The unraveling began when Underwood asked Osbourne about her friend Morgan, whom Underwood has accused of being brutally critical of Meghan with racial undertones.
“What would you say to people who may feel that, while you’re standing by your friend, it appears that you give validation or safe haven to something that he has uttered that is racist, even if you don’t agree,” Underwood said.
Osbourne asked Underwood to clarify racist comments from Morgan and said she felt like she was being placed in “the electric chair” for having a friend people think is racist. Her obscenity-laced rebuttal appeared to startle co-host Elaine Welteroth, who flinched and sat back in her chair.
Then Osbourne asked, “How can I be racist to anybody or anything in my life? How can I?” she asked, turning her head to Underwood, a Black woman.
Underwood, who was anchoring the show that day, turned to the camera and tried to segue to a commercial break, but Osbourne continued to nip with a response that was largely inaudible because of the bleeped language.
Osbourne’s behavior drew backlash from viewers who believed she was weaponizing her privilege as a White woman to silence a woman of color.
The matter was not over after commercial break for Osbourne, who demanded Underwood tell her what Morgan said that was racist.
“It is not the exact words of racism. It’s the implication and the reaction to it,” Underwood calmly said. “To not want to address that because she is a Black woman, and to try to dismiss it to make it seem less than what it is. That’s what makes it racist.”
Underwood told Osbourne she considered her to be a friend and did not want viewers to get the impression that Osbourne was racist, but the British host scoffed at her sentiments while appearing to wipe away tears.
CBS said in a statement that it is committed to a “diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace” and that Wednesday’s episode is being reviewed internally.
Osbourne issued an apology Friday to viewers of color who were offended by her actions.
“I panicked, felt blindsided, got defensive and allowed my fear and horror of being accused of being racist take over,” she said.
In a Saturday podcast episode of “Sheryl Underwood Radio,” Underwood clarified her opinion, which was that the British press isn’t “overt” in its racism. Instead, Underwood argued, the racism is “covert,” and evidenced by the use of phrases such as “Straight Outta Compton” or “exotic” when referring to Black people.
On the heated exchange with her co-host, Underwood said it is water under the bridge.
“I thought I was talking with colleagues. I thought we were having a great conversation that didn’t go so great,” she said, explaining she was not holding a grudge against Osbourne and revealing that she apologized to her after the show. “It was already forgiven as soon at it was said.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Elaine Welteroth’s first name. This story has been corrected.