A meteorologist in upstate New York was fired from his job this week after viewers and city officials accused him of using a racial slur while he was on the air.
Jeremy Kappell, the former chief meteorologist of WHEC in Rochester, was giving his forecast during Friday’s evening broadcast when he allegedly made a slur while referencing a local park named after Martin Luther King Jr.
In a video posted on social media, Kappell talks over a picture of people ice skating at the park and calls it “Martin Luther Coon Park.” The video shows Kappell correct himself and say “King” immediately after the slur was used.
On social media, Kappell called the whole situation a misunderstanding and said he has “never uttered those words in my life.”
“If you watch me regularly, you know 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.,” he said in a video posted on Facebook. “So fast to the point that I jumbled a couple of words. In my mind, I knew I had mispronounced but there was no malice…I had no idea the way it came across to many people.”
On Sunday night, after the video of Kappell’s broadcast was posted on social media, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren released a statement saying he should no longer be employed.
“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,” her statement said. “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 of Black Journalists also released a statement saying they “expect a complete explanation of what happened, who was responsible and why nothing was said immediately after the Friday broadcast.”
A statement posted by WHEC’s general manager on the station website says station leadership made a “staffing change” on Sunday after an internal investigation and discussion.
“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,” Richard A. Reingold said in his statement. “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.”
Reingold also said his staff would be “redoubling our efforts to ensure that this never happens again.”
Thousands of people online have since criticized the station’s decision to fire Kappell. One person even started an “I Stand Behind Jeremy Kappell” petition. It gained nearly 17,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
The former weatherman thanked those supporters in a video posted on his Facebook page Monday night.
“Even those that don’t know us, the outpouring has been just unbelievable and it’s been so heartwarming,” Kappell said. “We needed it. It’s been such a tumultuous couple of days for us. We’ve had hardly any sleep at all and it’s just been very, very hard on me and my family.”
He also took time in the video to apologize to those who were offended by the broadcast.
“If you did feel that it hurt you in any way, I sincerely apologize,” he said. “I would never want to tarnish the reputation of such a great man.”
Kappell joined WHEC as chief meteorologist in October 2017.