Wendy Bell, a relative no-name with Pittsburgh television station WTAE, suddenly is enemy number one. Bell posted a Facebook message that was seen as racist and inflammatory. There is no quicker way to nose-dive a career than expressing – or writing – xenophobic scorn. Just ask Paula Deen, or Don Imus, or Mel Gibson, or Donald Sterling, or…
Bell learned the hard way that you have to keep your thoughts to yourself. According to The Associated Press on March 30, Bell, who is white, was reporting on an ambush at a cookout in the city suburb of Wilkinsburg back on March 9 that left five people dead, including an unborn child of one of the victims. All of the victims were black.
Then, on March 21, she posted the following on her WTAE Facebook page, writing in part:
“You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday… They are young black men, likely in their teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there. They know the police. They’ve been arrested.”
A week later, she was out of a job. WTAE parent company Hearst Television called Bell’s comments “inconsistent with the company’s ethics and journalistic standards.” Bell herself apologized – as did the station – saying that her words were “insensitive and could be viewed as racist.” WTAE went a little further, calling her speculative remarks “an egregious lack of judgment.”
Wendy Bell has been with WTAE since 1988. She is a 21-time Emmy award recipient for her journalism. According to the AP report, Bell defended herself this week, stating that the story touched a nerve with her, but that it’s not about her, it’s about “African-Americans being killed by other African-Americans.”
“It makes me sick,” she said. “What matters is what’s going on in America, and it is the death of black people in this country… I live next to three war-torn communities in the city of Pittsburgh, which I love dearly. My stories, they struck a nerve. They touched people, but it’s not enough. More needs to be done. The problem needs to be addressed.”
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bell’s comments have been taken down and her profile page on WTAE Facebook and at the station’s website has since been deleted.
Aly Colon, a professor of media ethics at Washington and Lee University, and a former director of standards and practices at NBC News, told the Post-Gazette that Bell crossed a line that journalists must never cross.
“Journalists always – and I don’t use ‘always’ all the time – must be careful about what they write or say because the audience, the readers and the viewers, are depending on them to provide information that they can trust, to be as fair and impartial as possible,” Colon said.
Sound off below: Do you think Wendy bell deserved to be fired?