A television meteorologist is out of a job one day after Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and City Council President Loretta Scott called for his firing for making a racial slur during a broadcast. An executive at the station, WHEC (Channel 10), apologized to viewers on the air during an evening broadcast Monday.
During a weather forecast on Friday which showed a live shot of the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, Jeremy Kappell appeared to refer to it as “Martin Luther Coon King Jr. Park.”
The station’s vice president and general manager, Richard A. Reingold, confirmed Kappell’s dismissal in a statement.
Kappell, who had been WHEC’s Chief Meteorologist since October 2017, said on Twitter Monday afternoon that he had been fired.
“I know some people did interpret that the wrong way. That (“coon”) was not a word I said, I promise you that. If you did feel that it hurt you in any way, I sincerely apologize,” Kappell said in a four-minute video statement he posted on his Facebook page.
Calling the last several days an “ordeal” for he and his family, Kappell also blasted WHEC management for dismissing him so quickly.
“I am … extremely disappointed at the decisions made by my television station, who I expected a certain level of support from and I did not receive at all,” he said.
Warren and Scott called for Kappell to be let go on Sunday evening.
“It is beyond unacceptable that this occurred. There must be real consequences for the news personality involved and also for the management team that failed to immediately apologize and address the slur,” the statement from Warren and Scott said. “The individual responsible for the slur should no longer be employed at Channel 10.”
“As a result of that broadcast, meteorologist Jeremy Kappell is no longer with News10NBC,” Reingold said. “We believe strongly in holding our reporters and anchors to the highest standard.”
Reingold made a statement on the station’s 5 p.m. newscast to speak directly to WHEC viewers. He also told anchors Jennifer Mobilia and Brett Davidsen that he first learned of Kappell’s on-air comment on Sunday morning.
“The minute we learned about it we jumped on it,” Reingold said. “We spent all day yesterday investigating it discussing it and reviewing it. (The mayor) did not have any impact on our decision because we did not know about it.”
Reingold would not say whether he believed Kappell’s slur was intentional.
“It’s a difficult painful decision and I think anything that transpired between Jeremy and those conversation should remain private.”
Kappell said Monday that he simply “stumbled over words” and he asked to be able to air an apology and explanation.
“I have never and would never do anything intentionally to tarnish the reputation of the greatest civil rights leader of all time,” Kappell added.
Prior to joining WHEC, Kappell worked at stations in Texas, Mississippi, Kansas and Kentucky.
Reinglod said the station had conducted an internal investigation before making the staffing change. He also called Martin Luther King Jr. one of America’s greatest heroes.
“These words have no place on News10NBC’s air, and the fact that we broadcast them disheartens and disgusts me; that it was not caught immediately is inexcusable,” Reingold said. “I regret that we did not immediately interrupt our broadcast and apologize on the spot.”
A clip of the Friday newscast was shared on Facebook and drew strong reaction.
Reingold issued an apology that was posted to the WHEC website Sunday.
“On behalf of News10NBC, I apologize for our broadcast of a racial slur in reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park during our Friday evening broadcast,” he said in a statement.
The Rochester Association of Black Journalists condemned the racist language in a statement from president Richard McCollough.
“This is completely unacceptable and contrary to all standards of broadcasting,” McCollough said. “While we are aware that the station has issued an apology, we expect a complete explanation of what happened, who was responsible, and why nothing was said immediately after the Friday broadcast, We also want to know what measures will be taken to prevent incidents like this from occurring in the future.”
The mayor’s statement said the incident was a symptom of a larger problem.
“This incident, along with the very recent news article containing a racially-charged accusation calling an African-American judge a ‘Carpetbagger,’ demonstrates the need for greater cultural sensitivity and competency within the local media,” the Mayor’s statement said.
Survey: Dissatisfaction over local media treatment of race
That was an apparent reference to a December article by Democrat and Chronicle columnist David Andreatta, which chronicled the efforts of Melissa Barrett to establish residency in Rochester in the weeks and months leading up to her appointment to fill a vacancy in City Court. State law requires that City Court judges reside in the city.
“While referring to African-Americans in racially derogatory, insensitive and vulgar language needs to be addressed immediately, there are other issues at play as well that feed into this cultural ignorance” the statement said. “Promotional videos and other productions from local media often do not reflect the diversity of our community.”
Warren and Scott invited members of the local media and their management to join with the city as part of the National League of Cities’ REAL (Race, Equity and Leadership) committee National Day of Racial Healing later this month “to have an open and honest conversation about how we can move forward.”
D&C Executive Editor Michael Kilian responded by saying that the news organization he leads appreciates the importance of dialogue in building greater understanding. He also said he would reach out to Mayor Warren directly.
“It’s vital the talented and dedicated D&C team of reporters, photographers and editors hear the concerns of the diverse communities we cover,” Kilian said. “It’s also paramount that we do the best possible job discussing our efforts to be fair, accurate and thorough as we hold public officials accountable and explore pressing needs in greater Rochester.”
Merriam Webster dictionary offers two definitions for the term “carpetbagger,” Kilian said, and Andreatta chose to use the term in the sense of “a nonresident or new resident who seeks private gain from an area often by meddling in its business or politics.”
The term’s origins are clear from the other definition, of a “Northerner in the South after the American Civil War usually seeking private gain under the reconstruction governments,” Kilian said.
Follow Sean Lahman on Twitter: @seanlahman