Being a 21-time-Emmy-Award-winning-journalist, doesn’t mean you can’t ruin your reputation with a single Facebook post. Don’t believe me? Just look at Wendy Bell. The Pittsburgh newscaster lost her job with WTAE, a station she had been working with for the past 18 years, when she commented on the suspects of a mass shooting.
On March 21, Bell was reporting on the March 9 shooting of five Black people in the Pittsburgh suburb of Wilkinsburg.
Commenting on the story on the station’s Facebook page, Bell wrote:
“You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts. They are young, black men, likely in their teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there. They know the police. They’ve been arrested.”
At the time of her comment, no arrests in the shooting had been made.
Several people said that her comments were racist while others defended her, saying she was being honest.
According to the Post Gazette, nine days later, Bell was fired. WTAE determined that her comments violated their journalism and ethics standards.
Bell is suing for reinstatement and is seeking back pay, attorney fees and that Hearst be permanently enjoined from discriminating or retaliating against her.
Sam Cordes, who filed the lawsuit on her behalf, said that Bell’s dismissal has to do with her race.
“Had Ms. Bell written the same comments about white criminal suspects or had her race not have been white, Defendant would not have fired her, much less disciplined her. Ms. Bell’s posting of concern for the African-American community stung by mass shooting was clearly and obviously not intended to be racially offensive.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, on the day she was fired, Bell said she didn’t get a fair shake and the focus on her comments was a distraction from the issue of “African-Americans being killed by other African-Americans.”
This is the White paternalism we’ve spoken about here, on the site, a few times. Whether she was/ is genuinely concerned about African Americans killing each other, I don’t know why she’d skip over her own community of White people, to talk about ours. Secondly, writing as someone who attended the University of Missouri’s journalism school, the same one Bell did, I know she learned about the importance of striving for objectivity, particularly in hard news stories, where suspects were still at large, no names or pictures had been released and no arrests had been made. It was grossly unethical for her to speak on the race of the suspects and then apply so many different stereotypes to a profile she had completely made up: “multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs.”
This is not concern, this is judgement and shaming. Bell, who is clearly not a member of the community, decided it would be appropriate to look in and cast judgment. What do multiple siblings by multiple fathers and a mother who works multiple jobs have to do with killing six people at a barbecue? There’s no one profile for mass murderers. Furthermore, this is not just an attack on the shooters, this is a very illuminating comment on Bell’s own beliefs about Black women’s sexuality and mothering skills. As if having children from several different men makes you more likely to raise criminals. As if working several jobs to provide for themselves and their family is somehow condemnable. What seems to escape Bell is the fact that this type of work schedule is often necessary for disenfranchised Black women in this country, who generally get paid less than White men, White women, and Black men.
As a career woman, someone who is fighting to get her job back, it’s surprising that Bell doesn’t understand that. If Bell were really concerned about the African American community, she would have sought and dug deeper than highlighting this isolated incident and spouting off arbitrary and unrelated symptoms to a problem that is much deeper than multiple baby daddies. Perhaps she would have asked herself what type of forces are working against the community and maybe she might have realized that her belief system, full of prejudice, is a large part of the problem.