PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pittsburgh television station WTAE said it has ended its relationship with anchorwoman Wendy Bell over racial comments she posted on Facebook about an ambush shooting at a cookout that left five people and an unborn baby dead.
In a statement Wednesday, parent company Hearst Television said Bell’s comments were “inconsistent with the company’s ethics and journalistic standards.”
Bell, who is white, speculated about the identities of the two men who fatally shot five black people in the poor Pittsburgh suburb of Willkinsburg on March 9.
In her March 21 post on her anchor Facebook page, she said 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.”
In the same post, she also praised a black restaurant worker in a way some readers felt was condescending.
After a social media backlash, Bell apologized, saying her words “were insensitive and could be viewed as racist.” The station also apologized, saying Bell’s remarks showed “an egregious lack of judgment.”
Authorities have not made any arrests in the killings or provided a description of the possible suspects. Siblings Jerry Michael Shelton, 35, Brittany Powell, 27, and Chanetta Powell, 25, along with two cousins, Tina Shelton, 37, and Shada Mahone, 26, were killed in the ambush shooting, police said. Chanetta Powell was nearly eight months pregnant.
On Wednesday, Bell defended herself, saying she didn’t get a “fair shake” from the station, and that the story was not about her, but about “African-Americans being killed by other African-Americans.”
“It makes me sick,” she told The Associated Press when reached at her home on Wednesday. “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, that 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.”
Bell joined WTAE in 1998 and has won 21 Emmy Awards.
Her post drew mixed reactions from viewers. Some saw her comments as offensive and called for her firing, while others said the comments were not racist and applauded her honesty. Facebook pages in support and opposition of Bell were created in the wake of the incident.
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