A chief meteorologist for a New York TV station has been fired after he was accused of making a racial slur on air while referencing Martin Luther King Jr., which he insists was not intentional.
Jeremy Kappell was delivering a forecast on Friday for WHEC-TV in Rochester when he referenced a local park named after the civil rights leader but called it “Martin Luther Coon King Jr. Park” instead.
Kappell, in an apology on Monday, said he didn’t realize what he had said and that it was a slip of his tongue produced from speaking too quickly. A video of his gaffe was later circulated on social media, drawing condemnation from some viewers.
“Unfortunately I spoke too fast while I was referencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so fast to the point that I jumbled a couple of words,” he said in a video posted to Facebook.
“That was not a word that I said, I promise you that. 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 as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the greatest civic leaders of all time,” he said while appearing alongside his wife.
The alleged slip was also condemned by the Rochester Association of Black Journalists and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, who called for Kappell’s termination in a statement on Sunday.
The following day, WHEC Vice President and General Manager Richard A. Reingold announced that Kappell had been fired. Kappell, who boasts nearly 20 years of meteorology experience, according to his LinkedIn profile, joined the Rochester station from Louisville, Kentucky, in 2017, according to the station’s website.
“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,” Reingold said in a statement.
He added in an on-air broadcast that his decision to remove Kappell was not motivated by Warren’s recommendation for termination.
Viewers of the clip have reacted in mixed ways, with some calling it unforgivable and others offering their support.
Local talk show host Bob Lonsberry was among those who defended Kappell, stating in a column that he accepted his words as a slip of the tongue. He referred to similar past mistakes made by broadcasters, including ESPN reporter Mike Greenberg in 2010.
“First, it seems unlikely even the most rabid racist would say something like that on the air. Second, the persona Jeremy Kappell has portrayed during his year in Rochester doesn’t seem consistent with someone who is a racist,” Lonsberry wrote.
Greenberg, who was not fired, similarly apologized for what happened and said he meant no ill will and that it was the result of him “talking too fast and slurring my words.”
In 2005, another weatherman was fired from a Las Vegas station for making a similar remark.