Today we honor and celebrate a woman whose recent push to restore journalistic integrity to cable news may have cost her her job. María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien was born on Long Island in 1966. Her parents — an Afro-Cuban mother and Australian father — met in the Washington, DC area a decade earlier. They lived in Maryland, which did not allow mixed-race marriages, so they wed in DC and soon moved to New York. Soledad is one of six children (all of whom received degrees from Harvard).
She began her television career as an associate producer and news writer in Boston. She joined NBC in 1991 and worked a variety of on-camera and production jobs over the next decade. She settled into regular roles on MSNBC and as co-host of Weekend Today. She contributed reports to NBC Nightly News, honing her desire to move away from soft news.
Soledad joined CNN in 2003 as co-anchor of their morning news program. Smart, likeable, and possessing good journalistic instincts, she helped that show rise above standard morning fare, even as the rest of CNN began to devolve into FOX-light in a desperate ratings grab. Confused network executives moved her out of the morning show in 2007 and she spent the next few years contributing reports to other CNN programs and doing In America documentaries. When CNN scrambled to re-re-redesign their morning show in 2012, they brought Soledad back to host the two-hour news program Starting Point.
A stark contrast to most CNN programming and other morning “news” offerings, the show featured engaging conversations and showed her strengths as a real journalist. Numerous guests complained about their treatment (including the odious John Sununu), a sign that she was actually doing her job rather than letting them spew talking points. Sadly, that success — even combined with good ratings — seems to have been too much for CNN to take–JEERS to CNN. Ms. O’Brien was the only reason I watched CNN. The new network President, Jeff Zucker (who spent the previous decade destroying NBC) wants his soft news, so Soledad is out.
Her new documentary, Latino In America, will be out soon. After that, Soledad O’Brien will find her next role in broadcast journalism — not, as she put it, “cooking salmon and doing fashion shows.” Wherever she lands, her colleagues will be lucky to have her talent and mature confidence in doing journalism right. I hope NPR is able to secure her journalistic prowess.