Television personalities are encouraged to communicate with their fans on Facebook but a meteorologist in Shreveport, La. was fired for doing just that.
Rhonda Lee, the weekend weather forecaster for KTBS-TV, was fired for responding to comments left on her station’s Facebook page lambasting her appearance. She responded to a viewer’s complaint that suggested the “black lady” wear a wig to hide her cropped hair.
“im not sure if she is a cancer patient,” wrote viewer Emmitt Vascocu on Oct 1, according to Ebony. “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.”
Lee politely responded later that day telling Vascocu that she’s the “black lady” he was referring to:
“I’m sorry you don’t like my ethnic hair. And no I don’t have cancer,” responded Lee. “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.”
She explained to the viewer that her hair is part of her heritage and said that numerous black women use hair products to create more “European” hairstyles.
“Many Black women use strong straightening agents in order to achieve a more European grade of hair and that is their choice,” wrote Lee. “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.”
According to a blog post on the Maynard Institute’s website, a journalism organization devoted to promoting diversity, the viewer replied to Lee saying she should be proud who she is but the world has “certain standerds [sic]” of appearance. Lee didn’t respond to that.
On Nov. 14, Lee responded to an unrelated comment KTBS’ Facebook page from a viewer lamenting that many of the kids at the station’s holiday charity event are “people of color.” Lee said the children are picked at random. “So there goes your theory that they are selected to their color,” she wrote.
Lee sent screenshots of the Facebook conversations to station management, who Lee said did not take any action in deleting them.
And that was it until Nov. 28, when the ABC affiliate terminated the contracts of two employees—one being Lee’s.
“The policy they violated provided a specific procedure for responding to viewer comments on the official KTBS Facebook page,” wrote Randy Bain, the channel’s news director to the Maynard Institute’s Richard Prince.
But Lee refutes that the station’s social media policy is well-known, telling Prince that in a meeting Friday trying to get her job back, she found out that the Facebook policy hasn’t been put in writing.
“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,” said Lee to Prince. “A meeting I didn't attend. So when I asked what rule did I break there isn't anything to point to.”
KTBS has responded on its Facebook page, making an exception to a station policy against commenting on personal items.
It posted an email circulated to its employees regarding the channel’s Facebook policy from August. A rule stated that employees can not respond to complaints from viewers, explaining it’s a “no-win situation” for the viewer and the station. Lee said that was the first time she had heard of the email.
However, that is not halting outraged viewers calling for KTBS to reinstate Lee and even lambasting the station’s Facebook policy. There’s even a petition on Change.org to get Lee’s job back.
“You allowed someone to be so disrespectful to one of your employees! You should support your employees however you choose to dismiss them,” wrote Rachel Sexton Penwell on Facebook, whose comment garnered more than 400 likes. “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Late Tuesday, Bain reinforced that Lee was let go for violating policy—and not her comments regarding hair.
"Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure and after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued,” explained Bain. “Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance. She was fired for continuing to violate company procedure."
Photo via Meteorologist Rhonda A. Lee/Facebook