This weekend, Soledad O’Brien and Mike Arrington got into a feud about a CNN Documentary on startups.Arrington was interviewed and says he was asked to speak about startups. He posted an email CNN sent him with a generic interview request on Uncrunched. The email asked him to talk about accelerator programs and made no mention of a racially-specific topic. But when Arrington sat down, he says O’Brien threw him a curve ball.
She wanted to know who his favourite black entrepreneur was, and Arrington couldn’t answer.
“I thought about it, and I drew a complete blank. Nothing. So I answered honestly. “I don’t know a single black entrepreneur,“ I said,” writes Arrington on Uncrunched. “See, my brain database doesn’t categorize people in terms of skin colour. Or hair colour. Or sexual orientation. When I queried that database, under stressful circumstances, I got zero results…It’s awesome that I don’t have a f*cking perfect sound bite ready at the tip of my tongue for a question like that.”
It turns out Arrington neglected to mention a second email CNN sent him four days before the interview. The second email clearly stated the racially-specific topic. CNN wrote:
The main thread of our story, reported by Soledad O’Brien, will be the experience of a group of digital entrepreneurs who are spending the summer in Silicon Valley chasing their startup dreams.
The group of entrepreneurs we are following are participating in the Newme accelerator. The first accelerator of its kind set up specifically for entrepreneurs of colour. Their inspiring stories will be the focus of this CNN Black in America documentary and various profiles produced for Money.CNN.com.
With that said, the email wasn’t sent directly to Arrington. It was sent to one of his staff members at AOL who was coordinating the interview. Also, four days isn’t much advance notice. Arrington receives a lot of emails, so it’d be easy for him to miss a topic change buried in the second half of a second email.
“I didn’t ambush Arrington and I don’t think he’s a racist. He’s a realist,” says O’Brien.