Once upon a time, before the early 1970s, there were even fewer Black faces in television news than there are now. Which is to say, everybody broadcasting the news was White.
Then, as part of its response to coast-to-coast Black upheaval, in an effort to placate African Americans who were mad as a hell and not gonna take it anymore, authorities from the White House on down decided, man, we better toss these dogs a bone before we have to put down what’ll amount to the Second Civil War.
So, you started seeing Gil Noble, Bob Teague and Ed Bradley bringing you the nightly news. Executives went so far as to, for good measure, throw in Black women like Carole Simpson (who moderated the 1992 presidential debate, the first woman or African American to do so) and my girl Sue Simmons.
When word came March 8 that WNBC-TV had canned Simmons (at $5 million a year the highest paid anchorwoman of any color — Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, White or Plaid with polka dot stripes), there went history, a living hallmark, out the door. With not the first word as to why. Which is, of course, what any thinking mind wants to know.
Couldn’t possibly have been racism, right? Nah! Not in this new, improved day and age. Or sexism? Not possible in this new, improved day and age of social enlightenment. Ageism? Perish the thought!
So, what in the world could prompt the National Broadcasting Corporation, after 30 years, to give this pioneering figure and hugely popular newswoman the boot? NBC didn’t even offer Simmons a chance to stay on, which New York Post columnist Cindy Adams (and, yes, longtime buddy of Simmons) says Simmons would’ve been glad to do.
It was not a case of the suits firing her before she had a chance to quit. They shoved her out on her well-paid, uh, parts.
And, as of this writing, the front-runner to replace Sue Simmons in a perfect politically correct move is a years-younger, more or less look-alike Shiba Russell. So, nobody can complain that the sistah got pushed aside for a White woman.
Whatever the actual reason for getting rid of Simmons, something is fishy. God knows she could be a piece of work when she wanted to be. Which, quite honestly, is more to her credit than not.
The woman had an attitude and a half that gave her on-air energy some real spice, at times downright devilish. But, if television news celebrities got fired for arrogance, they’d be changed more often than batteries in a flashlight. Besides which, why wait until all these years later to decide you finally don’t like how the woman works and plays with others?
She’s got a history of being a boozer, downing a few before taking the anchor chair. So? She doesn’t have a history of getting on the air and staring cross-eyed into the camera, slurring her words, and reading the wrong teleprompter.
The worst anybody could come up with was a You Tube video of her on an NBC chat segment pretending to fall asleep in the middle of someone’s boring conversation, tipping the chair over and falling out on the floor. Everybody there, including Simmons, laughed as she pulled herself up and sat back down. And for all anyone knows, she hadn’t had so much as a drop to drink.
She makes too much money. Who the hell doesn’t make too much money in the television entertainment and news industry? You can bet it isn’t the salary: If she was making $5 million, Chuck Scarborough, sitting in the seat next to hers, is bringing down a lot more than $5 million and one.
The most suspicious thing about Sue Simmons’ firing is that the top brass won’t come clean and say in fact why they fired her. That’s how you can be reasonably sure that whatever the reason was, it wouldn’t bear public scrutiny and NBC executives know damn good and well they are in the wrong.
Pure and simple, sure as you-know-what stinks, Sue Simmons got shafted.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.