A TV meteorologist in the upstate New York city of Rochester has had no shortage of defenders after he was fired for apparently uttering a racial slur on air. WHEC firedafter he was accused of referring to a park in his weather report as “Martin Luther Coon King Jr. Park.”
Rochester’s mayor, who is black, called the words hurtful. Kappell, who is white, said it was a mispronunciation.
NBC weatherman and personality Al Roker has tweeted in defense of Kappell. An online “I Stand Behind Jeremy Kappell” petition seeking his reinstatement had more than 46,000 supporters as of Thursday morning.
Roker, who is black, said on Twitter on Wednesday that Kappell flubbed a line and should be given the chance to apologize on WHEC. “Anyone who has done live tv and screwed up (google any number of ones I’ve done) understands,” he tweeted.
Kappell has apologized and explained himself multiple times this week, most expansively during a four-minute video on Facebook in which he speaks to the camera with his wife by his side.
What did Jeremy Kappell say
“If you watch me regularly you know that I tend to contain a lot of information in my weathercast, which forces me to speak fast, and unfortunately I spoke a little too fast when I was referencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — so fast to the point where I jumbled a couple of words. Now, in my mind I knew I had mispronounced, but there was no malice, there was nothing that I could have- I had no idea the way it came across to many people. As soon as I had started mispronouncing it I put an emphasis on ‘King’ and moved on. I had no idea what some people could have interpreted that as, and I know some people did interpret that the wrong way. That was not a word that I said, I promise you that. And if you did feel that and it hurt you in any way, I sincerely apologize.”
“Since our decision to terminate his employment, this station has been caught in the middle of a vitriolic political debate,” the station and its parent company said in a statement Tuesday night. “We believe we have done what is right for our station and our community, and will continue to take a strong stand for our personal and professional values.”
Kappell “clearly voiced a racially derogatory term,” on Friday night’s broadcast, said the statement from Hubbard Television Group President Robert Hubbard and station general manager Richard Reingold. The station fired Kappell on Sunday, the same day Mayor Lovely Warren and city officials in a statement called for Kappell’s ouster.
Warren argued a larger issue of insufficient cultural sensitivity among the local media was illustrated by the station apologizing only after a backlash on social media. Warren has since been the target of critics on social media who accuse her of pouncing on the incident too quickly.
Her office did not respond to a request for an interview from the Associated Press Wednesday. ESPN’s Mike Greenberg in 2010 reportedly made a similar slip-up pronouncing MLK’s name and apologized for slurring his words. He was not fired.