If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then it must seem at times that the folks at Kaitz, NAMIC and WICT are laying it brick by brick. Their programs take casualties more often than U.S. troops in Iraq, and are frequently strafed by friendly fire. Sometimes it seems that even when they are celebrating their accomplishments, the red carpet is yanked from under them by their own blunders. Take last year’s Kaitz Foundation Dinner. That was the final straw for a top adviser to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell. At the end of the presentation this adviser turned to a National Cable and Telecommunications Association board member and said, “This is embarrassing.” Powell’s adviser noted, among other things, the parade of Democratic pols on the scene, including San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who’d been flown in from California by Walter Kaitz Foundation then-director Art Torres. More importantly, this adviser was struck by the near total lack of new appointees in cable’s senior management ranks — at an event where companies were being extolled for widening their ranks. The gap between what was supposed to be the point of the awards dinner and the reality was “almost funny,” the adviser recalls. Ah, The Gap. The gap doesn’t just hang over the Kaitz Foundation and the dinner. It hovers over seasonal presentations by the National Association for Minorities in Communications (NAMIC) and hides in the corner of the annual Women in Cable and Telecommunications banquet. The gap haunts the executive offices of NCTA in Washington. The gap has become so obvious that Powell — whom one telecom executive who asked for anonymity refers to as the African-American whom some in the industry consider “safe” and unlikely to “make waves” — is preparing to stir up some whitecaps this fall. As the folks in the corporations prepare for Kaitz’s 20th annual awards dinner, many are asking whether Kaitz and other diversity proponents can ever close the gap, at least voluntarily. Current and former Kaitz board members, NAMIC associates, as well as cable and FCC veterans want to know what Kaitz and other programs are going to be when they grow up. This year, there is more strident and more serious talk than ever that too many of these programs have become mere spectacles. “I find the dinner horribly self-serving,” says YES Network CEO Leo Hindery. “The old boys dress up in black tie and pat themselves on the back for entry-level statistics and celebrate our accomplishments, which aren’t that great.” The Walter Kaitz Foundation is, in fact, foundering — both in spirit and in finances. Spencer Kaitz has been the focus of revolt and finger-pointing by board members and minorities alike. Starz Encore chairman John Sie finally quit the board six weeks ago over issues involving basic goals and policies. This week, board members of Kaitz and the NCTA will vote on a controversial proposal to have NCTA administer the foundation, though Spencer, son of founder Walter Kaitz, will still technically be at its helm. The NCTA link is interesting. After the Federal Appeals Court in D.C. struck down the last set of EEO rules at the FCC in 2001, NCTA president Robert Sachs very publicly announced that NCTA and its members would continue to support those rules anyway. This year, NCTA announced a full day of “diversity” to discuss hiring, among other things, during its annual convention in Chicago. And Sachs is frequently cited for his personal participation in NAMIC’s mentoring program. Yet, the NCTA itself is an unfortunate example of the problem minorities, including women, face in the television industry, both cable and broadcast. In the last two years, Sachs has had four major public positions to fill including NCTA VP, SVP for public affairs, senior director of communications and top Congressional lobbyist. The first three were filled with white male friends and acquaintances of Sachs, and he’s recently reached out to his traditional network in Washington and the industry regarding the other. (The NCTA did not respond to questions regarding this issue.) It’s just the clubby nature of the broadcast and cable industries, says Powell, that even folks with good intentions automatically go to the people they know when there’s a job to fill. Even Spencer Kaitz agrees: “The clubbiness of broadcasting and cable is hard to overcome,” he says. “Your commitment is to your company. You don’t want failure, so you’re hesitant to expand your search to fill a position with someone you don’t know. It’s easier to go back to the well.” Groups such as NAMIC may well run executive leadership programs designed to expand the pool of experienced minorities for top management positions. But that doesn’t guarantee company executives in charge of hiring will dip into that pool. One industry lobbyist noted that a photo of this year’s senior management retreat for Charter Communications — with almost a hundred executives present — was, with few exceptions, “glaringly white.” It’s exactly this type of thing that is making Kaitz and others, including Powell, reassess the industry’s approach to diversity. Powell has assembled a blue-ribbon panel, headed by Julia Johnson, who has chaired Florida’s Public Utilities Commission and is a trustee of the University of Florida, to look at the entire communications business. Their adventure will begin Sept. 29. Meanwhile, as Hindery says, “we are awash” in dinner and luncheon invitations where “we honor companies for promoting the receptionist to customer service assistant, and the repair person to technical assistant — and applaud ourselves.” The “Why Are We Here?” dinner is how Paul Maxwell, the first journalist of cable, described the Kaitz dinner recently. “People are rubbing shoulders,” says Curtis Symonds, who now runs the T. Howard Foundation, the satellite business’s diversity forum. “It’s one gigantic affiliates marketing meeting.” Last year was a low point for Kaitz. The event was politicized by former director Torres, who also is (and was) chairman of the California Democratic Party. But even before that, there was grumbling about the number of white all-male honorees over the years. In October 2002, Sie wrote a scathing letter to his fellow board members questioning the change from Kaitz’s Fellows Program to grant- and Web-based recruitment, citing the lack of any links between Kaitz’s job-bank website and other companies’ websites. The worst faux pas may have occurred in 2000, when Kaitz honored John Rigas, then the CEO of Adelphia. No, it wasn’t a faux pas because of Adelphia’s embarrassing financial scandals, which broke later. It was because within the industry, it was widely known that Adelphia was woefully lacking in faces of color above the lowest ranks. Even as Rigas was accepting the award, there were published stories about his skipping over a minority manager for promotion — a manager whom Rigas trotted out to show his commitment to diversity. Kaitz, of course, is only the centerpiece of Diversity Week. There’s the NAMIC convention and WICT affair. At one point, Ann Carlsen, a headhunter who works with cable companies, tried to set up a job bank for Diversity Week, emphasizing women and minorities, but according to sources in the industry who would not speak for attribution, companies weren’t forthcoming with funding. Carlsen did not return repeated phone calls. Matt Blank of Showtime, the co-chair of the NCTA’s diversity committee and a noted “nudger” on diversity issues, was also unavailable. The NCTA promised that someone would talk for this story, but in the end, produced no one. Cable World had requested an interview with, among others, longtime executive Barbara York. “The gap,” says a cable lobbyist, “makes it difficult for people to speak about diversity. If you tell them you just want to ask about how much they care, they’ll talk to you. But if you tell them you want to ask about why companies, even other companies, don’t have many women or minorities on the top floor, they clam up.” The gap does not discriminate between cable and broadcast. On a cold winter day in Washington a couple years ago, the NAB was holding its annual state leadership conference for state NAB reps. More than a hundred TV and radio execs crowded a room at the JW Marriott hotel to hear how their powerhouse lobby was going to deal with the “onerous” equal employment opportunity rules that then-FCC Chairman Bill Kennard had put in place. Stations would have to report how much outreach they did. Were they advertising job openings? Were they doing job fairs, or at least going to them? The room was packed with people grumbling loudly about the burdens imposed by the FCC. Up on the dais, NAB executive Karen Fullum Kirsch assuaged their fears, reminding them that the NAB was fighting for them in federal court to overturn those rules, which it later did. “We know how hard you are working for diversity,” she told the crowd. But it was a strange scene. Kirsch was almost the only person of color in the entire room. “I was appalled. I mean, look around,” Kennard recalls. “Afterwards, I said to Karen, ‘What are you talking about?’” Under current Court of Appeals decisions, there’s little government regulators can compel from either broadcast or cable. But, says Kennard, “Government has to have a role. It will never work if it’s all voluntary.” So what, if anything, can Powell’s new blue-ribbon panel actually do? More than you think, says Julia Johnson. “Broadcast and cable companies should reflect their customers, their market and their product,” she contends. “It’s sound economics and more profitable.” Quotas, she says, don’t work. However, “We can, on this panel, shine a bright light. That’s one thing government can do.” As in illustrating and illuminating the gap, across industries in telecom and across companies. Though this would not involve new regulations, “shining a bright light” could be dangerous for some broadcast and cable corporations. “One of our approaches is to make companies understand the power of women and minorities,” Johnson says. “We need to make women and minorities understand their power. They need to appreciate their power more. And act on it.” Her panel will also address the lack of access to capital. Powell has worked with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the “Ownership Diversification Bill,” which deals with a better, snake-proof version of the old tax certificates bill designed to give breaks to companies that sell media properties to minorities or women. Kennard has hope for Powell’s panel and disagrees with the characterizing of Powell as the “safe” black. “Mike’s heart is in the right place here,” says Kennard. “We disagreed on the means. I would not craft EEO rules that would not be effective, only to assuage the appeals courts. It makes no sense to give industry a false sense of comfort, to make a rule that doesn’t advance the cause. “But don’t underestimate him. Mike is completely committed to this idea.” NAMIC’s Kathy Johnson is hopeful that the panel will take on issues of ownership and management hiring. She has pushed hard for NAMIC’s Executive Leadership program, which grooms minorities for upper management. But, “we have two other goals with this that aren’t as obvious,” she says. “First, when companies nominate someone for this program, we hope they stand back and say, ‘What are we doing to promote this person and bring them along here?’ And second, when a company doesn’t have someone to nominate, we hope that makes them stop and realize ‘Whoa! What aren’t we doing?’” Symonds says he talked with Robert Sachs more than a year ago, suggesting that NCTA let him set up an office to track diversity at MSOs and programmers, so that the NCTA could encourage companies that were lagging to increase their efforts and expose them to executive suite-ready minorities and women. “We need to identify the companies that aren’t moving forward. Otherwise, they keep it in the closet.” But Sachs, he says, didn’t go for it. “The industry likes being able to aggregate their numbers,” says Hindery. “That way, a company like Adelphia can hide behind Showtime and ESPN and MTV, and the industry as a whole looks OK.” Shining a brighter light, an FCC staffer admits, might spur companies to do more outreach. Right now, the FCC rules that Powell has managed to put in place — despite complaints from some broadcasters — require minimal reporting of efforts. The FCC would like more information, but the “consumer interest” groups have indicated they’d use more detailed info to start lawsuits. As long as that threat hangs there, says an FCC lawyer, companies in cable and broadcast will be reluctant to reveal exactly how wide the gap is in their corporations. The gap, says Spencer Kaitz, remains a problem. “There’s no question the numbers get worse as you go up the ladder,” he says. “But I think the glass is half full. There is a strong sense that you can’t break all these clubby habits at once.” He adds, “But, I’ll say that it’s frustrating that CEOs and companies buy tables and then walk away from the dinner without doing anything about it [diversity].” What tends to drive serious people crazy is that the Kaitz dinners and Diversity Week often attract the usual suspects, adding more yards of good intentions to a well-paved path. This year is no different. The Rev. Al Sharpton, the ultimate affirmative action figure and a Democratic candidate for president, will be speaking at NAMIC’s annual luncheon. He’ll be, as always, entertaining, and everyone will excuse the inevitable “All About Al” focus. But it should make people in telecom wonder: Who is the “safe” black? Is it people such as Powell, who might, through unorthodox approaches, make industry execs uncomfortable enough to actually do something about diversity. Or is it the Sharptons of the world, who make industry leaders and the diversity proponents feel comfortable — comfortable enough to merely write a check for a table, applaud, compartmentalize the event and get back to business as usual. As long as the gap between who is the “safer” of the two exists, the other gap will not close. NAMIC conference day two, Grand Hyatt Hotel. NAMIC, IFC and NCTA reception at Sessa, 208 W. 23rd St.; followed by 8 p.m. screening of Casa de los Babys featuring Marcia Gay Harden at Clearview Chelsea West Cinema, 333 W. 23rd St. Post-screening diversity panel chaired by Kathy Dore. CableReady reception for its Graduate Award in Media Management at the Syracuse University S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Lubin House, 11 East 61st St. In Demand launch party for INHD and INHD2, Pressure Lounge, 110 University Place. NAMIC conference day three, Grand Hyatt Hotel. Kagan Broadband Summit day one, Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, 36 Central Park South. Cable in the Classroom board meeting. Rihga Royal Hotel, 151 W. 54th St. WE: Women’s Entertainment reception for Between Strangers, featuring Sophia Loren, Cellar Bar at the Bryant Park Hotel, 40 W. 40th St., followed by 8 p.m. screening. Samsung dinner hosted by CEO Jong-Yong Yun, Cipriani’s, 110 E. 42nd St. Nine: the Musical, presented by Bravo to benefit Cable Positive, Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 W. 49th St. NBC Cable after-party at Time Lounge, second floor, Time Hotel, 224 W. 49th St. CTAM New York Blue Ribbon Breakfast featuring Ron Cooper and Carl Vogel, Grand Hyatt Hotel Ballroom C. Cable Telecommunications Human Resources Association seminar: Scouting, Selecting and Retaining Diverse Talent, New York Hilton and Towers, 1335 Avenue of the Americas. Kagan Broadband Summit day two, Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, 36 Central Park South. Women in Cable and Telecommunications lunch. Rainbow Room, 65th floor, 30 Rockefeller Plaza (between 49th and 50th Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues). Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association seminar on Sarbanes-Oxley. BearingPoint, 11th floor, 757 Third Ave. (between E. 46th and 47th Streets). Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner. New York Hilton and Towers, 1335 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue between W. 53rd and 54th Streets). After-party at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 W. 46th St. (between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). CTAM Collaborative Marketing seminar. Park Central Hotel, 870 Seventh Ave. (between W. 55th and 56th Streets). Cable Positive Honorary Chair and Board of Directors meeting. Sony Entertainment, 550 Madison Ave. (between E. 56th and 57th Streets). Library of American Broadcasting lunch. Grand Hyatt Hotel, Empire Ballroom, 42nd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. Association of Women in Radio and Television New York chapter reception. ABC Gallery, 77 West 66th Street, 22nd floor (between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West). International Channel’s We The People reception. The China Institute, 125 E. 65th Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues).