ONTD Political

Meteorologist fired after defending her ‘ethnic’ hair

10:38 am - 12/13/2012
Meteorologist fired after defending her ‘ethnic’ hair

KTBS meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired from her job at ABC’s Shreveport, Louisiana affiliate–a position she had held for almost a year. It was not for anything she said on-air, or in the newsroom. It was for responding to viewer comments online regarding her hair, comments such as these from a viewer identified as Emmitt Vascocu, written on the station’s Facebook page on Oct. 1:

“[T]he black lady that does the news is a very nice lady.the only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but still its not something myself that i think looks good on tv. what about letting someone a male have waist long hair do the news.what about that (cq).”

Lee wears a close-cropped, natural hairstyle. “I’ve even had a news director once say that my hair was too aggressive for Sacramento, so I wasn’t even allowed to interview at that point… It’s been an interesting journey with my hair,” Lee told CNN in an interview Wednesday.

It got more interesting after she replied to Vascocu via Facebook:

“Hello Emmitt–I am the ‘black lady’ to which you are referring. I’m sorry you don’t like my ethnic hair. And no I don’t have cancer. I’m a non-smoking, 5’3, 121 lbs, 25 mile a week running, 37.5 year old woman, and I’m in perfectly healthy physical condition.

“I am very proud of my African-American ancestry which includes my hair. For your edification: traditionally 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. 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.

“Conforming to one standard isn’t what being American is about and I hope you can embrace that.

“Thank you for your comment and have a great weekend and thank for watching.”

Vascocu later apologized to Lee and to KTBS’ station manager, George Sirven, theGrio reported.

As Mediaite noted yesterday, Lee also responded on Facebook to another viewer who complained that the children participating in an annual station Christmas shopping spree were all African-American. Both comments, though seemingly professional in nature, were deemed a violation of station rules. Sirven issued a statement about Lee’s firing to msnbc and on Facebook, saying Lee repeatedly violated the station’s written procedure. He wrote:

Typically[,] this station does not comment on personnel matters, but due to the publicity and interest about this issue, the station has included the following statement.

On November 28, 2012, KTBS dismissed two employees for repeated violation of the station’s written procedure. We can confirm that Rhonda Lee was one of the employees… The policy they violated provided a specific procedure for responding to viewer comments on the official KTBS Facebook page… Unfortunately, television personalities have long been subject to harsh criticism and negative viewer comments about their appearance and performance. If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station’s official website, there is a specific procedure to follow.

Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure and after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued. Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure.

Sirven attached an image of an email allegedly sent to Lee and a number of other unidentified employees on Aug. 30 of this year, emphasizing that inaction was the best approach. “When we see complaints from viewers, it’s best not to respond at all,” the image of the email reads. “If you chose (sp) to respond to these complaints, there is only one proper response”: to provide the viewer with the contact information of an unidentified official at the station, and assure him or her that KTBS would be happy to address any concerns. But Lee alleges that she wasn’t afforded the same courtesy.

Lee told the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education that she was not, as promised, given the opportunity to discuss her violation of this rule with her superiors prior to her dismissal. Additionally, she told CNN that she never knew the rule existed, and had yet to see the policy which she was told “isn’t written down”–a curious explanation, given the email justification KTBS is providing as evidence Lee was provided notice of the rule.

La Crosse, Wisconsin anchor Jennifer Livingston, who in October fended off a viewer’s criticism of her weight with a well-publicized on-air retort, responded to Poynter with a supportive email about Lee’s firing:

“I don’t think when you decide to become a journalist it means you have to put a piece of duct tape over your mouth regarding comments directed at you…

“If someone is going to post on a public site, there should be a reasonable expectation that those comments will be addressed. Of course, you need to do so in a respectful and thoughtful manner. I think we as journalists are still trying to pave the way with integrating social media into our daily workflow. No clear rules have been defined so every station is different.

Personally – I’d have written that person back in a heartbeat.”


The source has pics.
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chaya 13th-Dec-2012 02:05 am (UTC)
Ugghhh I read this earlier today and it pissed me off so bad

esp. when I read her entirely non-confrontational response that was apparently so ~ANGRY~
otana 13th-Dec-2012 02:15 am (UTC)
Her response was far classier and more reasonable than the complaint deserved, I'm fucking incensed that she got fired for something so calm and well-explained. Disgusting.
sfrlz 13th-Dec-2012 02:10 am (UTC)
I get that most employers don't want their employees saying anything that could be interpreted as speaking on behalf of the organization, but seriously, how can you blame her for responding to something so ignorant?

Like I get that it's probably against their policies but they shouldn't have fired her, wtf.
whitewatergirl 13th-Dec-2012 02:10 am (UTC)
Her response was perfect and I appreciate that Jennifer Livingston defended her. I hope Ms. Lee will find another station that is much more respectful.
teacoat 13th-Dec-2012 02:47 am (UTC)
I don't know, I think from the second paragraph on was great, but the part where she said her weight and how much she runs every week was completely unnecessary. Not to mention that it implies that a) people that are heavier or run less/not at all are less "healthy" and that b) that makes them somehow less. All she needed to say was "No, I don't have cancer."

(None of which means I think she deserves to be fired, just that I wouldn't call her comment "perfect.")

Edited at 2012-12-13 02:48 am (UTC)
oceandezignz 13th-Dec-2012 02:17 am (UTC)
Someone put up a petition at Change regarding this. And supposedly instead of moderating/deleting the offending comment the news station LIKED the comment regarding Lee and her hair. See accusation here.

As WoC who rocks her hair naturally, I am proud of Lee, love how she looks as is, and there is no way in hell that woman needs a wig or a weave to fit someone's pasty white-washed view of beauty.

The commenter needs to take ALL of the seats. And immediately.
myrrhmade 13th-Dec-2012 02:18 am (UTC)
I read this earlier and I'm still disgusted as hell. Fuck this.

Ms. Lee was flawless through this whole racist misogynistic bullshit. I hope her career takes off in 100 different amazing ways. She's WAY too good for KTBS.
liret 13th-Dec-2012 02:18 am (UTC)
I was expecting her to have given the commenter the dressing down he deserved - but she was as polite and friendly as anyone should want their employees to be when they're not responding to ignorant racists.
homasse 13th-Dec-2012 02:21 am (UTC)
It was also the second time she addressed racist comments directly, and apparently, her station preferred to ignore and leave up racist shit than take it down.
chantalzola 13th-Dec-2012 02:37 am (UTC)
I hope she gets a new TV journalism job soon and that it's better than this one was.
moonbladem 13th-Dec-2012 02:43 am (UTC)
“[T]he black lady that does the news is a very nice lady.the only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. im not sure if she is a cancer patient. but still its not something myself that i think looks good on tv. what about letting someone a male have waist long hair do the news.what about that (cq).”

Whaaat? Seriously... WHAT?? Who the hell makes a comment like that? As someone whose dad died of cancer, I find her comment extremely out of line. So what happens if Rhonda Lee really is a cancer patient? What the hell is this Emmitt Vascocu going to say next? The freaking ignorance of some people just galls me.

And by the way, Rhonda Lee looks beautiful the way she is. Fuck Emmitt Vascocu.
grey853 13th-Dec-2012 02:54 am (UTC)
Pure fuckery on so many levels!!

oceandezignz 13th-Dec-2012 03:17 am (UTC)
The patron deity of common sense has arrived to save us all! Bless you Lafayette!
a_phoenixdragon 13th-Dec-2012 02:58 am (UTC)
This is bullshit. She has nothing to apologise for. She answered these comments fairly and neutrally - and she should NOT have to defend her appearance, which to all intents and purposes covered the 'standard code' to a tee. Utter horseshit. All of this. I'm mightily fucking pissed.
kangofu 13th-Dec-2012 02:59 am (UTC)
What is this fuckery?

homasse 13th-Dec-2012 04:09 am (UTC)
I want one of those buttons.
psychesky 13th-Dec-2012 03:27 am (UTC)
Former news director here (radio, not TV), and I would have been proud to have her on my team. That was a classy response. Your personality and feelings do not stop merely because you have a job, and journalists with personality AND ethics are valuable members of a team who can bring in listeners/viewers! (I suppose I can't actually speak to her journalistic ethics but I feel like her response bodes well for them.)
ragnor144 13th-Dec-2012 03:29 am (UTC)
Her responses were flawless and a credit to her professionalism. The station was lucky to have had her, but she was told that she had violated an unwritten rule that was talked about at a meeting that she was not at. How can anyone believe that this is not bald-faced racism?
jenny_jenkins 13th-Dec-2012 03:29 am (UTC)
I don't have a gif that accurately expresses the RAGE I am feeling.

What a fucking insult. I hope she sues their asses off and finds a fabulous job.

And fuck the complaining viewers too.
angelofdeath275 13th-Dec-2012 03:58 am (UTC)
So sick of white people feeling so ~threatened when a black women wears her hair naturally

There's no way for a black women to win in this, and I will side-eye any non-black person this comm who says any shit "she should've done this or that"</p>

Not say anything, have those comments build up in you, it begins to eat at your self-image, all the while pretending it doesnt affect you

Say something, but make sure your not ~too angry, but the catch is you will always be seen as angry.

lickety_split 13th-Dec-2012 04:11 am (UTC)
I forreal expected this woman to have a hairdo like George Clinton the way they were carrying on about how offensive her hair was but...

tabaqui 13th-Dec-2012 04:16 am (UTC)
No kidding, her hair style is not only pretty damn common, but very attractive - suits her completely. Sheesh.
tabaqui 13th-Dec-2012 04:18 am (UTC)
“I’ve even had a news director once say that my hair was too aggressive for Sacramento, so I wasn’t even allowed to interview at that point…."

WTF is *that*? A close-cropped style is 'too aggressive'? I am baffled. And fuck this channel for firing her - utter bullshite.
romp 13th-Dec-2012 06:12 am (UTC)
That's an amazing quote. And I know what she means: it was a sign that she wasn't trying hard enough to fit in. She didn't know her place which is to keep everyone else comfortable.
terra_tenshi 13th-Dec-2012 04:50 am (UTC)
On one hand, this sucks.

On the other, if she really was fired for doing something against the rules that she was warned against doing...

On the third, non-existent hand, I don't know what to make about the weight and running thing in her response.
teacoat 13th-Dec-2012 05:07 am (UTC)
On the third, non-existent hand, I don't know what to make about the weight and running thing in her response.

Glad (?) I'm not the only one that was rubbed the wrong way by that part.
romp 13th-Dec-2012 06:07 am (UTC)
Clearly employees need to be protected from people who abuse online anonymity. The fact that there was time for her to reply shows it was up too long. I imagine she was driven to this not by one or two ignorant people but the fact that this was allowed to go on.
lanwut 13th-Dec-2012 07:06 am (UTC)
Earlier in the post in one of the comments there's a link to prove that she has addressed racist shit before and her response was taken down while the racist shit was left up. This was definitely systemic. Surprise surprise.
natyanayaki 13th-Dec-2012 07:30 am (UTC)
But, but, but...we're soooooo in a post-racial (and post-gender-biased) USA...



Now to be serious.

1. She's gorgeous.
2. She was extremely classy.
3. Why can't the reporters respond?
4. I hope that she finds a better job soon. She shouldn't have lost her job, but considering how she was treated the notion of "hoping that she'll be re-hired" grosses me out right now.

Edited at 2012-12-13 07:31 am (UTC)
skellington1 13th-Dec-2012 11:40 pm (UTC)
It won't necessarily make sense, but I may be able to answer 3. Most large organizations have rules about who can publicly represent them in what ways (to reporters, in person, on facebook, etc) because it allows them to better control their public image -- and for decades, concepts of PR have been based around controlling what information gets out (social media is confusing nightmare country for traditional PR people).

That said...

Fuck 'em.

If they actually had someone who's job that was, they should've been on that PoS comment inside the hour, so either the Powers That Be think the racist shit is okay, or they're not doing their job. Her comment doesn't put the station in a bad light at all. She also clearly owns her comment; she's not implying that she represents the views of her (ex) employers. I'd guess that if there wasn't other racist baggage here (and it sure looks like there is, from comments above) she wouldn't have been in trouble, even if it was against the letter of the policy -- small infractions of communications policy do not usually a firing make.

I could go on at length about how forbidding your employees from being active on your facebook page is probably detrimental, but I think the real issue here isn't what the rule is/was, but that there's serious racism in A) the initial comment, B) the station's failure to officially respond to or delete the comment in a timely manner and C) firing Lee.
the_physicist 13th-Dec-2012 10:40 am (UTC)
this is absolutely disgusting that she got those comments in the first place, and that the station then fired her!!!
ljtaylor 13th-Dec-2012 02:34 pm (UTC)
I don't blame her for responding. Women get so much shit for wearing their hair short. I may be biased because I have a "pixie", but I have never seen a woman with short hair and thought "wow that really does not suit her!" or "she is clearly a lesbian" or "is that supposed to be a woman" or "she clearly is lazy when it comes to her appearance" and all the random judgement I have either heard or had off-handedly thrown at me over the years. And y'know, I originally got my hair cut short following years of flack at school for not having the blessed poker-straight hairstyle that supposedly defines femininity. My hair grows outwards.

I think her hair looks really good. I hope this means she gets a better job, too.
angelofdeath275 13th-Dec-2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
are you white
mingemonster 13th-Dec-2012 03:57 pm (UTC)
That's bullshit. First they neglect to remove racist comments aimed at her as an employee at their company, and then they fire her for dealing with it herself. I hope the exposure means she can get a job at a place without assholes in charge

Edited at 2012-12-13 03:58 pm (UTC)
kynical 13th-Dec-2012 03:59 pm (UTC)
I hope she sues the hell out of them.
sugargroupie 13th-Dec-2012 05:07 pm (UTC)
you know what. it's not an ontd_p post on black hair without comments trying to make it about anything but black hair.
kitanabychoice 13th-Dec-2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
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