Meteorologist fired amid outcry over apparent on-air racial slur


    Jeremy Kappell was relieved of his position after video of a newscast showed him apparently using a racial slur. (Photo: Provided)

    ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHAM) - The chief meteorologist at WHEC-TV was relieved of his position after video of a newscast showed him apparently using a racial slur. City of Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren called for his resignation less than 48 hours later.

    During the Friday evening broadcast of News10NBC at 5:30, chief meteorologist Jeremy Kappell showed a photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Square Park in downtown Rochester. While describing the photo, Kappell utters what appears to be the phrase "Dr. Luther C**n King Jr. Park." The term is a commonly-used racial slur to refer to African-American people.

    "What he said was offensive to people of color and, really, everyone, because Dr. King was a hero. And to say 'coon' in association with his name is deplorable and unacceptable," said Richard McCollough President of Rochester Association of Black Journalists.

    Reached at his home, Kappell declined to comment. He posted to Twitter: "For the record I've never uttered those words in my life."

    In calling for his dismissal, Mayor Warren and City Council questioned how this could have gone unnoticed by management from Friday until Sunday afternoon. "The fact that he said it is one thing. The fact that it took so long to deal with it is another," Warren said.

    News10NBC Vice President and General Manager Richard Reingold released a statement that said, "the words have no place on News10NBC's air."

    Reingold said that even though the words were said on Friday, management was not made aware of them by an employee until Sunday morning. "That it was not caught immediately is inexcusable," Reingold's statement read. "I regret that we did not immediately interrupt the broadcast and apologize on the spot."

    Though he could not provide an exact timeline, Reingold claimed the decision to fire Kappell was made before he learned of the mayor's call to do that. He said they continue to investigate why it took so long for management to learn of the incident.

    Kappell is receiving support on social media as well as criticism.

    McCollough was once a meteorologist for Channel 10 and 13. He acknowledges much of the weather cast is ad-libbed and not written down. "It's all memorized in your head. You can make a slip of the tongue," he said. But he adds, "you have to be responsible for it and you have to take action."

    Mayor Warren called the comment a "last straw." She also took issue with a recent column and tweet from the Democrat and Chronicle characterizing a political replacement for Rochester city court judge. "We reference coon and we reference carpetbagger. The word baffoon has also been used. The meaning behind it is so offensive 40 to 50 years ago that it doesn't go away," she said.

    13 WHAM News reached out to the Democrat and Chronicle for a statement three times on Monday. One was not provided.

    Mayor Warren said it's time for all of the news media to have a real conversation around racism and why certain words offend.

    On Monday afternoon, News10NBC vice president and general manager Richard Reingold released a statement denouncing the use of the slur.

    On behalf of News10NBC, I apologize for our broadcast of a racial slur in a reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park during our Friday evening broadcast (1/4/19). Upon learning of the incident, News10News leadership immediately initiated an internal investigation and internal discussion, and by Sunday had made a staffing change.
    As a result of that broadcast meteorologist Jeremy Kappell is no longer with News10NBC. We believe strongly in holding our reporters and anchors to the highest standard. We are proud of our dedicated newsroom professionals, and expect and require that each respects and understands that their behavior reflects directly on the station for which they work and the community we serve.
    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. I regret that we did not immediately interrupt our broadcast and apologize on the spot.
    Our Friday broadcast does not represent the values of News10NBC, its hardworking staff, or the great people of Rochester. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of America’s greatest heroes – for whom I, and all of us at News10NBC, have the utmost respect. I am terribly sorry to all of our viewers. We are redoubling our efforts to ensure that this never happens again.

    Mayor Warren issued a statement Sunday night in regard to the slur and the station's response.

    It is wrong, hurtful and infuriating that WHEC Channel 10 broadcast a racial slur in reference to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during its Friday News broadcast. 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 individual responsible for the slur should no longer be employed at Channel 10. But, there is a larger issue here. An issue that is exemplified by the response of management at Channel 10. It took the station nearly two days to apologize, and only after the station was shamed into doing so by a backlash on social media.

    The Rochester Association for Black Journalists issued a statement, denouncing the slur being used on the air.

    (Photo: RABJ)

    In a reply from his Twitter account, Kappell confirmed that he had been let go from WHEC-TV.

    In a video statement posted to social media Monday night, Kappell called the issue a, "misunderstanding."

    "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," he said in the video. "Now, in my mind, I knew I had mispronounced, but there was no malice, there was nothing I could’ve – I had no idea, the way it came across to many people."

    "That was not a word I said, I promise you that," he added. "And if you did feel that it hurt you in any way, I sincerely apologize. I would never want to tarnish the reputation of such a great man."

    Mayor Warren also invited all local media outlets to a meeting of the National League of Cities’ REAL (Race, Equity and Leadership) committee National Day of Racial Healing on January 22. The invitation was made in order, "to have an open and honest conversation about how we can move forward."

    Kappell started at WHEC-TV in October 2017 after former chief meteorologist Kevin Williams left the station.


    Editorial note: An earlier version of this story referred to a call for Kappell to be "immediately fired" that is not reflected in the statement currently posted to the RABJ Facebook page. The sentence in question has been removed from the story; our apologies to the RABJ for any problems it may have caused.

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