Rhonda Lee Sheds Her Teflon

Posted on December 12, 2012

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In 2009 when I was fired from my television job for a post on my personal facebook page, one of the very first people to reach out to me was a competitor, Rhonda Lee.

Rhonda was my rival for the affections of Nielsen TV market #137, the folks living in northeast Louisiana and southern Arkansas, she was a meteorologist at KNOE, the CBS affiliate, I was the lead anchor for the NBC affiliate, KTVE.

I’d met Rhonda on a handful of occasions when I was a reporter and we’d socialized a few times as well when we ran into each other out and about the town.

To say Rhonda Lee was a breath of fresh air on the local media scene is a grievous understatement.

Rhonda is effervescent, in fact I’m pretty sure the word effervescent originated for people like Rhonda Lee, she is that positive, that bubbly, that delightfully, charmingly, infectious and fun, on air and off. 

She really is, there isn’t one bit of difference between her on-camera persona, the professional meteorologist/reporter, and the person you’d have a casual conversation with.

Rhonda Lee is genuine and she is consistent, the same person no matter the setting or situation and that is as rare as it is valuable.

As with 95% of all the TV folks who come to Nielsen Market #137, Rhonda’s tenure in northeast Louisiana was all too brief, she moved on to bigger and better things, translation: bigger paychecks, but through facebook we’ve stayed in touch.

That’s how I learned Rhonda had been fired, through a facebook posting and my old friend remembered me, Rhonda tagged me in a comment to ask me if her situation sounded familiar.

10-4 Rhonda, it certainly did… from the Huffington Post –

The commentary that led to Rhonda Lee’s firing

On Oct. 1, a viewer identified as Emmitt Vascocu wrote, “the 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).”

Rhonda’s response –   “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.

But that wasn’t all, the management at KTBS cited this facebook post as another reason they ended Rhonda’s employment –

Rhonda_Lee

So KTBS, ABC affiliate Shreveport, Louisiana fired Rhonda for those two facebook posts.

TV news journalists, meteorologists and sportscasters are trained to be objective and that is as it should be.

But over the past two and a half decades, as TV stations have shifted from local to corporate ownership, objectivity has morphed into something impossible.

Today we’re not just supposed to be objective, no, the faceless, far-away, profits over people managment and owners of America’s friendly neighborhood TV stations want their on-air employees to be emotionless, Teflon-coated automatons.

And we’re not.

You see, its one thing to cover a story about racism, controversy isn’t just your job, it’s your bread and butter.

You become inoculated and the truth is, after a while you start to enjoy it.

It’s quite another experience to have racism (metaphorically) smeared in your face.

And then be told to like it. That is what KTBS wanted from my friend Rhonda Lee.

It’s part of the job, don’t rock the boat, don’t you dare upset the status quo, the viewer may not always be right, but they’re damn sure the only one with a ratings diary.

KTBS released a statement today –

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. Another employee was a white male reporter who was an eight year veteran of the station. The policy they violated provided a specific procedure for responding to viewer comments on the official KTBS Facebook page. Included is an email that was sent to all news department employees informing them of this procedure. This procedure is based on advice from national experts and commonly used by national broadcast and cable networks and local television stations across the country. 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.

I’m not buying it. I’ve seen the corporate circle the wagons routine a time or two before in my day and this statement reads like typical corporate CYA, lets-fix-the-barn-door-even-though-the-horse-is-long-gone, procedural BS.

For some reason media organizations believe enabling bullies is good policy.

It may be good corporate policy, but it’s not good people policy, it’s not good social policy. It’s dehumanizing. 

In fact, the facebook posters who left their racist comments on KTBS’s facebook page now feel justified, by-God they put that black girl with the short hair back in her place.

And TV station KTBS helped these racists run Rhonda outta town. 

Social media in general (facebook in particular) is changing our world at an unbelievable pace.

So fast that sometimes it grinds up people like Rhonda Lee and your humble correspondent.

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