People Are Still Talking About Wendy Bell Getting Fired from WTAE

By Kevin Eck 

Four days after being fired from Hearst-owned Pittsburgh ABC affiliate WTAE for comments she made on her station Facebook page, Wendy Bell was back on social media with her own page.

“It’s been a few days since I’ve eaten anything,” wrote Bell, who was fired Wednesday after a story she wrote on Facebook was considered “inconsistent with the company’s ethics and journalistic standards.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports “In its first three hours of existence, her page drew more than 20,600 likes.

While a Hearst spokesperson declined to comment on what’s next for the station, the firing was met with surprise and disappointment by some. Others applauded the move.

In addition to profiling suspected murderer of six in Wilkinsburg by saying in part, “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,” Bell had written about Brandon Walker, a bus boy she noticed because of his hard work. She wondered “how long it had been since someone told him he was special.”

Some commenters on her original page said the story reeked of white privilege and was condescending. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Walker was happy to be noticed by Bell.

“She actually took the time to notice that I was trying hard, and I appreciate that,” said Walker. “That’s what I learned about Wendy. I feel like she notices things that other people might not take the time to.”

PittNews, the newspaper for the University of Pittsburgh, said her firing “won’t solve anything.”

But saying her language “could be viewed” and she “regrets offending” shows she has learned nothing from the situation. This is unsurprising, as WTAE passed on a valuable teaching opportunity for both Bell and all of Pittsburgh.

Cutting ties with Bell rather than using the incident to publicly address systemic racism doesn’t do much more than make Bell a problematic martyr for those who call efforts toward inclusivity to be malformations of “PC culture.” It also puts the blame on Bell rather than the larger systems at play here that led her to believe her comments were OK.

“They want people to take their coverage seriously, but they wouldn’t be able to as long as all the talk is about them having a racially insensitive reporter,” the Chicago Tribune’s Scott Kleinberg told Eric Heyl of the Tribune-Review. “This story would overshadow everything else.”

There are now competing Facebook pages. Demand WTAE Hold Wendy Bell Accountable, with over 1,200 likes, is now linking to Replace Wendy Bell with a Better Anchor which has 17 likes. Boycott WTAE: Bring Wendy Bell Back has over 12,00 likes as of this writing.

“Between 50 and 75 percent of a television news station’s online traffic is driven from Facebook,” Al Tompkins, Poynter Institute instructor told the Tribune-Review. “It’s a stunning number.”