Monday, July 4, 2022

Former CNN Reporter Soledad O’Brien: Making Moves as Her Own Boss

Soledad O’Brien.

*Accomplished reporter and journalist Soledad O’Brien isn’t the type of woman who sugarcoats her words or turns a blind eye to injustice.

With an Afro Cuban and Irish heritage, she’s also unafraid to challenge the forces of racial and economic oppression looming over America and other parts of the world.

Earning multiple Peabody awards for the coverage she provided during Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, O’Brien’s status in the media realm is firmly cemented.

However, in spite of her achievements, O’Brien was muscled out of her senior position at CNN after she publicly chastised police for their abhorrent treatment of black males and other groups of color.

Eleven years ago, O’Brien’s former boss called her into his office to upbraid her about a comment she had made while promoting her multipart series Black in America. At a panel, O’Brien had said she had interviewed black parents from various socioeconomic backgrounds, all of whom said they had conversations with their sons about how to navigate interactions with police. The superior, who was white, told her this experience was not specific to people of color, and that white parents had this discussion with their sons too. He requested that she stop publicly speaking about young black men and police brutality, Rolling Stone reports.

O’Brien was stunned.

“I’d spent 18 months working on that doc,” the veteran journalist recalls in the office of her company, Soledad O’Brien Productions. “But the idea that I would come back with something that challenged his belief was just not acceptable.” Nonetheless, she wanted to keep her job, and she knew that speaking out would be career suicide. “I didn’t tell that story,” she says. “Until I was telling it on Twitter.”

And once she started telling stories, she found she couldn’t stop.

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Over the past few years, she has become one of establishment media’s most fiery critics. On Twitter, where she has more than a million followers, O’Brien regularly blasts outlets for coverage that minimizes the threats posed by Trump’s administration.

“A hot mess,” she tweeted about a CNN interview with a Trump-supporting congressional candidate. Of a quote from New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet about how Trump’s victory was impossible for the media to predict: “This, folks, is bullshit.”

In 2003, she joined CNN, where she helmed the Black in America series and won an Emmy for her coverage of the 2012 presidential election. In 2013, however, while she was hosting the morning show Starting Point, her CNN career ended abruptly when she was pushed out by then-incoming president Jeff Zucker.

“When Jeff came in I knew they were gonna go a different direction, so I was ready,” O’Brien says. It also helped that, as part of the terms of her exit, CNN became the first client for Soledad O’Brien Productions, airing documentaries like 2014’s The War Comes Home, which focused on veterans with PTSD. She now heads up a staff of 11 from its headquarters in New York, traveling one night a week to shoot her syndicated TV talk show, Matter of Fact.

Being her own boss has given O’Brien the freedom to spotlight stories told by marginalized or underrepresented voices.

“When you’re largely self-employed, you have a lot more latitude to call it as you see it,” says her former executive producer Kim Bondy, who first met O’Brien at NBC News, in 1997. “There’s no calling her to the principal’s office. She is the principal.”

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