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18-year career marked with professional achievements and distinguished performance is over, just like that, because we can no longer say what we think. What a disgrace

Pittsburgh anchor fired for ‘racist’ Facebook post . . . but was it really?

By —— Bio and Archives--March 31, 2016

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A Pittsburgh news anchor named Wendy Bell, a veteran of 18 years at WTAE-TV, is now unemployed. Not because she did a bad job as a news anchor. As far as anyone can see, she didn’t. In fact, it had nothing to do with anything she did on the job.

You know where this is going, right? Bell held forth on her Facebook page about a recent local crime, and was quite unrestrained in expressing her frustration and anguish over what had happened - especially because she felt pretty confident it would follow a pattern she’d seen many times before. This would be a pattern that would relate to young men growing up with no fathers and having so many strikes against them before they even start their lives that something like this was almost inevitable. And oh yes, Bell acknowledged, this is particularly an affliction of the black community.

Was it racist for her to say that? It scarcely matters, to be honest. Anything that gets the attention of the race pimps will bring a quick retreat from a high-profile employer, which wants above all else to avoid trouble. But was it? What do you think?

  Next to “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times,” I remember my mom most often saying to my sister and me when we were young and constantly fighting, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I’ve really had nothing nice to say these past 11 days and so this page has been quiet. There’s no nice words to write when a coward holding an AK-47 hoses down a family and their friends sharing laughs and a mild evening on a back porch in Wilkinsburg. There’s no kind words when six people are murdered. When their children have to hide for cover and then emerge from the frightened shadows to find their mother’s face blown off or their father’s twisted body leaking blood into the dirt from all the bullet holes. There’s just been nothing nice to say. And I’ve been dragging around this feeling like a cold I can’t shake that rattles in my chest each time I breathe and makes my temples throb. I don’t want to hurt anymore. I’m tired of hurting.

  You needn’t be a criminal profiler to draw a mental sketch of the killers who broke so many hearts two weeks ago Wednesday. I will tell you they live within 5 miles of Franklin Avenue and Ardmore Boulevard and have been hiding out since in a home likely much closer to that backyard patio than anyone thinks. They are young black men, likely 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. They’ve made the circuit and nothing has scared them enough. Now they are lost. Once you kill a neighbor’s three children, two nieces and her unborn grandson, there’s no coming back. There’s nothing nice to say about that.

  But there is HOPE. And Joe and I caught a glimpse of it Saturday night. A young, African American teen hustling like nobody’s business at a restaurant we took the boys to over at the Southside Works. This child stacked heavy glass glasses 10 high and carried three teetering towers of them in one hand with plates piled high in the other. He wiped off the tables. Tended to the chairs. Got down on his hands and knees to pick up the scraps that had fallen to the floor. And he did all this with a rhythm and a step that gushed positivity. He moved like a dancer with a satisfied smile on his face. And I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He’s going to make it.

  When Joe paid the bill, I asked to see the manager. He came over to our table apprehensively and I told him that that young man was the best thing his restaurant had going. The manager beamed and agreed that his young employee was special. As the boys and we put on our coats and started walking out — I saw the manager put his arm around that child’s shoulder and pat him on the back in congratulation. It will be some time before I forget the smile that beamed across that young worker’s face — or the look in his eyes as we caught each other’s gaze. I wonder how long it had been since someone told him he was special.

  There’s someone in your life today — a stranger you’re going to come across — who could really use that. A hand up. A warm word. Encouragement. Direction. Kindness. A Chance. We can’t change what’s already happened, but we can be a part of what’s on the way. Speak up. Reach out. Dare to Care. Give part of You to someone else. That, my friends, can change someone’s course. And then—just maybe THEN—I’ll start feeling again like there’s something nice to say.

So what exactly makes this racist? Bell does make reference to predictable patterns of behavior in the black community, but she doesn’t do so in a mocking way or in a way that implies her own superiority. She clearly is heartbroken by it, just as she finds encouragement in the young man she and her husband (assuming that’s who Joe is) encountered in the restaurant. And she ends by urging others to offer encouragement, direction and kindness to those trying to fight their way through circumstances like that.

So the problem with all this is . . . what? She’s not complaining about all the horrible black people causing problems for the nice white people. She’s lamenting that young people in the black community who deserve better futures can’t seem to escape from these patterns, and she’s hoping for that to change.

Is the problem that she acknowledged the pattern? Because the pattern is real and if you want to make it about her job, it’s her job to tell us about things that are real. Is the problem that she came off as too condescending in her description of the “child” who waited on her and Joe? I probably wouldn’t have used that word had I been the writer, but given the full context of the post, it’s clear that she’s rooting for him and sees many good things in him. So where’s the problem there? Where’s the hate? Where’s the bias? Where’s the discrimination?

Continued below...

There is none. What happened here is that WTAE acted out of fear. As soon as the usual people started expressing their indignation at this, the station knew it had to choose between standing behind and defending the goodwill behind Bell’s post - in which case they would face protests, boycotts, etc. - or they could cut ties with her to avoid any trouble. They did what corporate America usually does these days. It let fear dictate its actions, and went through the embarrassing spectacle of feigning remorse and pretending Bell had really done anything wrong.

And an 18-year career marked with professional achievements and distinguished performance is over, just like that, because we can no longer say what we think. What a disgrace.

Dan Calabrese -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Dan Calabrese’s column is distributed by, which can be found at

A new edition of Dan’s book “Powers and Principalities” is now available in hard copy and e-book editions. Follow all of Dan’s work, including his series of Christian spiritual warfare novels, by liking his page on Facebook.

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