Gayle King, Don Lemon, Sunny Hostin, and More Champion Diversity in Media: 'Let Us Tell Our Stories'

Abby Phillip, Ana Navarro, and many more tell PEOPLE about the change in diversity in media at the Politics & Inclusion Dinner during White House Correspondents' Dinner weekend

Gayle King

Top media personalities from CNN, MSNBC, and ABC kicked off White House Correspondents' Dinner weekend on Friday evening celebrating diversity in media while emphasizing that there's more work to be done.

Abby Phillip, anchor of CNN's Inside Politics Sunday and Lauren Wesley Wilson, founder and CEO of ColorComm Inc., were co-hosts of the Politics & Inclusion Dinner at Masseria Restaurant by Chef Nicholas Stefanelli in Washington, D.C.

The host committee of the event included Don Lemon, Jim Acosta, and Van Jones of CNN; Ana Navarro, on-air contributor to CNN and ABC's The View; Sunny Hostin of ABC's The View, and Tiffany Cross, Alicia Menendez, Geoff Bennett, and Yamiche Alcindor of NBC/MSNBC.

Symone Sanders, former White House chief spokesperson and senior advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris and MSNBC host with a new show debuting in May, was also on the committee.

"When I came into the business, there were not this many people of color who had prominent roles," said Lemon, 56, during an interview at the exclusive invite-only, 50-plus gathering sponsored by Google and Moët Hennessey USA.

Lauren Wesley Wilson, Don Lemon, Abby Phillip

"I was just talking to Eugene Daniels, who I watched this morning on Morning Joe, my colleague Abby Phillip, who I watched do her politics show on CNN today and so on and so forth. And being in a room with Gayle King, Symone Sanders, who was at the White House, and MJ Lee, who is here," he continued. "I mean, so much representation that we haven't had. I'm just proud to be among all of these people."

Lemon encouraged members of the press at all levels to "speak up for diversity" within their respective media organizations.

"It's being in the game and you do it from inside," he explained. "You have to be a part of an organization in order to make a difference and so you have to do it from inside of that organization. So for years I've spoken up about diversity. I've made it known."

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Hostin, 53, said this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner, which is back after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, looks different now than previous years.

"A couple years ago, it was not like this. I remember Don Lemon and I were just looking at each other thinking, it's going to get better, it's going to get better. And Wolf Blitzer would always tell me it's going to get better. Well, it's gotten better and this is really cool," she said.


Hostin had a message for media executives about recruiting more diverse voices into their companies to cover political topics.

"Let us tell our stories," she said. "My superpower is that I can tell my story and the story of my community better than anyone else because I have the lens of a lived experience. It's not about color. It's about culture. I think Denzel Washington explained it really well when he was talking about directing an August Wilson play and Steven Spielberg directing Schindler's List. It's really about culture and I hope executives take note of when it comes to politics, people of color can tell our stories the best."

CBS Mornings host King, who was among the VIPs at the gathering, told PEOPLE that "there's still a long way to go" in terms of diversity in the industry, but "you can't deny" the progress that's been made.

Ana Navarro, Jim Acosta, Sunny Hostin, Laura Barron-Lopez

"Walter Cronkite retired at 65. He had to retire at 65. I'm 67 and I'm not even kind of thinking about retiring nor is anybody to my knowledge thinking about asking me to retire. So have we made progress? Yeah, I would say so. But is there more to come? Yes, definitely. There's still not enough of us sitting in the key decision making positions. There's still a need for more of us at the table where the decisions are made. No question about that," she shared.

Navarro, 50, said former President Donald Trump's attacks on the mainstream media, which he frequently referred to as the "enemy of the people," led to a more diverse Congress and press corps.

"People of color in media and in journalism endured such attacks under Trump. You know, he felt that the media was the enemy of the people," she said during an interview at the dinner. "I think there's more women and people of color in Congress because of Trump — because I think there's the feeling of rage and not feeling represented and feeling targeted attacks that led to people taking action. And I think the same is true for the media industry."

Navarro also called for "more representation in the C-suites, in front of the camera and behind the camera in the production jobs" across the media industry.

"We always want to see more. We're far from being representative of America still in the media," she said.

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Phillip, 33, told PEOPLE that she thinks the press is "talking about coverage of communities of color a lot more" since the death of George Floyd in May of 2020.

"I think it's progress and that's what's important but I mean there's always room for improvement. There's always room for the political coverage, especially, to pay attention to communities that are not always at the center of our politics: black and Asian communities and Hispanic communities," she said. "There's a lot of work to be done but I think we've made a lot of progress so far."


During the interview, Phillip also revealed how she's adjusting to motherhood while balancing her personal and professional life.

"It's going really well. I feel really lucky. I have a family nearby and they're very supportive," said Phillip, who gave birth to a baby girl in August.

Additionally, King, 67, noted that she was glad to have the opportunity to come together for the diversity dinner despite her worries about COVID.

"We haven't been able to do this for a couple of years so I'm actually terrified; because of COVID I want to say, 'Hey y'all, you know, there's still a pandemic going on,' but I also think we've all gotten to the point where if you're vaccinated, you're boosted, one or both, you know that it's generally speaking not going to kill you," she said. "It is a little unnerving to me to have this many people but at the same time we want to be around each other so here we are."

All attendees were required to submit proof of a negative test in advance and show proof of vaccination.

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