SHREVEPORT, La. (CBS Houston) — Local meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired for responding to several racially charged comments made on her former network’s Facebook page.
The Journal-isms blog, which is part of online news website The Root, said Lee reached out to them Saturday regarding her termination.
“I had a meeting with my [news director] and [general manager] Friday trying to get my job back,” she explained. “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.”
Lee also gave The Root insight into the events leading up to her termination.
“The week I was brought in to discuss [the] last post, I was told by my [news director] that there were a few unclear things in the policy and that we were going to have a meeting with George Sirven, the [general manager], about it. I was instead fired the next week — no discussion had,” she told the website. “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.”
Sirven reportedly declined to comment to The Root.
“We do not comment on personnel issues out of respect for the employee and the station,” he was quoted as saying.
The trouble began on Oct. 1 after a viewer commented on the official Facebook fan page of KTBS 3 News in Shreveport, La.
The poster, who identifies himself on the social networking site as Emmitt Vascocu, said that Lee – who he referred to as “the black lady” – needed to reconsider her choice of hairstyle.
“The black lady that does the news is a very nice lady. The onlt [sic] thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair,” he said in the post. “I’m not sure if she is a cancer patient. But still it’s not something myself that I think looks good on tv.”
He then asserted that, if Lee were permitted to wear her hair in such a fashion, that men with longer locks should be allowed to report the news as well.
Lee responded several days later by explaining to Vascocu the reasoning and philosophy behind her chosen hairstyle.
“[T]raditionally 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,” she said in her response on Oct. 6. “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.”
She additionally clarified that she is not a cancer patient, and that she is proud of both her hair and heritage.
Vascocu defended himself, stating that he is not a racist, but that he maintains his opinion.
“You should be proud of what God has given you. I am an [sic] I know you are. For you are a very beatiful [sic] lady,” he noted. “I do respect the aspect of being proud of what each person’s history is. I’m saying with what I’ve heard and myself I prefure [sic] a lady with hair.”
Lee also reportedly responded to a comment on Nov. 14 regarding the races of children involved in a project called “Three Minute Smile.”
“This is Channel 3, not KSLA, the ‘Project Pride’ network, that might as well be part of the BET Channel,” viewer Kenny Moreland was quoted as saying by The Root. “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.”
The former meteorologist replied by explaining that participating children were chosen at random, and that “[i]f [he] truly just want[s] to see the kids happy, [his] message had a funny way of showing it.”
News of her termination went viral, with national coverage and debate of the incident quickly sweeping throughout the Internet. Lee’s situation somewhat parallels a story from earlier this year out of La Crosse, Wis., in which morning news anchor Jennifer Livingston defended herself on the air against a viewer who critiqued her plus-size figure.
However, the similarities end there, as Livingston remained employed with WKBT-TV after the Oct. 2 broadcast.
While many were taken aback by Lee being fired, she said the problems she is presently experiencing are nothing new in her career.
“Race has been the issue with me since I started. That much is VERY true,” she told The Root. “Weather is an older white boy business and arms have been less than open for a young black girl — a polar opposite.”