Following this week’s news that CBS had placed two top TV executives on leave for allegedly creating a hostile work environment, particularly for women and Black employees, one such former employee has stepped forward on Facebook with his personal story — of being “bullied and discriminated against for being a gay Black man.”
In the lengthy Jan. 26 post that has gone viral with more than 1,500 reactions, Don Champion — a former New York City freelance news reporter for the network’s local affiliate, and later with the CBS Newspath division — writes, “I can honestly say I’ve never been discriminated against in the way David Friend and Peter Dunn did me at WCBS-TV,” referring to the now-suspended senior vice president of news for TV stations and the president of CBS stations, respectively. He also shares a photo of himself reporting on television and notes that looking at it makes him feel “proud” to have been a news reporter, while also bringing back “horrible memories” of how he was treated.
“I had been wanting to share my story for quite some time,” Champion, now a Seattle-based program manager at an online retail giant, tells Yahoo Life about his decision to come forward so publicly. Once the news about Friend and Dunn came out, and once having spoken with friends still at CBS, he says, “hearing the fear … I figured it was important to speak up.”
He adds, “I wasn’t doing my post for publicity. I just needed to do it for my healing. I had been asked about it over the years, and I just needed to heal first.” That process, he explains, has included three years in therapy and “kind of mourning this dream of mine of being a journalist.”
Champion, who says he grew up as an “Air Force brat” in Germany and then Washington, D.C., writes that he was fired from “toxic” CBS in 2017 after years of having his life “upended” by unrelenting harassment. This was often through not-so-veiled homophobic remarks about his “voice” and “on-air presence,” and by being told to “butch it up,” to lose weight and to stop “queening out,” he writes.
Despite impressing other managers with his performance, he writes, when it came to Friend and Dunn, “There. Was. Always. An. Excuse. And there were consequences for me. The number of days WCBS offered me to work each week ebbed and flowed — depending on how David felt about me. My life and career were under the control of a bigot.”
Being both gay and Black brought alleged discrimination from all sides. “There were clear double standards for other Black employees behind-the-scenes at WCBS too. So much so that after a Black firefighter died fighting a fire at David’s home, some of us Black employees were hopeful it would cause him to start treating us better,” he writes. “It didn’t.”
CBS emailed the following statement to Yahoo Life in response to questions about Champion’s claims: “Peter Dunn, President of the CBS Television Stations, and David Friend, Senior Vice President, News for the TV Stations, have been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of a third-party investigation into issues that include those raised in a recent Los Angeles Times report. CBS is committed to a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace where all voices are heard, claims are investigated and appropriate action is taken where necessary.”
We were unable to find a representative for Dunn, but Friend’s attorney Todd Parker provided the following statement to Yahoo Life: “Mr. Friend declines to respond to every false insinuation and suggestion from Mr. Champion, whose Facebook accusation of ‘blatant bigotry’ is based on nothing but conjecture as to what motivated Mr. Friend’s critiques. As Mr. Champion acknowledges, Mr. Friend in late 2019 offered Mr. Champion a staff reporter’s position at WCBS in New York — not exactly the action of a bigot out to ruin Mr. Champion’s career. After some consideration, Mr. Champion turned down that job offer. To be clear, Mr. Friend’s critiques of Mr. Champion were always based on performance and aimed at helping him improve, and had nothing to do with his race, gender, or sexual orientation.”
Television, Champion tells Yahoo Life, “is toxic in general,” and says that, from what he hears from those still in the industry, “not much has changed” regarding how much freedom a person has to stray from the cookie-cutter ideal of a news broadcaster.
“I think it’s inherent and is just the nature of television news,” Champion says. “It’s such a subjective industry. Someone could think you’re great on camera, but your boss is like, ‘I don’t know.’ You live and die by that subjectivity.”
Friend and Dunn were placed on leave following Sunday’s publication of the Los Angeles Times story, in which employees accused them of “bullying female managers and blocking efforts to hire and retain Black journalists.” Said one Black journalist, formerly of KYW in Philadelphia, “It’s like they have no idea who should be telling the stories. They thought I was disposable, and in that kind of environment, you become an ornament. That happens a lot in the industry — but especially at KYW.”
Champion said that particular quote resonated with him, adding, “There’s a level of tokenism in TV news as well. There are so many layers to it. … It’s an onion.” He says, “They are two of the most powerful people in the news industry, and their bullying ways have not been a secret.”
Adding to his struggle with bigotry while on the job was Champion’s constant struggle to both fit the TV news mold and not change who he was. “I didn’t want them to take my humanity,” he recalls. “You still have to have a certain level of authenticity to be successful on TV, and I tried to do that.”
Following his painful years in journalism — which caused such intense stress that at one point he developed eczema — Champion is now what he calls a “tech bro,” having left reporting behind for good. “I think it’s done,” he says. “And it was a personal decision, in that regard, and quite frankly, after I left the network, not a lot of jobs made sense to me, pay-wise. I knew my worth. It’s all about timing as well.” Now, he says, he knows he can do “A, B and C” and be successful in his job, whereas in news, “it’s what they think of you. … That’s why it’s important to have diversity in management. … There needs to be a serious conversation about that, as well as bias training.”
The woman who fired Champion — noting that he “wasn’t her style” — was a Black woman, he adds, “and that was incredibly painful for me.” It made him realize that having diversity, without training, is not enough. And though he’s now a few years out of the business, he says he still struggles to accept that it was racism and homophobia that actually pushed him out.
“One of the things that’s been hard for me to square is that I encountered this level of discrimination and bigotry, blatantly, at the height of my career,” he says. “You work so hard to get to this level, you sacrifice so much, and then for the bigotry to do you in? That’s really hard to square.”
He’s taking comfort this week in the flood of supportive responses to his Facebook post (though he also admits that, as an “anti-attention person,” it has felt “overwhelming” and “uncomfortable”). At least one comment moved him to tears — from a childhood friend who recalled their youth together and apologized for anything hurtful he might’ve said years ago.
“It touched me. It made me cry,” Champion says. “It was interesting growing up — I’m mixed, I was the only gay one in my crew. … We all knew — but I read [the comment] and I didn’t blame him for anything, but that really did touch me. … He’s like a big brother to me, and it really moved me that he had that moment of reflection.
“It’s been interesting to see how much this has touched people. And I thought I was just posting my little story.”
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