On December 20, former KXAN meteorologist Rhonda Lee alerted her Facebook supporters that she had arrived in Chicago for a taping of the Steve Harvey Show:
Headed to Chicago for feature interview on the Steve Harvey Show tomorrow ! Very excited
It was one of countless TV, radio and internet interviews Lee has done since she was fired from KTBS in Shreveport, Louisiana for violating the station’s social media policy. Lee took a job with the station in January after Austin’s KXAN cut her loose last year.
CNN’s headline on December 12, 2012:
Fired for defending her hairstyle on Facebook; Ex-KTBS meteorologist Rhonda Lee: ‘Other people are given platforms, I was given a pink slip’ -
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) has jumped into the fray and offered this, based only on the published reports of others:
What happened to Lee is disturbing. Although the nation continues to become more diverse, biases based on race, ethnicity, gender and culture persist in newsrooms.
According to KTBS, Lee’s dismissal had nothing to do with her hair or race. KTBS warned Lee to stop confronting viewers who made questionable comments on the station’s Facebook page, but she did it anyway.
Prior to that, she says she alerted station management to the racial comments and that they did nothing about it, leaving two posts on the station’s Facebook page intact.
Whether she was justified in responding to the two viewers is sure to be hashed out by lawyers.
“I’m exploring my options,” Lee told CNN contributor and blogger Roland Martin.
Lee also received an August 31 email directive from station management, telling her and other employees not to respond to negative comments on Facebook and social media. Lee told Roland Martin she never saw it.
The second time Lee took on a viewer who posted a racially charged comment (using Buckwheat as a profile picture), KTBS showed her the door.
The meteorologist had just chalked up her second job dismissal in 11 months. Austin’s KXAN fired her in December 2011. She turned around and sued the TV station for racial discrimination. That case is ongoing.
Lee told the Maynord Institute’s Journal-isms:
Race has been the issue with me since I started. That much is VERY true. Weather is an older white boy business and arms have been less than open for a young black girl — a polar opposite. As reported I’ve had more problems here in the south than I have anywhere else in my 25+ years in the business. Perhaps there is a pattern, but I am a glutton for punishment (ha, ha), and I want what I deserve as any professional would so if I have to fight for it I will.
If the quote is accurate, Lee, who gives her age as 37, started out forecasting weather on local TV news when she was 12.
The quote went unchallenged by the journalism trade website.
Lee’s discrimination claims in Austin are all rooted in her hair. She also claimed in interviews that she had the same race and hair problems in Sacramento. However, at the Austin and Shreveport TV stations, Lee’s short hair was roughly the same length on the day she was hired as the day she was fired.
Using her deft social and media skills, Lee hired a publicist from Portland, Oregon and mounted an impressive public relations campaign against the Shreveport station. With the help of CNN and others, Lee completely changed the facts and the narrative. A lazy news media has been sopping it up ever since.
Rhonda Lee has not been telling the whole truth. Apparently no one at CNN or any other news organization has bothered to look beyond anything other than what Lee has told them. If they did, they aren’t reporting it.
The most glaring fact that Lee has not disclosed changes the entire narrative of this being a story about an attractive black woman fired for standing up for her black heritage and hairstyle.
Lee launched her media crusade by humiliating and assaulting the character of Emmitt Vascocu, a 57-year-old white KTBS viewer, whom she knew full well was mentally ill.
Lee had known it for two months before she was fired and subsequently interviewed by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien on her morning show called Starting Point.
“Hi Emmitt. Thank you for the heartfelt response. I’m very sorry to hear about your Alzheimer disease,” Lee wrote to Vascocu on October 7 in a private message on Facebook.
But evidently, Lee’s sympathy evaporated after she was fired by KTBS on November 28. She brought out the long knives for Emmitt Vascocu.
“I don’t know why she is doing this to me and my family. I apologized and told her I wasn’t racist. Maybe she wants ratings,” said Vascocu.
He added, “I’ve had my life threatened and I’m too weak to protect myself. Life isn’t worth living anymore.”
In addition to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Vascocu, suffered severe brain damage to his temporal lobe in a car accident four years ago, which has impaired his ability to express emotion and communicate. He is also afflicted by Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, diabetes and was hospitalized last year for a stroke.
To top it off, Vascocu has been bi-polar since birth.
It’s hard to believe that one man could be so unfortunate and endure so many ailments and still be alive. But it was all spelled out in a 17 page medical report that was voluntarily sent to The Digital Texan by Vascocu and his family. It’s signed by his Shreveport neurologist:
“We are working diligently to control his (Vascocu) conditions so that he can live the most productive life possible.”
To say he is mentally ill is an understatement. He is a helpless and broken man, incapable of defending himself, especially from someone as sophisticated as Lee or as powerful as CNN and other national media organizations.
“He was clearly uneducated and I was happy to shine a little light in his dark little world,” Lee laughed on December 11, while answering a question by a man named Tommy Sotomayor, a controversial figure known more for disparaging black women than helping them.
That comment was a far cry from the private message she sent Vascocu two months earlier. “Hi Emmitt. Thank you for the heartfelt response.”
Sotomayor had no idea Vascocu was mentally ill, but he dined well off the chunk of red meat Lee tossed his way.
He and Lee painted Vascocu as a stereotypical white racist. But it gets worse.