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Commentary: Obama's press office needs diversity

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  • Roland Martin: White House press office shows very little diversity
  • He says Barack Obama needs to be accountable for diversity on his staff
  • Martin: Jobs on that staff are steppingstones to future success in Washington
  • He says diversity is very important to the future of the country
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland S. Martin is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.

Roland S. Martin says Barack Obama should be accountable for ensuring diversity on his staff.

Roland S. Martin says Barack Obama should be accountable for ensuring diversity on his staff.

(CNN) -- A lot of media outlets made a big deal out of the mostly white White House press corps covering the first black president, and those stories were worth pursuing.

Any of us in the business knows full well that those are considered plum jobs and are a steppingstone to greater things.

But while we hold the media accountable for the need to diversify their ranks, it's quite telling to see the lack of diversity in the White House's press office.

I got an e-mail Tuesday listing all of the various press folks and contact information, and hardly any African-Americans or Hispanics were listed. Granted, the deputy press secretary is African-American and the director of broadcast media is Hispanic. That's not sufficient.

Unfortunately, this shouldn't come as a shock, because the campaign press staff of then-Sen. Barack Obama was just as weak on diversity.

Just because there is a black president doesn't mean that issues like diversity should be cast aside. President Obama should be held to the same standard when it comes to this issue as any other occupier of that office. I am a former national board member of the National Association of Black Journalists, and my support for diversity never wavers, no matter who is running the show.

One of the reasons this is important is because just like in the media, where there are bigger and better things awaiting the White House correspondent, a position in the White House press office positions someone for the next level.

When the press secretary leaves, the president normally chooses the next one from those ranks. We've never seen a black or Hispanic press secretary standing at the podium each day giving daily briefings, and when there are none on the bench, well, that streak will continue.

Looking at the roster of other offices, I don't believe there's even one African-American or Hispanic who is the primary spokesman or number two at any of the major departments, such as Treasury, State, and Justice.

These coveted positions often lead to the top jobs in communications firms in Washington and around the country, and even junior staffers now are tapped for senior jobs in the next administration (Look at how many junior staffers on President Bill Clinton's team are now senior staffers for President Barack Obama).

Various reports have stated that Obama was bothered by the lack of diversity among his campaign team, yet he wasn't moved to do anything about it. Now I'm hearing the same when it comes to his senior staff, and that is clearly the case in his press office.

The election of President Barack Obama means that one barrier, albeit a major one, has been torn down. But that doesn't mean that others don't need to come tumbling down as well. For those groups that have often been marginalized, it's important to have the doors of opportunity opened.

If diversity truly matters, then it must be emphasized and realized top down. The company leaders in corporate diversity got there because the CEO made it clear that it mattered, and they demanded their underlings make it a reality.

Al Neuharth is a prime example. Were it not for his fierce leadership on diversity, Gannett would have never outpaced the media industry when it comes to minorities and women being publishers, general managers and executives among the company's media properties. He set the gold standard for advocating diversity in media.

If change is truly what this president wants to bring to bear, let's see change across the board. He should make it clear that the clubby atmosphere in Washington of hire-who-you-know has gone out the window, and that window has been opened up for the next generation of talented individuals. The power positions matter a lot in the nation's capital, and when you have a seat at the table, that's what counts.

I'm used to getting e-mails from folks who will say it's wrong for me to look at this through a racial lens and that we now live in a post-racial world. But if I got an e-mail listing all men, trust me, I would be the first to ask, "Where are the women?" If I've pushed the need for diversity at every mainstream media operation I've worked at, including CNN, why would I be silent about it in an Obama administration?

I've been told that not all hiring has been completed in the White House press office and in other areas. OK, fine. But the A-team has clearly been hired, and that means anyone else coming in the door is on the B-team. And that just won't cut it.

Diversity has tremendous value in this country, and you don't get there by lauding it. You get there by doing it. And that challenge should be met by any and every CEO, whether they are black or white, Fortune 500 or the president of the United States.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.

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