Bell County Public Information Officer Resigns After Controversy
Bell County Judge David Blackburn has accepted the resignation of recently hired Public Information Officer Alex Reich.
In an email sent from Blackburn's office Thursday morning, the county judge wrote that Reich's resignation is effective immediately.
Reich's hiring became a controversial topic after a video from her time at KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City resurfaced, in which Reich (then using the on-air last name Housden) and co-host Jason Hackett, a Black man, were reporting on a gorilla exhibit at a local zoo. In the video, one of the gorillas pushed his face close to the camera, after which Reich was heard saying to Hackett, "Kinda looks like you when you take a picture."
Hackett replied, "He kinda does actually, yeah. Very close to the camera."
While the remark seemed to imply that Hackett takes a lot of selfies or puts his face too close to the camera when he does, many were understandably upset by Reich's comment.
Historically, comparisons of people of color to apes have been used to dehumanize and demoralize them, casting them as somehow inferior in order to justify their exploitation and dismiss or deny their cultural contributions.
Reich apologized on their air the next day.
"I said something yesterday that was inconsiderate, it was inappropriate, and I hurt people," she said. "I want you to know I understand how much I hurt you out there, and how much I hurt you [Jason]. I love you so much, and you have been one of my best friends for the past year and a half, and I would never do anything on purpose to hurt you. I love our community, and I want you all to know from the bottom of my heart I apologize for what I said. I know it was wrong, and I am so sorry."
Hackett accepted her apology, saying the two were close friends and he hoped the incident would be a teachable moment about why words matter.
"What she said yesterday was wrong," Hackett said. "It cut deep for me, and it cut deep for a lot of you in the community."
"We're becoming a more diverse country," Hackett continued. "And there's no excuse. We have to understand the stereotypes. We have to understand each other's backgrounds and the words that hurt, the words that cut deep. And we have to find a way to replace those words with love, and words of affirmation as well."
Hackett went on to say that words are the tools of the communications trade, and that the goal is to use those words "not to hurt or divide, but to build a more perfect union". He said the aftermath of the incident would be a "journey".
Reich's apology did not satisfy a large number of viewers, and the hashtag #firealexhousden began trending on Twitter soon after the segment aired.
Bell County Precinct 1 Commissioner Russel Schneider told KCEN-TV that the commissioners were made aware of the KOCO-TV incident Monday afternoon, and that it was never mentioned in Reich's job interview or the screening process.
Taneika Moultrie, President of the Killeen chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told KCEN Reich should have mentioned and owned the incident while interviewing. She called on Reich to resign and for the commissioners to be more diligent in their screening process.
Judge Blackburn wrote Thursday morning that the Commissioners Court will meet later this month to discuss filling the vacancy.