A longtime Pittsburgh news anchor has been fired after she made a controversial and racially inflammatory Facebook post about a local mass shooting.
Wendy Bell was let go by WTAE-TV, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Bell, 45, had been off the air for a week. She made the post about a March 9 shooting in Wilkinsburg, which left five women and an unborn child dead, on her professional Facebook page last week.
In the post she said in part the shooters were “young black men, likely teens or in their early 20s. They have multiple siblings from multiple fathers and their mothers work multiple jobs. These boys have been in the system before. They’ve grown up there.They know the police. They’ve been arrested.”
The station received many complaints on social media from those calling the post “racist,” while others showed support for Bell.
Police have not released a description of the shooters.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Apologized for Offending Anyone With the Facebook Posts
Wendy Bell apologized for the post and eventually took it down.
“I sincerely apologize for the post about the Wilkinsburg mass shooting,” Bell posted on her now-deleted Facebook page. “I now understand that some of the words I chose were insensitive and could be viewed as racist. I regret offending anyone.”
After her firing, Bell told the Associated Press she didn’t get a “fair shake” from WTAE, saying the story wasn’t about her, but was about “African-Americans being killed by other African-Americans.”
Bell said, “It makes me sick.”What matters is what’s going on in America, and it is the death of black people in this country. … I live next to three war-torn communities in the city of Pittsburgh, that I love dearly. My stories, they struck a nerve. They touched people, but it’s not enough. More needs to be done. The problem needs to be addressed.”
You can read the original full post below:
The station’s manager also issued an on-air apology, saying Bell showed an “egregious lack of judgement” by making the post.
“Wendy Bell posted a message on her Facebook page that offended many of our viewers. Her post offended us. Wendy has since apologized for what she wrote and acknowledged it was insensitive,” Charles Wolfertz said. “Wendy is sorry for the words she chose, and so are we.”
“WTAE has ended its relationship with anchor Wendy Bell. Wendy’s recent comments on a WTAE Facebook page were inconsistent with the company’s ethics and journalistic standards,” Hearst Television, the station’s parent company, said in a statement.
2. No Arrests Have Been Made in the Wilkinsburg Shooting
Police have not made any arrests in the Wilkinsburg shooting, which occurred during a backyard cookout. Two gunmen opened fire on the party, killing four women, a man and an unborn child, and wounding others.
Police identified the victims as Jerry Michael Shelton, 35, Brittany Powell, 27, and Chanetta Powell, 25, who are siblings, and Tina Shelton, 37, and Shada Mahone, 26, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Chanetta Powell was pregnant.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said the shooting during a backyard party was a calculated attack.
“We haven’t seen something like this for quite some time,” Zappala told reporters. “It’s one of the most brutal shootings I’ve seen.”
3. She Had Worked at WTAE Since 1998 & Previously Apologized for an Insensitive Remark
Wendy Bell has worked at WTAE-TV since 1998, and was most recently the evening anchor on the station’s 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. news, according to her now-deleted profile on its website.
Bell previously apologized in 2010 after making a racially insensitive comment, according to FTVLive.com. The comment, a joke about her black co-anchor and sunscreen, that led to the 2010 apology can be seen below:
“The other night, I made an off-the-cuff comment to my co-anchor, Andrew Stockey, after one of our news stories,” she said in a statement. “The words I said didn’t come out the right way, and as such, offended some of you, which leaves me deeply troubled. I would never want to offend ANYONE, as my words clearly did. I hope you will accept my sincere apology.”
She is originally from Calabasas, California, and studied at University of Colorado and the University of Missouri.
“She’s an 21-time Emmy Award winner, with two Edward R. Murrow awards and a National Headliner — winning first place for an expose on airline ticket prices,” the station said.
Her favorite moment was covering the rescue of the nine miners trapped in the flooded Quecreek Mine in Somerset, Pa.
In May 2005, Bell tested the politeness of everyday Pittsburghers. She transformed her appearance and posed as an 80-year-old woman to see if people would come to the aid of an elderly lady in need. The story won her a Murrow award.
Before working at WTAE, she worked at KSDK-TV in St. Louis and was a reporter on the nationally syndicated show “American Journal.”
4. She Is Married to a Cardiologist & Has 5 Sons
Wendy Bell O’Toole is married and has five young sons. She lives in Point Breeze, a Pittsburgh neighborhood, according to her profile on the WTAE website.
Her husband, Dr. Joseph O’Toole, is a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Shadyside in Pittsburgh.
Bell moved to Pittsburgh with her husband after meeting him in Missouri, her profile said. He is originally from the Pittsburgh area.
“Golfing, barbecuing, gardening and taking family trips to the Carnegie Science Center and the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium are among her hobbies,” the bio said.
“I always say, I do what I like, so I can be with the people I love,” she told Whirl Magazine in a 2013 profile.
5. Facebook Groups Were Started to Call for Her to be ‘Held Accountable’ & to Support Her
A Facebook group was started calling for Bell to be “held accountable” for the post:
This group was started with the intentions of bringing to light the problem with Wendy Bell’s racist post. She has since posted an apology which most of us see as forced and a “sorry you’re offended” type apology. This group grew exponentially very quickly and other groups with far more resources have made moves to further combat this. At this time, we are leaving this link and deleting previous posts in order to end conversations from people trying to state that white privilege does not exist and choosing to minimize the voices of and experiences of people of color instead of being supportive of equity. Please continue to stand up against racism and feel free to do what you can to help.
After she was fired, a new Facebook page was created calling for a boycott of WTAE in support of Bell.
The page’s creator wrote, “Bring Wendy back to WTAE! It’s called freedom of speech and does not reflect racism or hate!!! She was speaking from the heart!! It’s unfair to fire her!!”
The WTAE Facebook page has also been flooded with viewers saying they will no longer watch the station because Bell was fired.
Another Facebook group, The Wendy Bell O’Toole Fan Group, was set up to support her.