Meteorologist fired over racial slur defends himself as support grows online
Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - The meteorologist who was recently fired by a Rochester television station after he was accused of using a racial slur during a newscast has been thrust into the national spotlight.
Jeremy Kappell was let go from WHEC-TV on Monday after video showed him apparently using a racial slur during an evening newscast the previous Friday. In the video, Kappell is pointing out the location of a photo taken of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in downtown Rochester. He refers to the park as "Dr. Martin Luther C**n King, Jr. Park."
News10NBC General Manager Richard Reingold said Monday that social media video showing the incident was brought to the attention of management on Sunday morning. After discussions with Kappell and other managers, the decision was made to terminate Kappell's employment, Reingold said. Kappell had served as chief meteorologist at the station since October 2017.
Kappell spent Tuesday speaking to national and media outlets and making the rounds to local radio shows. He says the last couple days have been rough on his family, he says they've gotten support from their church and the community.
Kappell says he never knew he said the derogatory word during the Friday newscast until nearly two days later, during an emergency meeting with his bosses. He says a video on Facebook had surfaced, prompting the meeting, which he says included Richard Reingold.
"The decision was made behind closed doors without me in it – to suspend me indefinitely pending an investigation," said Kappell. "I told Richard (Reingold) - please investigate away, because that’s not who I am.”
Kappell said he was fired later Sunday night, and that he never got a chance to explain himself or apologize to viewers on air.
Kappell says his fast-paced delivery style often to leads to him stumbling over his words, and he says he tried to immediately correct himself after what he calls "crunching" his words.
"It was enough to where I realized I was mispronouncing it," said Kappell. "I did not recognize the word that people heard, and for that I am sincerely sorry to anyone I may have offended.”
While he says he didn't immediately recognize the word he said, he did say he'd heard it before, but not since his teenage years.
For now, Kappell says he and his family's future remains uncertain.
While an internal investigation at News10NBC was underway Sunday afternoon, Mayor Lovely Warren put out a statement of her own, criticizing the use of the racial slur in the broadcast and calling for Kappell to be fired.
Peter Vazquez, president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, criticized Warren's call to fire Kappell in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. He argues that, "the bigger concern is the dividing anger that came from the political pulpit," saying that the actions of the mayor, "served only to...split an already racially divided community."
"Instead of an angry call for Mr. Kappell’s dismissal and the chastising of the organization he worked for, a soft invite to sit down and discuss why he harbors such words or to talk about why it is important to acknowledge and address such an offensive 'slip' may have serve to unite and heal our community," Vazquez said, adding that people in positions of power should use wisdom and create, "teachable moments," out of situations such as this one.
The Frederick Douglass Foundation is a conservative Christian non-profit organization that pushes for "traditional values" and "limited government ideas" in American politics.
WHAM1180's Bob Lonsberry and Radio 95.1's Brother Wease both had Kappell on their morning radio shows on Tuesday for interviews. In those interviews, Kappell said he was multi-tasking during the broadcast and, “crunched two words together,” which created the appearance of a slur. He made clear that this was not an intentional wording of Dr. King's name.
Kappell added that he recognized right away that he had misspoken, but not that he had uttered an offensive phrase. He said he then moved on during the broadcast and did not address it on the air. No staff at WHEC caught it either at the time, he added. It was not until the social media post gained traction online early Sunday that he heard what he had said.
The meteorologist added that social media mischaracterized what he said. He said he was not given an opportunity to apologize on the air and wished that he could.
National media outlets, including the New York Times, NBC News, and Fox News, have reported on Kappell's story and the subsequent outrage that ensued. Thousands of people in the Rochester area and across the country have weighed in on the debate over whether Kappell should have been fired, disciplined or have simply apologized.
An online Change.org petition created in support of Kappell has gained a groundswell of support. In part, it states that supporters "believe this is not deserved. We believe this judgment on his career and character is unjust. We want Jeremy Kappell back on the air." More than 8,700 signatures had been recorded as of early afternoon Tuesday.
Mayor Warren has not spoken publicly again about Kappell or the fallout from his firing.
Tuesday night, News10NBC Vice President and General Manager Richard Reingold and Hubbard Television Group President Robert Hubbard released the following joint statement:
The entire team at Hubbard Broadcasting and News10NBC stand behind the decision we made on Sunday afternoon, January 6th, to terminate our contract with meteorologist Jeremy Kappell.
During the previous Friday night broadcast, Mr. Kappell clearly voiced a racially derogatory term. An utterance such as this, with no immediate apology, regardless of intent, is unacceptable and inexcusable. There can be no confusion by anyone who works at Hubbard Broadcasting or by anyone in the communities we serve, that this is unacceptable.
Since our decision to terminate his employment, this station has been caught in the middle of a vitriolic political debate. 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.
We leave the hate-filled back-and-forth to others. News10NBC will focus on its mission to serve the greater Rochester community and move forward accordingly.