When Alison Parker was an intern at WDBJ in 2012, Vester Lee Flanagan, who was a reporter for the station at the time, heard her say what he apparently considered to be racist words.
The 24-year-old reporter angered Flanagan by using terms like “swinging” by an address and heading out into the “field,” according to Flanagan’s 2013 complaint with the station, the New York Post reported.
Trevor Fair, a 33-year-old cameraman at WDBJ for six years, said that the words Parker used are commonplace but that they would routinely set Flanagan off.
“We would say stuff like, ‘The reporter’s out in the field.’ And he would look at us and say, ‘What are you saying, cotton fields? That’s racist,’ ” Fair recounted.
“We’d be like, ‘What?’” he added. “We all know what that means, but he took it as cotton fields, and therefore we’re all racists.”
Parker wasn’t disciplined over her word choices and Flanagan was fired a month after accusing Parker of being a racist, which were part of his failed discrimination lawsuit against the station.
Two years later, Flanagan fatally shot Parker, 24, and TV cameraman Adam Ward, 27, during a live news broadcast Wednesday morning. On the run, using a Twitter account under his on-air name Bryce Williams, Flanagan cited Parker’s “racist comments” in a stream of tweets before he died later that day of a self-inflicted gunshot.
“That’s how that guy’s mind worked,” Ryan Fuqua, a WDBJ video editor, told the Post of Flanagan’s racism claims. “Just crazy, left-field assumptions like that.”
“[Those words are] just common, everyday talk. [But] that was his MO — to start s**t,” Fuqua added. “He was unstable. One time, after one of our live shots failed, he threw all his stuff down and ran into the woods for like 20 minutes.”
Flanagan also clashed repeatedly with photojournalists, belittling them in public and intimidating them with his aggressive and violent temper, before he was fired in 2013.
“This guy was a nightmare,” Fair told the Post. “Management’s worst nightmare.”
Then there was the time a station manager brought in watermelon for all employees. “Of course, he thought that was racist. He was like, ‘You’re doing that because of me.’ No, the general manager brought in watermelon for the entire news team. He’s like, ‘Nope, this is out for me. You guys are calling me out because I’m black.’”
Flanagan even declared that 7-Eleven was racist because it sold watermelon-flavored Slurpees.
“It’s not a coincidence, they’re racist,” Fair recalled Flanagan saying.
One of Parker’s former classmates, who is black, said the slain reporter was not racist.
“When I took [my journalism] job, she recommended me,” Jessica Albert, who attended James Madison University with Parker, told the Associated Press. “She did that for me, so she’s definitely not a racist.”