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New York meteorologist fired after using racial slur on air

Posted at 6:31 AM, Jan 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-09 09:31:49-05

A television station in Rochester, New York, fired a meteorologist Sunday after he used a racial slur on air.

During WHEC-TV 's Friday evening broadcast, Jeremy Kappell said "Martin Luther Coon Park," when referring to a downtown Rochester park named after slain civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr.

In a video viewed by CNN, Kappell says "King" immediately after using the slur and continues with the broadcast.

Kappell said his use of the slur was a mistake caused by speaking too quickly.

"What happened on Friday, to me, it's a simple misunderstanding. If you watch me regularly you know that I tend to contain a lot of information in my weather cast, which forces me to speak fast and 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. In my mind I knew I mispronounced, but there was no malice. I had no idea the way it came across to many people," he said in a video posted to Facebook Monday night.

Kappell said as soon as he heard the mispronunciation he "put emphasis on 'King' and moved on."

"I had no idea what some people could have interpreted that as and I know some people did interpret that the wrong way. That was not a word I said, I promise you that. If you did feel that it hurt you in any way, I sincerely apologize," he said.

Slur causes uproar on social media

Clips of Kappell using the racial slur made the rounds on social media over the weekend, prompting Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren and the city council to release a statement Sunday.

"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," the statement read. "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 mayor and city council called for Kappell's termination and for an examination of WHEC's response to the incident.

"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 statement read.

The Rochester Association of Black Journalists (RABJ) also issued a statement Sunday condemning the use of the racial slur on air. The organization's statement said it viewed a recording of the incident provided by a viewer.

"This is completely unacceptable and contrary to all standards of broadcasting," the statement read. "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."

WHEC's vice president and general manager Richard A. Reingold said in a statement released Sunday that Kappell was fired after an internal investigation and discussion.

"I apologize for our broadcast of a racial slur in a reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. Park during our Friday evening broadcast," Reingold said. He added that the station believes in holding reporters and anchors "to the highest standard."

"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.

Reingold said the station's decision to fire Kappell was not influenced by the call from the city's mayor.

"We learned about this Sunday morning, unfortunately quite a while after the incident happened. The minute we learned about it we jumped on it," he said on air Sunday. "We came to the decision we did sometime before I knew of Mayor Warren's position. So I welcome her position, I understand it, I respect it, but it did not have any impact on our decision because we didn't know about it."

Kappell said in his video that he has been a meteorologist for 20 years. His LinkedIn page says he had been with WHEC since October 2017.

Kappell said he was not satisfied with the station's response to the incident.

"I'm so disappointed that my career could end this way and I'm extremely disappointed by my television station, whom I expect a certain level of support from and I did not receive at all," he said.