Should the station have done more to protect Lee against rude commenters?
By now many of you have heard the story of the Black meteorologist in Shreveport, Louisiana, who was fired by ABC affiliate KTBS allegedly because she responded to a viewer who left a comment on the station’s Facebook page. When news of Rhonda Lee’s dismissal broke last week, many social media users expressed outrage, and there was a petition circulating demanding the station re-hire her. "Rhonda Lee deserves to have her job back," the petition reads. "Her eloquent response to the bigoted and sexist remarks... [was] warranted."
The backstory for those not in the know: On October 1, a viewer commented on the station’s Facebook page, “The black lady that does the news… she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. I’m not sure if she is a cancer patient. but its not something that I think looks good on tv." That’s not your typical Internet rudeness; it’s racially charged criticism, and it was intended to belittle Lee.
By October 6, the comment had not been removed from the Facebook page, and so Lee decided to address the viewer (and in a much more polite manner than expected). “I am sorry you don't like my ethnic hair,” Lee wrote. “And no I don't have cancer. I am very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair… I'm very proud of who I am and the standard of beauty I display. As women we come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and levels of beauty."
On November 28, Lee was fired. KTBS says Lee was dismissed because she repeatedly violated a company policy by responding to the viewer. KTBS released an email that was sent to employees stating that in situations like these, it is “best not to respond at all." Lee says she never saw the email.
There have been countless articles written with due outrage about Lee’s firing. I feel the same, but in an effort not to be redundant, I won’t repeat the sentiments already discussed. I would like to bring up a point that seems to have gone overlooked: the responsibility of the station to protect Lee and its failure to do so.
When the TV station powers-that-be provided an explanation of why Lee was let go, they were careful to note that there was a “specific procedure to follow” by on-air talent when viewers made harsh comments. But what is the station’s actual procedure for protecting its talent?
Viewers hurling negative comments at public figures is, unfortunately, par for the course, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t frustrate or hurt them. To allow a personal attack to remain on the site for five days for all to see isn’t exactly supporting or protecting your talent, especially when there’s a policy in place that stops them from defending and protecting themselves. I’m sure Lee hoped the station would defend her, or at the very least remove the comment. They didn’t, and I’m also sure that felt like her employers were taking a jab at her too.
And maybe they were. Given Lee’s professional response to the viewer and his subsequent apology to her — which means there was no harm or foul — I’m convinced the station just wanted to get rid of her. I have no guesses as to why. Surely, though, there are employees of the station who have done far worse and been treated much better.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk