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BET, TV One Capture History

About 30 million viewers tuned in to see the major cable news networks’ coverage of Barack Obama’s election as America’s 44th president.

Another 700,000 viewers tuned in to Black Entertainment Television and TV One’s election coverage throughout the night. And what they saw was provided through a more perceptive lens.

The mainstream cable news networks adequately chronicled the jubilation felt by Obama supporters — particularly African-Americans — who filled Chicago’s Grant Park to hear the President-elect give his acceptance speech.

But TV One and BET provided American viewers with a more in-depth view of the euphoria and pride experienced by African-Americans on what was truly an historic event.

Whether it was from the halls of historically black colleges and universities like Spellman College and Florida A&M or from the streets of Harlem, the significance of Obama’s win to the African-Americans community was delivered on BET and TV One by black journalists whose own life experiences helped provide viewers a more authentic and emotional connection to the community.

It’s one thing for Fox News’ Brit Hume and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to pontificate on the historical significance of Obama’s election to African-Americans. It’s another to see TV One anchor Arthur Fennell — as reported by Richard Prince’s Journal-isms blog — interrupt his coverage of the election results and call syndicated radio host Tom Joyner to the set to share the moment with someone who fully understood and appreciated what Obama’s win truly meant to African-Americans.

“There comes a time on television, you can break protocol and take the moment to feel it as it is,” Fennell said, as Joyner hugged everyone on stage.

To their credit, the mainstream cable networks featured very real and heartfelt reactions to Obama’s momentous victory by commentators of color, such as Fox News’ Juan Williams or CNN’s Roland Martin.

But those sporadic moments were in stark contrast with BET and TV One’s Afro-centric coverage, featuring poignant recollections by prominent African-Americans, such as civil-rights leader Joseph Lowery. For five full minutes during BET’s election coverage, Lowery spoke to BET viewers about the struggles of black people to gain equality in the 1960s and the significance four decades later of an African-American president.

Those who question the necessity of minority-targeted networks like BET and TV One within American’s expanding cultural melting pot can’t fully grasp how exhilarating it is to experience both defining and everyday moments with someone who looks like them — even if it’s through a TV screen.

On Election Night, more than 70 million TV viewers witnessed the election of Barack Obama to the office of the President of the United States. Yet, for the African-American viewers who tuned into BET and TV One, that moment — and the celebration afterward — will be more memorable because they heard it in the voice of a community that shares their own dreams and aspirations.