NABJ wants two CBS executives fired amid racism allegations

The NABJ met with CBS and agreed that there must be an 'external-led investigation'

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The NABJ has met with CBS on Sunday about allegations of racism and misconduct at the network and are calling for the firing of two top executives.

CBS has been at the center of controversy for the past two years amid accusations of sexual harassment, lack of diversity and misogyny came to a head in the summer of 2018. The Los Angeles Times reported that CBS hired two outside firms to address the complaints on the company who promised “a thorough and independent inquiry.”

Signage for the CBS Broadcast Center is displayed outside the building on August 13, 2019 in New York City. Following years of on-and-off talks and negotiations, CBS and Viacom have agreed to merge. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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In particular, CBS Television Stations President Peter Dunn, who is white, was singled out as blocking efforts to recruit and hire more Black journalists at various stations. In one instance, Dunn referred to CBS 3 Philadelphia news anchor Ukee Washington as “just a jive guy.”

“Peter would say: ‘All he does is dance … dancing, dancing,’” veteran general manager Brien Kennedy recalled in an interview with the Times.

Ukee Washington
CBS 3 Philadelphia news anchor Ukee Washington.(Gilbert Carrasquillo / Getty Images)

This account was supported by Margaret Cronan who left her position as news director of KYW-TV Channel 3 in 2017 due to the environment.

“He’s not doing that ‘jive-talking’ anymore? Sometimes, he’s just not speaking my language,” Cronan recalled Dunn saying in the meeting, which was attended by several people.

“I was shocked that a corporate head would use words like that to describe an African American,” Cronan said. “Besides, Ukee was such a valuable asset to viewers and internally to our team. I couldn’t believe Peter Dunn would even be questioning his performance.”

The Times reviewed an email exchange between Dunn and Senior Vice President of News for CBS Stations and VP of News at WCBS-TV New York David Friend where they celebrated over a rise in the ratings. It was attributed to a stereotype about Black culture.

“Guys your late news retention is the worst in the [CBS station] group.” Dunn, in an email reviewed by The Times, wrote: “Maybe it’s the dancing!”

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The National Association of Black Journalists also noted pay disparity; KYW Philadelphia continually looked over Black freelancers for full-time jobs and WCBS in NYC only hired one Black male reporter in five years. The organization asked for the firing of Dunn and Friend in a press release on Monday.

“New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world, so there is no excuse not to have sufficient Black representation among the news staff,” said NABJ Vice President- Broadcast Ken Lemon in the press release. “The time for change is now.”

NABJ Vice President-Digital Roland S. Martin was frustrated that the organization still had to contend with the racism in the business more than 45 years after its founding.

“We aren’t satisfied with lip service. We don’t want promises that things will change. We are heartened by our discussion with George and Marva that there will be real, substantial, and substantive changes at CBS to ensure that it is a welcoming place for Black and other journalists of color to work, rise and succeed.”

Lemon and Martin were a part of the group that met with CBS along with ABJ Executive Director Drew Berry, CEO of CBS-Branded Assets George Cheeks, who heads the CBS Television Network, CBS News, CBS Television Stations, and Marva Smalls, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Inclusion.

NABJ President Dorothy Tucker did not participate in the phone call as she is a current CBS employee. NABJ board guidelines prevent her from being involved in these discussions with her own company.

Sunday’s conversation resulted in Cheeks and Smalls agreeing “that there must be an external-led investigation, and pledged to work with NABJ on a path forward.”

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