EXCLUSIVE: Jason Kilar, newly minted CEO of WarnerMedia, sent a company-wide memo Saturday to convey his reaction to protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, and indicated how the company will start to respond.
The death of Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, punctuated by a gruesome viral video of policemen subduing him on the ground for eight minutes, has set off protests across the U.S. WarnerMedia’s CNN has been at the center of the uprisings, with three of its news staffers arrested on air on Friday in Minneapolis and CNN headquarters in Atlanta being vandalized. LA and New York, two other centers of activity for the AT&T-owned media company, have also seen violent demonstrations in recent days.
In the memo, which was furnished to Deadline by a company insider, Kilar aims to get two main things across. First, he stresses that he wants to provide “validation to the voices of our Black team members. Your voices matter, your messages matter.” Second, he stressed the need to “increase our collective empathy for the Black community. In order to do so, I am going to lean into the foundation and very reason for being of this great company, which is story. Ours is a company that tells stories. And stories, told well, have the power to move people in lasting ways.”
(Kilar’s capitalization of “Black” is in keeping with a groundswell of support for that style choice, which has been formally adopted by some major media outlets in recent years.)
The CEO recommended that staffers read or watch four stories during the weekend, one of which was a speech by activist and Run the Jewels rapper Killer Mike, whose given name is Mike Render. The son of an Atlanta police officer, Render tearfully and forcefully spoke out Friday against demonstrators damaging the community. He also had choice words for CNN, which he accused of sensationalist instincts. “I like CNN, I like Cartoon Network,” he said. “But I’d like to say to CNN: Karma’s a mother. Stop feeding fear and anger every day. Stop making people feel so fearful. Give them hope.”
Kilar noted that Killer Mike had “some choice words for CNN which I disagree with, yet I believe in the balance of his message.”
Here is the full memo:
I am horrified by what has happened in our country recently as it relates to the treatment of the Black community. I suspect that most, if not all, of you are as well.
This email is an attempt to do two things.
First, I want to provide validation to the voices of our Black team members. Your voices matter, your messages matter. To me and to the world. I want to be very clear in saying that our responsibility to the Black community is that we truly listen, that we seek understanding, and that we do these things with as much empathy as possible. In no uncertain terms, we as a company are firmly in support of people that suffer injustice, including our own.
The second thing this email attempts to do, with a sense of urgency, is to increase our collective empathy for the Black community. In order to do so, I am going to lean into the foundation and very reason for being of this great company, which is story. Ours is a company that tells stories. And stories, told well, have the power to move people in lasting ways.
With the above as context, I am asking every WarnerMedia team member to consume the below four stories this weekend. Each of these stories has moved me and I hope that they will move each of you. Please take the time in a quiet place to let these stories sit with you. Read and watch them several times. Our journey as a human race is to ultimately attain compassion, wisdom, justice, and love. I believe the below stories can help move us closer to these ideals.
- Maintaining Professionalism In The Age of Black Death Is…A Lot. An article by Shenequa Golding.
- Killer Mike’s Speech in Atlanta (Killer Mike has some choice words for CNN which I disagree with, yet I believe in the balance of his message).
- America Is A Tale of Two Cities. A video essay by CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
- Bobby Kennedy’s Speech the Night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassination.
For our company and teams, there will be more coming from Christy Haubegger, who reports directly to me as our Chief Enterprise Inclusion Officer. Christy is leading the company’s efforts here in close coordination with me and the senior leadership team. More to come shortly.
My commitment to each of you is that I am going to do everything I can to lead with empathy and action in this moment, as the Black community deserves nothing less. It is better stated that the Black community deserves so much more.
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