TV Meteorologist Rhonda Lee: Fired After Defending Hairstyle On Facebook
A Louisiana TV station has defended its decision to fire a black meteorologist, insisting that she repeatedly violated company policy by responding to comments on its Facebook page. But the woman says she had a right to reply to "embarrassingly racist" remarks, like one comparing her ethnic hair to a cancer patient's.
Many of her fans agree. An online petition urging KTBS-TV in Shreveport to rehire Rhonda Lee has garnered over 11,300 signatures. "I would never have dreamed in a million years that I would get all this support," Lee told New York's Daily News.
Viewers Tell Her To Wear A Wig Or Grow Some More Hair
Lee says she first spoke out on the Facebook page of KTBS-TV back in October, when a viewer, Emmitt Vascocu, wrote: "the black lady that does the news is a very nice lady. the only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair."
"i'm not sure if she is a cancer patient," Vascocu continues, "but still its not something myself that i think looks good on tv. what about letting someone a male have waist long hair do the news.what about that [sic]."
according to Journal-isms, with deliberate constraint and courtesy, explaining that she does not in fact have cancer, that black hair was different from European hair, and that diversity is a good thing.
"I am very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair...Showing little girls that being comfortable in the skin and HAIR God gave me is my contribution to society. Little girls (and boys for that matter) need to see that what you look like isn't a reason to not achieve their goals."
Lee told the Daily News that she alerted her boss to the exchange, who then urged her to refer any future controversial comments to the station managers, as opposed to answering them herself.
But Weeks Later, She Responded To Another Facebook Comment
A viewer asked why all of the children in one of the station's give-away segments "are people of color," the Journal-isms blog reports, and she responded by informing the viewer that the children were picked at random. Lee told the Daily News that she chided her boss, "I know you said you'd handle it, but you haven't."
KTBS-TV executives are emphatic that Lee was fired for no other reason than actively flouting the company's social media policy by responding to viewer complaints, adding in a statement posted on Facebook on Tuesday that another employee -- a white, male reporter -- was fired the same day for the same reasons. Veteran crime reporter Chris Redford confirmed to the Shreveport Times that he is the other reporter, but declined to comment further.
A Facebook Uprising
It also posted an email that was sent to all employees in August, which outlines the procedure for Facebook complaints from viewers. The email says clearly that it is "best not to respond at all" to viewer criticisms, and that "the only proper response" is to provide a specific KTBS employee's contact information to handle the concern.
But KTBS-TV viewers, or at least the individuals posting on the station's Facebook page (many of whom are from other parts of the country), are largely unsympathetic to the station and its procedures. Almost every news story the station publishes on its social media page has been slammed with scathing comments.
"You have lost all credibility. No one cares what you put up," a Virginia woman writes under a post advertising an upcoming segment, "Eat, Drink & Be Wary." "No one is here for the news. They are going to other stations for that. Quit ignoring us & correct your wrongful actions against your two workers."
If the KTBS-TV employee tasked with handling Facebook complaints wasn't busy before, as Lee claims, he or she probably is now.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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