UPDATE, Oct. 7: KATV anchor Chris May and meteorologist Barry Brandt returned to Channel 7’s 10 o’clock newscast Wednesday, Oct. 6. It was their first appearance since Sept. 16, when they wore curly black wigs on-air in a stunt that led to complaints of racial insensitivity and the firing of News Director Nick Genty.
May, a Little Rock native who returned home in 2016 after big-market stints in Boston and Philadelphia, said he was sorry and thankful for being given a second chance, adding “we must do better.” Brandt, a KATV mainstay since 1997, said he’d been insensitive in making what he once believed was “a lighthearted reference to the 1970s using a prop [the wigs] during my forecast.” He said he’d learned from the criticism, which included complaints from the National Association of Black Journalists and several Channel 7 viewers who were offended.
Here are the statements May and Brandt made to open Wednesday night’s newscast.
Chris May: “First I want to take a moment to apologize and be accountable for a terrible decision I made when I last appeared on this newscast back on September 16. That night, I did what many of you have said I did. I appropriated a look that was not just unprofessional. It was insensitive, and it was offensive. My intentions were irrelevant. All that matters is how I made people feel. And it is clear that I cause many people, many African Americans in particular, to feel pain. And for that I could not be more sorry. It has been said that questions of race and racism can define people's view of the world in fundamental ways. And on a newscast like this one. It's important that those views be explored and amplified, treated with respect, not ridicule. All of this has led me to more closely examine myself and the station to more closely examine its mission and purpose in covering our entire community. In both cases, I think we've found that we can and we must do better. And moving forward, we promise we will. Personally, I'm grateful for a second chance to earn your trust, and to continue serving the city and this state that we're all so proud to call our home. Barry.
Barry Brandt: “Thanks, Chris. And I want to sincerely apologize for my actions. A few weeks ago, during the live broadcast, I made what I believed was a light hearted reference to the 1970s using a prop during my forecast. Please know it was never, ever my intention to offend or cause any harm. This incident has taught me to be more aware of cliches and stereotypes and the damage they can cause. It was insensitive, it was objectionable, I apologize deeply for my actions, and I will work to regain your trust.”
Original story, Sept. 24, 2021:
KATV-TV, Channel 7, News Director Nick Genty has been fired by Sinclair Broadcast Group amid outrage from viewers and the National Association of Black Journalists over a pattern of behavior in the ABC affiliate’s newsroom.
Anchor Chris May and meteorologist Barry Brandt have apparently been sidelined after appearing in curly black wigs during a segment in the 10 p.m. newscast Sept. 16 linking the return of temperatures to the 70s with a throwback theme of the 1970s. That episode, NABJ President Dorothy Tucker said, came in the wake of a "Mammy doll" being left in the newsroom to greet a new Black anchor. Tucker's Twitter timeline included a picture of the doll, in stereotypical handkerchief headdress.
Sinclair officials confirmed the firing Friday, and KATV later issued a statement to Adweek.com saying that "swift action was important to hold the responsible parties accountable." The company said it had also installed a regional news manager as Channel 7's interim newsroom chief, and that new training and added diligence against toxic cultures are coming chainwide.
John Seabers, Sinclair's senior group manager for Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, first confirmed the firing to Max Brantley of Arkansas Times. Attempts to reach Genty by regular phone and email channels failed.
"We hope this is an indication of [Sinclair's] commitment to provide a newsroom that values and respects Black employees," Tucker, the journalists association leader, wrote on Twitter Thursday evening
The nearly 300-station chain is headquartered in Hunt Valley, Maryland. "Nick Genty is no longer at KATV," Seabers told Brantley. He wouldn't go into any other discipline at the station.
Little Rock podiatrist Anika Whitfield was offended by the 1970s stunt and complained to the station and to executives at Sinclair, a chain known for its conservative bent and mandatory commentary segments on all its stations from figures like former Donald Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn.
Whitfield sought a public apology for the station's "thoughtless subversive racism," and called for "culturally competent training and education" for the entire KATV news and production teams. "Systemic racism is never acceptable or tolerable," she wrote. Seabers responded that he'd had "some deep water to wade through" but that the KATV situation had been addressed at "the highest levels of our company."
Tucker listened in as Sinclair executives met virtually Wednesday with community representatives and members of the Central Arkansas Association of Black Journalists, a local chapter of the national group. Tucker tweeted she'd learned that all KATV news managers are white, and that only eight of 40-plus employees are Black. "Then I heard about the Mammy doll that greeted a new Black anchor and fake porno pics of the city mayor on @WeAreSinclair's Slack Channel," she said. Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., who is Black, was reportedly the object of crude photoshopped images.
Seabers was joined on the conference call by Blaise Labbe, a regional news manager who will be overseeing KATV's newsroom while a search proceeds for Genty's replacement. They apologized repeatedly for the wig incident and insensitive newsroom culture, and said those involved were being disciplined. KATV later released a statement to Adweek.com:
“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. Effective immediately, the news director is no longer with the company. Additionally, regional news director, Blaise Labbe, will be overseeing the newsroom in an interim capacity.
“Moving forward, we will be performing more rigorous upfront due diligence on any other recent additions to our portfolio of stations to better understand the history and culture of each to ensure we can take any necessary corrective actions sooner. We wholeheartedly condemn any actions that don’t represent our values of diversity and inclusion and remain committed to ensuring that our newsrooms serve as a welcoming and safe place for all backgrounds and ideas.”
In response to suggestions that May's and Brandt's antics were examples of systemic racism, defenders said they meant to convey no racial message, and pointed to prominent white people with curly hair in the 1970s, including TV journalist Gene Shalit and former University of Arkansas basketball coach Eddie Sutton. Some saw Genty as essentially a scapegoat. "It’s tough to can prominent talent," one retired Little Rock newsman said. "Basically a lose-lose situation for Sinclair. Some viewers will think they overreacted, others will say Chris and Barry should be gone."
Genty had been on the job since February 2011, when he was promoted from assistant news director.
Before that, Genty worked for more than 20 years at Little Rock CBS affiliate KTHV-TV, Channel 11, which is owned by Tegna Inc. of Tysons, Virginia.