Two white television reporters in Little Rock, Ark., were suspended after they wore Afro wigs during an on-air broadcast in September. KATV’s news director, Nick Genty was also fired.
Now, in this era of Twitter dragging and racial awakening, you may ask yourself why would two white journalists, Chris May and Barry Brandt, the anchor and meteorologist who wore the wigs, do something so stupid? Well, it started with the fact that Little Rock had experienced its first 100-plus degree day in three years on Sept. 1, causing city officials to brace for deaths and heat stroke cases. Though, in the middle of the month, temperatures dropped to the 70s. So KATV thought it would be a great idea to go with a ’70s theme to celebrate the drop to cooler weather, the Washington Post reports.
They reporters could have worn some other attire that reminds folks of the ’70s (the Post mentions bell bottoms, peace symbols, etc.). But, no. Their minds went to Afros. The negative reaction was fast and rough, with activists calling in to complain.
Sinclair Broadcast Group executives apologized for the “poor judgment” in going through with the segment.
“It was just bad judgment,” John Seabers, a Sinclair vice president and group manager, told The Washington Post. “It was a spoof on the ’70s that just went wrong.”
Here is more from The Post:
In Little Rock, local activist Anika Whitfield “was not amused” by the 70s segment, saying that a White person wearing an “Afro wig” is a perpetuation of “systemic racism.” She then complained to KATV management, the Arkansas Times reported. When they did not respond, according to the paper, Whitfield went to Seabers, who got back to her quickly.
“We apologize to all viewers who were rightfully offended by the segment and we promise to enact and enforce new measures to prevent future incidents from occurring,” Seabers wrote in a statement.
Seabers — who oversees Sinclair stations in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma — followed up by meeting with the Central Arkansas Association of Black Journalists. He was joined by Sinclair regional news director Blaise Labbe, who is taking over at KATV for the ousted Genty while the company hunts for a permanent replacement. Genty declined to comment when contacted by The Post; May and Brandt did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
During a meeting with regional members of NABJ, Sinclair executives did not push back against the criticism directed at them, according to Arkansas Times. Basically, those on the call said that the wig incident was part of a broader issue with diversity and racism.
Here is a little snippet of what took place, per Arkansas Times:
Seabers said he was particularly disappointed because the episode followed by six weeks an intensive training session on racial sensitivity. Seabers said he couldn’t reveal individual disciplinary action, but said it was “significant.” He said, as a positive note, the incident would encourage stronger efforts to improve.
Whitfield said she’d judge the station by action, not words. She said stories of minority groups weren’t covered as well as those of “European-Americans.”
“We want the news,” Whitfield said.
“Give me a chance,” Seabers said. He said he hoped the Zoom session could be repeated and when it was, the group would say they had seen “positive change.”
This isn’t the only instance of racism at KATV.
Back in June, an employee complained about a Mammy doll—a racist caricature of Black women—hanging in an area shared by reporters and photographers. An investigation was conducted, but it didn’t find the person who hung the doll. In July, employees at the station underwent diversity training.
Dorothy Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said that KATV employs more than 40 people, but only eight of whom are Black. When you run the numbers, that is less than 20 percent of staff in a city with a population that’s 42 percent Black. One more fact Tucker told the Post: all the managers at KATV are white, which Seabers confirmed.