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It’s been a whirlwind few days for reporters and media professionals at Philadelphia’s local CBS station, KYW-TV, after a story published over the weekend detailed a network culture handcuffed by racism and sexism.
An article published in the Los Angeles Times about alleged misconduct from CBS Television Stations President Peter Dunn and VP David Friend focused almost entirely on Philadelphia, the network’s fourth largest market. Former CBS Philly news executive Brien Kennedy sued the company, saying he was fired for cooperating in an internal investigation about Dunn’s attitudes.
The scathing report details improper behavior by Dunn and Friend toward Kennedy and former Philly news exec Margaret Cronan.
It also detailed a pattern of racism and misogyny wherein new and longtime Black anchors got caught in the crossfire. Newscaster Rahel Solomon left the station after Dunn refused to extend her contract, allegedly because of issues with her appearance. Oklahoma native Brooke Thomas, brought in from Dallas to help diversify KYW-TV’s on-air presence, was fired by Dunn and Friend after just a few months for what seemed like no good reason.
Meanwhile, Philly’s beloved TV news veteran and lead CBS 3 evening anchor Ukee Washington was reduced, in the execs’ comments, to “jive talking” and “dancing.”
Washington declined to speak with several news organizations for stories about the allegations, but emotionally addressed them during a TV segment on his station.
“We all have the power to create change,” he said on Tuesday, “and we can do it, together.”
Washington has received an outpouring of support from station colleagues, industry admirers and other professional organizations.
What all happened at CBS 3?
Cronan, Kennedy, and several others who spoke to the LA Times on condition of anonymity outlined a workplace wherein Dunn allegedly micromanaged who appeared on screen in Philadelphia and other local markets.
The allegations came to light once Kennedy filed a complaint about the television station president with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission early last year.
Kennedy’s complaint alleges he was fired from his position as general manager after he participated in an investigation of Dunn’s misconduct, despite reassurance from legal counsel that he would not face retaliation.
Since then, other Black former CBS anchors at other networks have shared their stories of racism and discrimination.
A Facebook post from former CBS NYC anchor Don Champion, a gay Black man, has been liked more than 1k times and shared nearly by nearly 200 people.
“My life was upended and my TV news career ruined starting with the bigotry of the likes of David Friend and Peter Dunn,” he said.
What exactly did Dunn and Friend allegedly do?
In reference to lead evening anchor Washington, Kennedy recalled Dunn saying, “All he does is dance … dancing, dancing.” The reference likely came from an annual charity segment Washington led, during which he danced along with young students, helping raise tens of thousands of dollars for local Catholic schools.
Cronan also recalled a conversation with Dunn where he said Washington did a bunch of “jive talking.”
“Sometimes, he’s just not speaking my language,” Cronan and Kennedy recalled Dunn saying about Washington.
Dunn also refused to hire a Black woman anchor, and when the station ended up doing so anyway by bringing on Thomas, she was quickly rejected.
“Can you please tell her to stop shouting, stop talking in a fake Southern accent and stop sucking the air out of the show,” Friend said in an email about Thomas’ “CBS This Morning” performance. Thomas is now an anchor at Fox Soul.
Solomon, a Black Ethiopian woman and Philly native who replaced Thomas, wasn’t kept beyond her initial contract despite advocacy for her continued employment by local executives. Dunn allegedly said he “hate[d] her face,” before denying the extension. Solomon is now at CNBC.
Dunn also questioned aloud if one anchor being considered for hire at CBS3 was “too gay,” the report alleges.
How did CBS respond?
The national network announced executives Dunn and Friend have been placed on administrative leave pending a third party investigation.
Who else has spoken out?
The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists published a statement the day the LA Times piece came to light, supporting Washington and calling on CBS 3 to “work to make their actions speak louder than racist rhetoric.”
Brandin Stewart, President and general manager at CBS, told the Inquirer he plans to meet with PABJ and other organizations.
The National Association of Black Journalists is calling on CBS to release employees from nondisclosure agreements so they can more openly address discrimination in the workplace.
Radio station KYW, formerly part of the same company but now owned by Entercom, issued a statement in support of Washington and “the entire CBS Philly team across the spectrum of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexuality.
“We condemn and denounce any words that degrade and demean any of our friends at CBS Philly, and indeed throughout our industry.”
Aside from official statements and actions, anchor Washington has garnered waves of praise and support from network peers in other cities and states, Philadelphia colleagues, and fans and viewers who said they admire and appreciate his three-decade career at the station.