Reporter fired after sharing a Facebook post about white privilege

Elise Solé
A Missouri news reporter named Lisa Benson Cooper was fired after she shared a Facebook post about white privilege. (Photo: Facebook/Lisa Benson Cooper)
A Missouri news reporter named Lisa Benson Cooper was fired after she shared a Facebook post about white privilege. (Photo: Facebook/Lisa Benson Cooper)

A fired reporter and her former employer are deadlocked on the reason for her dismissal: She claims to have shared a controversial Facebook post, and the company says she broke the law and behaved unethically.

According to a story published by the Kansas City Star, reporter Lisa Benson Cooper alleges she was fired from her job at Kansas City, Mo., news station KSHB-TV after taking to Facebook on May 9 to share an article published in the Guardian titled “How white women use strategic tears to silence women of color.”

The story, written by Ruby Hamad, describes an experience shared by many women of color: Speaking up against or confronting white people about racial discrimination can result in the white person placing blame on the person of color. “It is what [a Sydney] writers’ festival audience member was demonstrating, and what blogger and author Luvvie Ajayi called the ‘weary weaponising of white women’s tears,’” wrote Hamad.

The article cited the following example from a tweet by an Arab woman: “A WW kept touching my hair. Pulling my curls to watch them bounce back. Rubbing the top. Smelling it. So when I told her to stop and complained to HR and my supervisor, she complained that I wasn’t a people person or team member and I had to leave that position for being ‘threatening’ to a co-worker.”

According to the Kansas City Star, Hamad, the author of the Guardian story, said that when two of Benson Cooper’s white co-workers saw the article on her private Facebook page, they alerted their human resources department. She said that Benson Cooper, who is black, was suspended for making “broad, unfair characterizations of white women as a group based on their race and gender.”

On June 13, Benson Cooper wrote on Facebook (in a now-deleted post, as reported by the Kansas City Star), that she was no longer employed. “I’ve hit my final liveshot at KSHB-TV! After 14 years and 3 months, I am no longer a reporter at 41 Action News – KSHB-TV. I can’t thank you all enough for allowing me into your homes and trusting me to tell your stories.”

Benson Cooper also wrote on Facebook, “I was suspended for sharing a meme [the contents of which are unknown] & a Guardian US article on my personal FB page and subsequently told I ‘shall not report to work’ for the duration of my contract.”

Hi Facebook friends,Wow! THANK YOU so much for your encouraging words and support! I truly appreciate it.I want you to…

Posted by Lisa Benson on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

On Sunday, Ruby Hamad, the author of the Guardian piece, tweeted a defense of Benson Cooper, observing the irony of the newswoman’s experience compared with that of her story subjects.

Benson Cooper has a tense history with her employer: In December 2017, she filed a lawsuit against KSHB-TV alleging that her race was “constantly used” as a reason to give her particular assignments, notably “urban” ones, the Kansas City Star reported.

When reached for comment, Benson Cooper directed Yahoo Lifestyle to her lawyer, who in turn referred Yahoo Lifestyle to court documents, which could not be accessed at the time of publication.

According to that lawsuit, as reported by the Kansas City Star, Benson Cooper was once sent alone to the home of a KKK member, and her attempts at promotion were denied. Instead, she claims, positions are “consistently” rewarded to more junior white employees. Additionally, after speaking up about the alleged treatment, the Kansas City Star reports, she was suspended for two days without pay for being “combative” with a higher-up, an assertion that Benson Cooper denied.

E.W. Scripps Company, the parent company of KSHB-TV, claims that Benson Cooper behaved unethically with regard to her social media posts. “All Scripps journalists are required to uphold a commitment to fair and balanced reporting based on facts on any platform where they are sharing information,” Steve Watt, vice president and general manager of KSHB, said in a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle. “Lisa Benson Cooper failed to uphold the social media policy she agreed to as an employee of KSHB. Scripps and KSHB take very seriously employee concerns of discrimination or mistreatment, and the company and its stations are committed to taking all actions necessary to ensure everyone feels respected in our workplaces.”

KSHB-TV also hired an independent investigator to determine whether Benson Cooper violated any company policies and says that based on the following reasons, it did not renew her contract: Her social media postings “made broad, unfair characterizations of a group of people based on their race and gender and inappropriately associated such opinions with the station itself.”

The company claims that Benson Cooper’s social media posts reflected a bias about a particular group that undermined her role as a journalist to appear fair and balanced. It also states that while Benson Cooper posted on her private Facebook page, she identified herself as a company employee, and regardless, she represented Scripps on all forms of social media.

Scripps says that Benson Cooper’s personal dealings violated her contract. “Scripps learned that Benson Cooper failed to file tax returns for multiple years during her employment with KSHB, which, as a local news organization, itself covers public figures or organizations who do not follow tax laws or are engaged in tax controversies,” read a statement sent to Yahoo Lifestyle. “Benson Cooper’s repeated failure to comply with the requirement to file tax returns impacts the station’s credibility as a news organization and runs counter to Benson Cooper’s employment contract with the station.”

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for nonstop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day.