Editorial by John Ziegler

Earth To Beverly... Come In Please!

7/28/2002

Earth To Beverly.. Come In Please

Imagine for a second that Donavan McNabb fails to live up to the lofty expectations that the Eagles have for him and that years from now he is overweight, uninspired, and well past the age when any improvement is possible. Imagine also that, instead of cutting him like they do routinely to much younger players, the Eagles simply lower his salary to something still way above what most people would dream of making and demote him to third string where he can live a far less stressful existence. Imagine finally that McNabb, instead of being both shocked and thankful that the team hasn't dropped him, decides to sue the organization because of age and race discrimination.

Even in our society where bizarre lawsuits now fail to warrant even the raising of a collective eyebrow anymore, this scenario probably sounds utterly ridiculous to you. However, in a real sense, it is already happening at a local television station.

Beverly Williams is in the process of suing her employer, KYW-TV, for alleged race, age and sex discrimination. The fact that she is still working for KYW is only part of what makes this suit particularly amazing. The really astounding aspect of it is that not only hasn't Williams been discriminated against, she has been seemingly treated in an exceedingly charitable manner.

In other words, she is damn lucky to have her job.

Williams, 55, came to KYW back in 1989 as a lead anchor and the supposed savior of a struggling newscast. When it turned out that her presence did nothing to improve things, KYW took mercy on her. Instead of firing her (as usually happens to high priced anchors who fail to impact ratings), the station demoted her to weekends and reduced her salary.

At her height as an anchor, Williams made $350,000 a year. Today, as a 'senior correspondent' reporter, she makes $155,000 a year to do occasional assignments.

Williams claims that she has been victimized by KYW because of her race, age and gender. The reality is that Williams is only a victim of overzealous lawyers and an inflated sense of self-importance (perhaps due to both factors her lawsuit claims a master's degree that she never earned).

As for race, there is no doubt that for many years TV news was delinquent in putting African American faces on the tube. However, those days have been long gone since well before Williams' demise.

Williams's current general manager, Marcellus Alexander, happens to be black and, when asked about the suit said, 'I've experienced discrimination in my life and career, and this is not it.'

Not only does KYW have a black boss as well as several black faces on the air, it is also the station that famously (in the middle of Williams' fall from grace) demoted a popular white sportscaster while elevating a black who had a pronounced lisp. No lawsuits were filed in that situation, though one can only imagine the uproar that would have occurred had the races of those two gentleman been reversed.

Whether Williams wants to believe it or not, the reality is that African Americans (for better or worse) are the beneficiaries of a virtual quota system when it comes to TV news on-air talent. When was the last time you saw an entire newscast without seeing at least one black person reporting' Unless you do a lot of traveling in Utah and Idaho, my guess is that it has been quite a long while.

Whether or not the unspoken quota system in TV news is right or wrong is irrelevant to the Williams case. The fact is that it exists and it is a large part of the reason Williams is currently still employed.

The age claim is even more infuriatingly frivolous. There may be no 'better' example of a group of people who expect to have things 'both ways' than female TV news anchors. Was Williams complaining when she got her first jobs in TV despite being young and inexperienced because she also happened to be attractive? I seriously doubt that she raised any objections when she was given jobs over other older and less alluring reporters.

The reason Williams was once a rising star was that she was young and pretty. Having gained several years and pounds since then, she is no longer either and, consequently, cannot whine when she is also no longer a star.

If local TV news celebrities were hired to be 'journalists' (they haven't been for about twenty-five years), Williams and other aging anchors like her would at least have an argument. However, the vast majority of local TV personalities (especially women) are far more 'spokesmodel' than they are 'journalist,' and everyone in the industry knows it.

Williams was being paid lavishly to get ratings, not to report the news. She didn't help her station 'sell soap' so she lost her superstar status. She shouldn't be allowed the spoils of victory without actually ever having won. That is not the way the game is supposed to be played.

Let's hope that Donavon McNabb fully understands this and doesn't turn out like Beverly Williams.

John Ziegler is a former network affiliate TV sportscaster who is now a TV commentator/columnist. He can be reached at talktozig@aol.com

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