Two white news anchors in Arkansas were suspended and their boss has been fired after they sported African wigs to celebrate temperatures finally dipping into the 70s after a weeklong heatwave. Arkansas' KATV anchor Chris May and meteorologist Barry Brandt donned Afro wigs in an on-air segment, which didn't go down well with the viewers, resulting in the television channel to take prompt action.
The incident happened on September 16 during a section on weather as part of a news show that was aired at 10 pm. Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the station, conducted an investigation and recently suspended May and Brandt, while it fired its longtime news director Nick Genty.
May and Brandt were anchoring the segment, titled 'return to the 70s', where on-air personalities sported looks popular in the 1970s. The idea was to celebrate the return to 70-degree weather after 90F heat wave all summer and a triple-digit day early in September.
In doing so the two anchors donned hairpieces that were Afro-American. This didn't go down well with many of the viewers as their felt the concept hinted as racial discrimination. In fact, May also later shared a Twitter photo of their controversial cosplay. However, he later deleted it after realizing the gravity of the situation.
Although the entire segment was planned as a funny episode, the fraught forecast was condemned by African American activist Dr. Anika Whitfield, who issued a complaint to WATV, in which she wrote that the stunt was a perpetuation of "systemic racism" to have a "European American man" wear an Afro wig.
Whitfield initially didn't receive any response from the station and then decided to reach out to John Seabers, a Sinclair Broadcast Group vice president and group manager in charge of local stations in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma.
Seabers, understanding that the situation was going out of control, issued an apology. "We apologize to all viewers who were rightfully offended by the segment, and we promise to enact and enforce new measures to prevent future incidents from occurring," he said.
However, things didn't end there. He then suspended May and Brandt indefinitely and fired longtime news director Genty. In a statement to TV Spy, a spokesperson for the station said: "It was determined through our investigation into the recent events at KATV that swift action was important to hold the responsible parties accountable. 'We are also implementing further training for sensitivity and workplace conduct, in line with our commitment to ensuring events like this don't happen again."
Seabers later joined Whitfield on a Zoom call, which was also attended by members of the Central Arkansas Association of Black Journalists, to apologize for the incident. Seabers called the cultural Afro-priation "abhorrent" and "juvenile," adding that he was especially disappointed as the staff had undergone six weeks of racial sensitivity training prior to the segment.
"We apologize to all viewers who were rightfully offended by the segment, and we promise to enact and enforce new measures to prevent future incidents from occurring," Seabers later said in a statement.