NEWS ANCHOR WENDY BELL FIRED AFTER POSTING RACIALLY CHARGED FACEBOOK MESSAGES.
By: Richard Prince, "Journal-isms"
A Pittsburgh anchor at WTAE-TV who posted a racially inflammatory Facebook message after a shooting that left five black people dead has been fired, the station announced March 29.
Wendy Bell, who is white, had been at WTAE-TV for 18 years and won 21 Emmy Awards.
On March 23, she posted a lengthy Facebook message that read, in part, “You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday. … They are young black men, likely 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. hey know the police. They’ve been arrested.”
According to the Associated Press, “Siblings Jerry Michael Shelton, 35, Brittany Powell, 27, and Chanetta Powell, 25, along with two cousins, Tina Shelton, 37, and Shada Mahone, 26 were killed in the ambush shooting, police said. Chanetta Powell was nearly eight months pregnant.
“Wilkinsburg is a poor, largely blighted suburb east of Pittsburgh known for drug trafficking and gun violence, though the street where the shooting occurred was described by neighbors as generally quiet. . . .”
Scott Jones recently reported for his FTV Live blog, “The station issued on on air apology and Bell hasn’t been seen on the air since, Bell took off with her family to a planned trip to Disney World, but the calls for her firing back in Pittsburgh got louder and louder.”
Maria Sciullo reported for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “A statement made today from Hearst Television, the station’s parent company, reads ‘WTAE has ended its relationship with anchor Wendy Bell. Wendy’s recent comments on a WTAE Facebook page were inconsistent with the company’s ethics and journalistic standards.’
“WTAE-TV president and general manager Charles Wolfertz III confirmed the news and declined comment. A spokesman for Hearst Television, declined further comment.
“Ms. Bell had been off the air since Mr. Wolfertz aired a public apology from the station last week, citing Ms. Bell’s ‘egregious lack of judgment’ in posting racial stereotypes on her official Facebook page.
“Since originally posting on Facebook, Ms. Bell edited the statement, and eventually removed it. It created an online stir, with parodies on sites such as verysmartbrothas.com and thousands of comments for and against the longtime newswoman on sites such as reddit. . . . ”
In a statement, the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation did not call for Bell’s firing, saying instead, “The irresponsible statements demonstrate a persistent problem with how African-Americans are negatively stereotyped by too many journalists and news organizations. . . .”
“The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation invites WTAE’s newsroom managers to meet with PBMF to discuss how to prevent future mistakes of this nature. And PBMF encourages all local news organizations to cooperate with PBMF in its recently begun study of the number of African-American and other minority journalists working in this region and whether they are empowered to help ensure that news coverage is fair, balanced and as free as possible of the type of irresponsible content characterized by the referenced examples. . . .”
Neither did the creators of a Facebook page, “Demand WTAE Hold Wendy Bell Accountable,” urge a firing.
“As the name of the page states, the goal is accountability,” they wrote. “WTAE should follow its social media policy, as any company would. That is the first step in accountability. The public acknowledgement by the station is another important step.
WTAE stated they will continue to pursue an appropriate outcome and we acknowledge that takes time. Hopefully we will hear more from them in the future.
“For many people, accountability DOES mean the termination of her employment. However, accountability could also mean intensive diversity training to give Ms. Bell a true understanding of white privilege, implicit bias, colorblind rhetoric, and systemic racism. Perhaps then she could use her undeniably broad influence to help
educate the public about these very issues. Certainly there are other forms of accountability as well.
“We hope that WTAE and Ms. Bell will work with PBMF to find accountability.”
Pittsburgh blogger Damon Young of verysmartbrothas.com also weighed in Wednesday, “When I wrote about WTAE-TV anchor Wendy Bell’s racially problematic Facebook post last week, I began by stating I did not intend for her to get fired. This was true then and is still true now. I wasn’t writing with that aim. And even now, after learning she was let go earlier today, I don’t feel particularly happy about it. . . .
“That said, I don’t feel bad for her either. She very much deserved to get fired. She earned this. Her post, the edits, the hysterical deleting of critical comments, her sorry, not-sorry apology — these were all symptoms of a sickness. . . .”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Washington Post journalist Richard Prince occasionally submits his column "Journal-isms" to "Media Matters." To check out Prince's complete "Journalism's" columns log on to: http://journal-isms.com/.