In October 1993, if I recall correctly, there was a big unflattering story in New York's The Daily News about NBC News management. A network news staffer, it was reported in the article, raised a major complaint when a network news producer, a white man, referred to Somalian military leaders as "educated jungle bunnies" during a prep meeting for the evening's newscast. The producer who made the racial slur was contacted by the newspaper columnists, admitted what he said and did not apologize for his statement. He was neither fired nor suspended. Can you imagine if that New York Daily News article had come out nowadays in this age of social media?
WEEKEND TODAY IN NEW YORK became a hit local show. I quit the show in early 1995. I was told that, although my work was good and I was popular with viewers, I would only be a part time employee on the weekend show. I would be on the show but no longer under contract. I would not be moving up to full time work on WNBC and I most certainly would not be moving up to network exposure. That's why I gave my 2-weeks notice.
I got other work in TV. In 2002, I watched the 50th anniversary of TODAY. It was a wonderful show. But it really hit me at the end when all the on-air talent past and present was gathered, that there were only TWO African-American talents working on TODAY in its first 50 years -- Bryant Gumble and Al Roker. Only two in 50 years.
The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia -- with neo-Nazis and KKK members on the march -- were like a punch in the gut to Katie as she watched news footage. Katie said: "It's become the symbol of where we are as Americans in 2017, and it breaks my heart...Perhaps Charlottesville will serve as a wake-up call, that hate groups need to be taken seriously and that fair-minded people need to speak up..."
Am I surprised the events at Charlottesville happened? No. I grew in South Central L.A. during the Watts Riots. I attended high school in Watts. I saw how the rebellion was covered. The damage was documented but not the racial disrespect and agitation that sparked it. During my first professional broadcast job, in Milwaukee after I graduated from Marquette University, I would get anonymous hate mail with the N-word and swastikas in the letters. I'm a Black American. I know personally that the this country I love is still infected with a virus of racism. And not just below the Mason-Dixon line.
When Katie was at NBC and the "educated jungle bunnies" story broke, did she realize how disgusted we employees of color were to read that? Did she notice that TODAY hired only two Black talents in a 50-year period? When Donald Trump, an NBC TV host, frequently and disrespectfully claimed that President Obama was not a real citizen, did she know how angry that made us Black Americans? Does she know that when Teabaggers and Trump shouted "Time to Make America Great Again" that we minorities knew that was code for "Make America White Again"?
Here's some of the work I did on VH1 before I was approached and hired by WNBC: