*Two white male news broadcasters in Arkansas wore afro wigs during a live telecast to celebrate temperatures dipping into the ’70s after a suffocating weekslong heatwave, and were promptly suspended by the station.
In a play on the 70s temperatures, Arkansas’ KATV anchor Chris May and meteorologist Barry Brandt thought it would be funny to sport Afro wigs during a Sept. 16 weather segment dubbed, “Return to the ’70s.” The forecast caught the attention of African American activist Dr. Anika Whitfield, who issued a complaint to KATV, in which she wrote that the stunt was a perpetuation of “systemic racism” to have a “European American man” wear an Afro wig.
The Little Rock-based station, owned by the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, was quick in suspending the pair indefinitely and firing their boss, longtime news director Nick Genty. “Swift action was important to hold the responsible parties accountable,” a spokesperson told AdWeek. May and Brandt have worked at the station for more than 20 years, the Daily Mail reported.
After Whitfield reached out to John Seabers, a Sinclair Broadcast Group vice president and group manager in charge of local stations in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, he issued the following 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.”
KATV has since pledged to implement “further training for sensitivity and workplace conduct” following the incident.
Seabers later appeared on a Zoom call with Whitfield as well as members of the Central Arkansas Association of Black Journalists to apologize for the incident, per the Arkansas Times. He was joined by regional news director Blaise Labbe, an African-American man who is temporarily filling Genty’s position at KATV while the station searches for a replacement.
Meanwhile, Dorothy Tucker, President of the National Association of Black Journalists, said that the episode followed another incident in which a “mammy” doll was left in the KATV newsroom to greet a new Black anchor, Arkansas Business reported.
View photos of May and Brandt in their afro wigs, and the Mammy doll in the video below: