Some staffers in the KCAL-TV Channel 9 newsroom were angered this week that management decided to send white anchor David Jackson to Somalia rather than black reporter and anchor Larry Carroll, who has experience covering famine and relief efforts in East Africa.
Carroll--a veteran journalist who made two documentaries on the famine that struck the region in the mid-1980s and is married to an Ethiopian woman he met while working there--sent a memo Monday to KCAL news director Bob Henry expressing disappointment that his expertise was overlooked.
"I didn't attempt to scold him. I just said I was disappointed that he made the decision on who to send before I could remind him of my expertise in the area. It's conceivable that he could have forgot about that," Carroll said in an interview.
"But having seen all kinds of decisions over my years in a newsroom, perhaps they didn't overlook it. It's entirely possible that it was made for commercial reasons. David is, after all, the anchor of the 9 p.m. news, a very successful broadcast with a national and international focus, and this is an international and national story. I can see how those considerations might have been foremost in their minds."
Henry denied that commercial considerations played any role in the decision. He said that Jackson was assigned to the story because of his "excellent track record" in covering combat situations in foreign countries. "He is clearly our best overseas reporter," the news director said.
"We appreciate having Larry on our staff and hopefully he will make a significant contribution by reporting on different angles from here," Henry said.
Neither Carroll, who came to KCAL as weekend anchor in 1989 after 17 years as a reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7, nor others in the newsroom who complained about the decision disparaged Jackson's ability.
But one KCAL staffer, who did not want to be identified, pointed out that "when it came to the riots, our management wanted to send black reporters to South-Central Los Angeles as cannon fodder because they were convinced that they could dig the stories out of the 'hood better than the white reporters. But when it comes to a high-profile international black story, these same black reporters get ignored, even when they are the most qualified to cover it."
"I can't deny there is a paradox in reasoning there, but I'm not in a position to tell you what management is thinking," said Carroll, who has traveled through Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia and Djibouti, although not since 1986. "I do feel that there is a distinct possibility that having people with exposure to Africa and an understanding of the cultures there would serve our coverage well."
Henry vigorously denied that race played a role in assignments during the riots or for the story in Somalia. "I'm very surprised (that someone would say that)," he said. "It's not how we operate here." He pointed out that several African-American reporters have been sent on assignments outside of Los Angeles.