Op-Ed

Comments by WLEX host Lee Cruse, and station’s lack of action, speak ‘louder than words’

Anchor Lee Cruse apologizes for racist joke made on air

WLEX Lee Cruse apologizes after praising BBC DJ who compared the Royal Baby with a chimpanzee.
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WLEX Lee Cruse apologizes after praising BBC DJ who compared the Royal Baby with a chimpanzee.

Perhaps we all have been in situations where we have heard what someone said, and have observed what they have done. And in response, we have said something to the effect of “actions speak louder than words.” Yet, comments by Lee Cruse, on WLEX’s Live with Lee & Hayley, speak much louder than his words.

Cruse’s words were in response to a story in which Danny Baker, a popular British comedian and disc jockey, tweeted a photo of a chimpanzee alongside the caption: “Royal baby leaves hospital.” The tweet was a clear reference to the recent birth of the mixed race child born to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

On last Thursday’s show, Cruse laughed as he read the story about the tweet and proceeded to exclaim, “this is my new favorite disc jockey.” To her credit, his co-host, Hayley Harmon made several attempts to stop Cruse’s verbal train wreck, but Cruse was insistent that the royal baby tweet was humorous. There are several reasons why the situation surrounding Cruse’s comments is extremely troubling.

For starters, the tweet that Cruse applauded was blatantly racist. As long as people of European descent have plundered, terrorized and harmed people of African descent, through colonization, enslavement, lynchings, segregation, mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline, unnecessary use of deadly force and other forms of discrimination, western cultures have attempted to mitigate the offensiveness of such wrongdoing by using words and imagery that confer something less than the status of full humanity upon black people. And likening black people to monkeys and apes, such as chimpanzees, has consistently been the most common variation of these inferences, “jokes” and depictions.

Yet, given the context, Cruse’s comments were worse than the disc jockey’s tweet. As egregious as the tweet was, at least it was posted without the benefit of knowledge that its racist connotation would lead to a termination. In contrast, Cruse’s endorsement of the tweet was made with on air acknowledgment that Baker was terminated because of it. So, since he proceeded with his comments, it appears that Cruse believed that what had already been deemed to be unacceptable racism in Great Britain would be viewed as comical and acceptable in Lexington, Ky.

WLEX had the opportunity to show the community and Mr. Cruse that his assessment of Lexington was wrong. Instead, the station has failed to hand down any discernible discipline, and Cruse came on the air the next day to offer an apology laced with an excuse that is practically impossible to believe.

He stated that when he read the story the day before on the air he was reading it for the first time. Cruse then claimed that he didn’t realize that Baker’s tweet equated the mixed race baby with a chimpanzee until after he had already made comments siding with the disc jockey. But the very first line he read in the story, the day before, was “a British disc jockey has been fired over a picture of a chimpanzee used in a tweet about the new royal baby.” So, the sequence of Cruse’s comments in the initial segment and his explanation of them the following day don’t even line up.

Yet, even if the sequence of his Thursday comments had lined up with his explanation, his apology still fails. Cruse acknowledged on Friday that he did eventually realize how racist the tweet was during the segment on Thursday. But he explained that his ego did not allow him to back off of his endorsement of the racist tweet at that time. That and his implicit admission of negligence, by failing to read the story beforehand, are both grounds for termination.

Hayley Harmon, further highlighted the station’s apparent acceptance of Cruse’s alleged “mistake” when she wrapped up the Friday segment by asking the show’s audience to “move on.” Therefore, WLEX, Cruse and Harmon apparently neither understand nor care that black people have never been afforded the opportunity to simply move on from racism because we are confronted with it every day. And to add insult to injury, we are routinely asked by white people to get over it and agree with their estimations of how upset we should be.

Yet, in the midst of Cruse’s inaccuracy-riddled apology, he stated that this situation, that he created, was infuriating because his show was intended to be a “sanctuary” that offers a break from things like racism and destruction. But unless WLEX works diligently to right this wrong, that intention is no longer possible to achieve with regard to black people and others who don’t condone bigotry. As the station’s employee, Cruse has admitted to applauding hate speech from the platform that the station has afforded him. So, WLEX now has a moral obligation to invest significantly in combating the toxicity that they have allowed to be spewed into our community. And that obligation extends far beyond a still yet to be released formal station apology or any form of disciplinary action directed at Cruse.

As a native Lexingtonian, WLEX has consistently been my primary local television news source. But the situation surrounding these comments speaks much louder than words. So, like many others, I will be paying close attention to how the station handles, or doesn’t handle, the aftermath of this ordeal, and that will determine how much, or how little, I will be watching WLEX programming moving forward.

The Rev. L. Clark Williams is the President and Chairman of The People’s Campaign and is Director of Ministries at Shiloh Baptist Church in Lexington. He can be reached at clark@campaignforpeople.com.

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