AAPI Civic and Civil Rights Groups Urge Cable News Networks to Improve On-Air Diversity


Mere weeks after Ann Coulter called Asian Americans the racially charged slur “Mandarins” on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, twenty-three of the nation’s largest, oldest, and most prominent AAPI civic and civil rights organizations have penned a joint open letter (press statement | full letter) to MSNBC, CNN and Fox urging the cable news networks to improve diversity in their primetime and Sunday morning programming.

According to Media Matters, Asian Americans are profoundly underrepresented on most cable news networks, and are less than 3% of guests or hosts that appear on CNN, MSNBC or Fox’s nightly or Sunday morning programming. By comparison, Asian Americans are nearly 7% of the American population.

Our underrepresentation is particularly troubling when considered alongside the seemingly routine mischaracterizations of AAPIs by non-Asian guests or hosts who seem to have no problem appearing on cable news programming. Quite simply, AAPIs and other people of colour are being systematically denied the opportunity to participate in forums wherein our nation’s political discourse is shaped.

In recent years, cable news networks have enabled the broadcast of numerous problematic statements targeting AAPIs, including (but not limited to):

In the joint open letter — which this blog helped in part to organize alongside members of the National Council for Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) — AAPI civic and civil rights organizations argued that cable news networks have the responsibility to not let these comments continue to be broadcast in isolation. Writes the letter:

 We urge your networks to consider the message sent to Asian American and Pacific Islander viewers and consumers when non-AAPI analysts use air-time to label Asian Americans with slurs while AAPI commentators are not invited on-air to discuss the AAPI community. We ask that your networks devote more air-time to serious discussion involving the AAPI community and that you commit to significantly increasing the number of AAPI guests who appear on your networks’ shows to discuss these and other issues.

The letter was addressed to executives at each of the “Big 3” cable news networks, and demands that MSNBC, CNN, and Fox commit to holding a meeting between their editorial boards and members of the AAPI community to discuss ways in which the networks might improve their on-air diversity. To date, no response has been received from the networks.

In a press statement announcing the open letter, Chris Kang of NCAPA said:

Networks need to ensure that Asian American and Pacific Islander voices and perspectives are heard and that issues of importance to our communities are discussed. If we are invisible in the media, racial slurs and inaccurate portrayals of AAPIs will persist, but when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are better represented–in particular, in the news–it allows for a more diverse understanding across all communities. All Americans–including AAPIs–deserve more accurate representation in our media.

The full press statement can be read here.

Here is the full text of the joint letter (which is also available for download as a .pdf here).

June 16, 2016

Phil Griffin

Andrew Lack
President and Chairman
NBC News

Craig Robinson
Executive VP, Chief Diversity Officer
NBC Universal

Jeff Zucker

Geraldine Moriba
VP of Diversity

Roger Ailes
Chairman and CEO
Fox News

Jay Wallace
Executive Vice President
Fox News

Dear Mr. Griffin, Mr. Lack, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Zucker, Ms. Moriba, Mr. Ailes, and Mr. Wallace,

We write this joint letter to express our concerns regarding the representation of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community on your cable news networks. Collectively, CNN, MSNBC and Fox reach more than 3.5 million primetime viewers per day, and recent events raise troubling questions about the characterization and lack of inclusion of the AAPI community on your programming.

On Friday, May 27, 2016, Ann Coulter appeared as a guest of the Hardball with Chris Matthews show on MSNBC. During her segment, Ms. Coulter referred to Asian Americans as “Mandarins.” We are shocked by Ms. Coulter’s use of this archaic and inappropriate term to refer to our community, and we are further disappointed that when challenged by fellow guest, Joy Reid, Ms. Coulter refused to correct her problematic usage of this term. The platform provided to Ms. Coulter underscores our frustration regarding the absence of AAPI guests on cable news network programming.

We are reminded of similar incidents, including last month when Representative Peter King used an anti-Japanese American slur during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe , and was not challenged by anyone on the program for doing so, and when Fox News’ The Five’s then-co-host Bob Beckel (currently an analyst for CNN) used an antiAsian slur on-air to refer to Chinese people in 2014.

More alarming to us, however, is that commentators such as these routinely receive opportunities on your networks to discuss — and, too often, to offend — the AAPI community and other marginalized groups, while members of those same marginalized groups are not presented with similar opportunity to respond. While we understand that a guest’s comments are not generally reflective of the network’s views, it is troubling that representatives from our communities are routinely absent from your networks’ programming.

The topic of Asian American underrepresentation and misrepresentation in Hollywood has been the focus of recent articles in The New York Times and NPR, as well as MSNBC’s own NBC Asian America, and our absence from cable news outlets is cause for similar concern. At nearly 6% of the American population, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial community in America. Comprising more than 21.8 million Americans, AAPIs are voracious consumers of televised and digital media, spending approximately 30% more of our screen time on websites devoted to news and information compared to the average American. Yet, reports find that Asian Americans constitute less than 3% of guests invited to appear on cable networks’ nightly news or Sunday morning political talk shows, with fewer still identified as Southeast Asian American and/or Pacific Islander. Furthermore, topics explicitly affecting the AAPI community are discussed with even less frequency.

We recognize that MSNBC, CNN and Fox have all made significant investments towards improving overall racial and gender diversity on your networks, but clearly more work remains to be done.

To that end, we urge your networks to consider the message sent to Asian American and Pacific Islander viewers and consumers when non-AAPI analysts use air-time to label Asian Americans with slurs while AAPI commentators are not invited on-air to discuss the AAPI community. We ask that your networks devote more air-time to serious discussion involving the AAPI community and that you commit to significantly increasing the number of AAPI guests who appear on your networks’ shows to discuss these and other issues.

The Asian American and Pacific Islander community is a growing political force in America. We are deeply troubled by recent examples of flippantly offensive comments made towards Asian Americans on cable news, but more importantly we expect that MSNBC, CNN and Fox will take the necessary steps to address the continuing lack of AAPI representation on primetime cable news that permitted such insensitive remarks to be made about the AAPI community in the first place. We propose that such steps to improve AAPI inclusion be discussed in a meeting between your network’s editorial board and representatives of the AAPI community, which we ask to take place within 90 days.


18 Million Rising
Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF)
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian American Justice Center (AAAJ-AAJC)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (AAAJ-ALC)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago (AAAJ-Chicago)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA)
Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO)
Center for APA Women
Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)
Leaders Forum
National Asian / Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship (ACE)
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA)
National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA)
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)
National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates (OCA)
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Hours after this letter was released this morning, the Asian American Journalists’ Association (AAJA) issued a separate statement of support for the letter. It reads in part:

At the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), we know news organizations need to represent multiple viewpoints — and sometimes those viewpoints will be controversial. But AAJA challenges networks and their anchors to call it out when a guest uses a derogatory term.

By allowing guests to use antiquated terms that demean Asian Americans, journalists are being complicit in allowing slurs and misrepresentation to persist.

We encourage news organizations to diversify their choice of guests and to empower their news anchors to speak up when offensive terms are mentioned without proper context.

What you can do:

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  • Courtney Houston

    I think demographic numbers don’t really mean anything if you’re not impacting American pop culture.

  • evelyn kim

    Hi Courtney,

    I disagree with your opinion, particularly about your claim that AAPIs are “not impacting American pop culture”. The blog that you’re commenting on refutes your claim, and so does YouTube’s role as a content sharing platform for many Asian-American performing artists and entrepreneurs. I could continue on with more examples.

    Also, demographic numbers do mean something from my viewpoint. Based on the information in this blog post, the proportion of AAPI news commentators doesn’t match up with the proportion of AAPIs in the general population, and that’s a problem– it means people who don’t identify as AAPI get to speak on a racial and cultural identity that they can’t personally claim for themselves.

  • Courtney Houston

    Please continue with these examples how Asian Americans are impacting pop culture? Because I think that’s the major reason why they’re so overlooked in representation on all fronts in America, I mean outside of the whole white supremacist institution thing. LOL Participating in performing arts is good and I hope more Asian Americans encourage more of their children to go into the Arts, however being there just isn’t enough; you have to be better and influential in order to supercede the roles that will default to white. The Asian American experience needs to stand and exist on it’s own and successfully expressed through the art to make the needed impact.

    And this overall problem of “model minority” and invisibleness in pop culture extends to news organizations largely ignoring AAPI as a whole, demographics be damned. Although your point about the non AAPI speaking on a racial and cultural identity that they personally can’t claim is too damn true, but then when has that ever stopped America? LOL

  • evelyn kim

    Your tone comes off as condescending and sardonic, Courtney, which is too bad on your part. Isn’t that the point, to look at how Asian-Americans are making this influence, (which in my eyes, they are) outside of a white supremacist lens?

    Yet I see that this is the lens through which you see this issue by saying “you have to be better and influential in order to supercede the roles that will default to white”.

    When has non-AAPIs speaking on the Asian identity stopped America? It has never stopped America. Yet that shouldn’t stop US AAPIs from telling our own stories, and sharing them on the media, “influential” or not.

  • Courtney Houston

    My tone wasn’t meant to be condescending nor sardonic, and I apologize if that’s the way it came across. My sarcasm was towards America’s status quo. You still have yet to provide me any examples of how Asian Americans are impacting pop culture? The last one that did was Bruce Lee and that was in the 70’s and his impact is still felt today. I’m trying to explain that this plays a huge reason for Mainstream America to largely ignore the AAPI experience. The only reason African Americans have been able to have any success in this area of representation despite the historical Racism and Anti-Blackness in this country is precisely due to their ability to consistently impact Pop culture, so much so it’s hard to imagine what American culture would be without African American culture.

    I want more AAPI representation and agree they should be the one’s primarily telling their stories and experiences on News Networks, and Artistic mediums. It’s just knowing the history of this country, writing a letter isn’t going to change much.