey Abrams and Susan Rice, has been mentioned as a possible vice president on the Democratic ticket for this year’s presidential elections. Whom do you think would be most effective overall for the times in which we now live?

Cross: I’m not a journalist so I wouldn’t endorse a candidate. But I will say that [Democratic presidential candidate] Joe Biden has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to capable Black women who would make an official running mate on the ticket. Joy Reid, an African-American journalist, just nabbed a hosting spot in MSNBC’s prime time lineup, a position no other African-American woman occupies on other channels, even though Black women voters are a crucial element in elections. How do we best support talent like Joy Reid, and how do viewers make sure network executives know we are watching and ensure that diverse talent gets a fair shot to succeed?

Cross: People should support Joy Reid definitely by tuning into her show. Ratings obviously matter. I can’t exactly speak for a network executive as I was a rank and file worker when I did cable news. But I would say the first step would be for the people in power, who have a disproportionate amount of power on what the media landscape looks like, that face has to be diverse, and you have to give people of color and diverse voices editorial decision-making power. You co-founded and ran a successful online publication that covered politics from diverse perspectives. Why did you decide to stop publishing The Beat DC?

Cross: As I said in Say It Louder, we really could not get funding. I faced an all-white venture capitalist space and nobody found the platform valuable despite our rapid growth and

wide reach across the country. How can the average reader support the next person who comes out with a really smart, relevant, inclusive online publication?

Cross: I think when people publicly  declare their support for things across social media outlets, there are people who watch that and tell their friends to sign up. They spread the word that this is a great platform with great information, so that is helpful. Also, you can make the effort to find out who funds platforms. So, for example if you find out who funds Axios, then it will be a great thing to reach out to them and say, “Hey I read this great platform everyday and so do all my friends. You ought to look into the platform.” That’s just a few things to show support, other than actually consuming the product and telling everybody you know to consume it as well. Say It Louder describes where Black voters find themselves politically, with neither of the two major parties truly engaging them and the media not fully valuing them. Does this mean Black voters must have higher standards than they already have when it comes to being politically informed?

Cross: Yes. Information is important and people should definitely make the habit of reading papers every day and questioning the outlet that they consume information from. They should also be good stewards of who they’re patronizing, and also share responsibly. That means you don’t share content from resources that aren’t reputable or that you don’t recognize. Those are just a few ways people can make sure that information is getting to the right sources. What should Black voters do to ensure their voices are heard in November?

Cross: I wouldn’t put the onus on Black voters. I would put the onus on candidates reaching out to a Black voting base. Black voters make sure their voices are heard every election cycle and yet they’re so often not centered in political discussions – specifically in political discussions in the media. Black voters are doing all the things they can do to uphold democracy. You describe your frustration with the media’s portrayal of white voters, but not Blacks, in a nuanced manner. Whites are described as soccer moms, NASCAR dads, etc. whereas Blacks are lumped together as “the Black voter,” not “basketball dads,” “aunties,” etc. With Blacks in media, including journalists, having more opportunity to reach the American audience, will the diversity of the Black voting populace be better reflected in media discussions?

Cross: Black journalists have always done a great job of accurately covering the Black community. In diverse spaces, though, they haven’t historically had that freedom. We’ve been asking for this for a long time, so we’ll see.