On November 14, a man named Kenny Moreland wrote this on the station’s page:
“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…..”
Again, Lee responded:
“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 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”
This exchange, unlike the personal attack earlier, got under Lee’s skin and she brought the racist comment to her bosses’ attention. Instead of her bosses removing the post, as Lee suggested, she said they just reprimanded her for responding. Two weeks later, on November 28, Lee was fired. The station’s news director, Randy Bain released this statement saying that Lee and a white male journalist, who’d been with the station for eight years, were fired. Bain said Lee was fired because she repeatedly violated the station’s policy regarding responding on social media.
Lee reached out to Journal-isms to explain her side of the story:
“I had a meeting with my ND [news director] and GM [general manager] Friday trying to get my job back. They told me the policy I violated isn’t written down, but was mentioned in a newsroom meeting about a month-and-a-half prior. A meeting I didn’t attend. So when I asked what rule did I break there isn’t anything to point to. The week I was brought in to discuss [the] last post, I was told by my ND that there were a few unclear things in the policy and that we were going to have a meeting with George Sirven, the GM about it. I was instead fired the next week — no discussion had. Sirven claims that even if a policy isn’t on paper we as employees are responsible for abiding by them. There isn’t anything in our employee manual talking about social media dos and don’ts. I was accountable for a rule that essentially isn’t in existence.”
Something is rotten in the cotton as far as this story is concerned. I’m inclined to believe Lee in this instance partially because as black, female journalist I’m biased and can relate to her. But it would seem the station is being a little less than forthcoming about their ambiguous social media policy. If they were going to take the time to release a statement, regarding Lee’s termination, then it would seem they would also release the document, preferably signed by Lee, that prohibited employees from responding to viewers. Furthermore, if a station is going to prohibit an on-air employee from responding to a commenter, then they should have someone in place to actively moderate the page and delete any offensive comments.
I can’t help but compare this situation to the CBS anchor in Wisconsin. It’s clear that the level of support one anchor received was in direct contrast to what Lee received in Louisiana. Perhaps, they weren’t ready to give Lee a platform to defend her hair after her daily weather report; but she should at least been given the opportunity to defend herself and her hair choice on Facebook. If KTBS had been more knowledgeable about the changing climate when it comes to “acceptable” looks for black anchorwomen, they might have learned that when WPTV’s Rochelle Ritchie, an anchorwoman in Florida , chronicled her natural hair journey on air, ratings soared, as the station and their decision became a part of the national conversation. Unfortunately, not only was KTBS unable to capitalize on this opportunity to expand their local station’s brand; by ignoring Lee’s request to remove the comment and then firing her, they proved that their station doesn’t care to protect their African American, or minority employees from the racist hatred people spew on the internet and that’s a shame. If I were Lee, I’m not sure that’s a station I’d want to work for.
What do you think, was Lee wrong for responding to the comments? Should KTBS have fired her?