Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Institutional Overreach and Overreaction Can Cut BOTH Ways

Rhonda Lee claims she was fired from her job as meteorologist for KTBS-TV in Shreveport, La., because she responded to a Facebook post about her natural hair style, sent by a viewer on the station's Facebook page, on October 1st.

A viewer identified as Emmitt Vascocu posted, “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. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. 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 (cq),” on the Station’s Facebook page.

Lee replied that same day, Hello Emmitt – I am the ‘black lady’ to which you are referring. I’m sorry you don’t like my ethnic hair. And no I don’t have cancer. I’m a non-smoking, 5’3, 121 lbs, 25 mile a week running, 37.5 year old woman, and I’m in perfectly healthy physical condition.

“I am very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair. For your edification: traditionally our hair doesn’t grow downward. It grows upward. Many Black women use strong straightening agents in order to achieve a more European grade of hair and that is their choice. However in my case I don’t find it necessary. I’m very proud of who I am and the standard of beauty I display. Women come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of beauty. 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.

“Conforming to one standard isn’t what being American is about and I hope you can embrace that.

“Thank you for your comment and have a great weekend and thank for watching.”

Vascocu replied that Lee was right to be proud of who she is and that he is not a racist, but “. . . this world has . . . certain standerd (cq). if youve come from a world of being poor are you going to dress in rags?. . .”

Lee’s above comment seems extremely diplomatic and obviously seeks to educate and reach out rather than castigate someone who took issue with her appearance – a very personal matter. The Station allegedly “Liked” the comment by Mr. Vascocu.

Shortly after that another comment by someone under the name Kenny Moreland, read:

“Not to start any trouble, because I think that the annual “Three Minute Smile” is a great function and I love to see kids so happy. Am I the only one that has noticed that this year, all the kids, lets say, are people of color? This is Channel 3, not KSLA, the “Project Pride” network, that might as well be part of the BET channel. Did KTBS slip up on a news story, and owe S’port’s criminal mayor Cedric, a favor? Seems like some racism going on to me. Just saying...”

Lee responded to the comment the next day, saying:

“I’m not sure I understand your comment. “...this is Channel 3 not KSLA…” What are you trying to say?

The children are picked at random. So there goes your theory that they are selected for their color. I would like to think that it doesn’t matter who the child is. If you truly just want to see the kids happy your message had a funny way of showing it.

Happy holidays. –Met. Rhonda Lee”

Again, Ms Lee seemed to respond in a very diplomatic way to a response that clearly challenged her integrity and objectivity.

Lee reported that she was the one who alerted the station to the comment, which they didn’t remove. Lee claimed, “I was the one who brought it to their attention after they let it fester on the page for 6 days, but was then chastised for responding at all. I sent a screen grab to my boss via e-mail telling them that I’m ok with the anti-Rhonda commentary sometimes, but what has been posted at the time was . . . racist, and I asked them to please support me in removing the ones that didn’t encourage thoughtful, respectful and civil discourse on our FB page. I never got a reply, only punished. To this day the posts are still there.”

As a result, Rhonda Lee was fired from KTSB for allegedly violating the social media procedure of the station by responding to the viewer's comment.

Lee said she wasn't aware of the policy at the time. She simply thought she needed to respond to the remark that was addressed to her in particular.

While we disagree with Ms. Lee seeking her employer’s (KTSB TV) support for her to be the final arbiter of what IS and what is NOT “racist,” her being fired over her responses is egregious. The comments about her hair style, appear to have been ignorant and her response was edifying, making that a worthy exchange.

The 2nd comment that challenged the integrity/objectivity of those who “picked” the children to appear on a news segment, seems equally protected. If the children were “all...people of color,” then the comment is no more “racist” than someone complaining about an all white male news crew. People notice such things and noticing such an imbalance is not, in and of itself, “racist.”

Still, Ms. Lee’s responses, in both cases, appear to be both measured and professional. The fact that the Station left them up would seem to show that they clearly had no issue with the content of her responses.

Our ONLY issue with Ms. Lee is over her capitulation to the hyper-sensitivities of political correctness in seeking to expunge communications she would deem “offensive.” Her responses were edifying and represented both herself and the Station she worked for well. We believe that MORE communication is always better than LESS, even when, perhaps ESPECIALLY when such communication gets difficult, even tendentious.

So, WTSB’s firing Ms. Lee over a social media policy the station apparently has against responding to viewer's comments, seems both misguided and wrong, especially considering that the comments in question were directed specifically at Ms Lee and her responses were both positive and professional.


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