It took days for the station to respond, or even acknowledge an error had occurred on live television. It subsequently turned into one of the biggest stories of the year – on the local or national stage.
Former WHEC-TV Chief Meteorologist Jeremy Kappell was fired on Monday after Friday’s broadcast, where he uttered the words “Martin Luther C**n King Jr. Park.” Or at least, that’s what some viewers believed was said. While much of the subsequent debate around his ouster has revolved around Kappell’s intent – it’s highlighted a stark divide in communities – like Rochester – where racial tensions have a long, ugly history.
In more rural parts of the region, which fall under WHEC-TV’s coverage area – defenders of Kappell were prominent. Some called into question his apology video, which was shared to his official Facebook Page. Since being fired, Kappell has made media rounds – appearing on local talk shows, and giving interviews to national outlets – like the Today Show, and others.
The story appeared on a plethora of national outlets – like CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post, the Washington Post, and many, many others.
It’s a complicated story; and one that likely will not see complete resolution anytime soon.
While WHEC-TV’s management and ownership say the decision to fire Kappell was made before Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, a Democrat, called for his dismissal – others believe that isn’t the case. The timeline of events that has been portrayed by media outlets reporting on the story, as well as the players involved themselves – would indicate that a decision to fire Kappell was not made until Monday morning – when calls for his dismissal got louder on social media.
That said, even as the initial response appeared to move toward supporting the station’s decision to fire Kappell – the medium-range response, which has played out in the days since – appears to lean toward defending his ‘mistake’.
While many have said that Kappell failed to accept responsibility for his actions; and others have contended that he only showed contrition for his own set of ‘unfortunate’ circumstances – the fired meteorologist contends that there is no racism inside him.
There is also an intense debate about the role of ‘intent’. Does ‘intent’ matter if what was said caused hurt? Furthermore, despite intent – what was said, or not said – education on the matter seems paramount.
Mayor Warren called for cultural competency training in newsrooms. She also noted that if not for her speaking out about these types of systemic issues in local reporting – it would not get the attention it needs. She had recently also called for repercussions after the Democrat & Chronicle ran a piece by a staffer for using the phrase ‘carpetbagger’, which she purported was used in a racially-charged way.
The author of that piece denied the allegation, and pointed to the context of the story. In short, it raised concerns about residency; and the lengths at which elected officials, or candidates for public office go to ‘create’ residency for the position.
Important questions, important issues – but education remains at the forefront.
This issue was further complicated on Tuesday, when Ontario Honda announced that they would be pulling advertising from WHEC-TV. As societal issues are played out in the news; the risk becomes further gutting of these entities, which more-desperately rely on what little ad revenue is left in the industry, as major players – like Google and Facebook – take an overwhelming majority of those dollars.
“Will they be the last advertiser to leave WHEC??” one Facebook commenter asked. “I will buy my next car there!” chimed another. Even some of those who believe Kappell had racially-charged intentions when he uttered those words on Friday’s broadcast believe that the station overstepped, or acted too quickly in firing him.
Many argued that he at least deserved a chance to explain himself on-air. On Wednesday, Al Roker, of NBC’s Today Show, tweeted out his support for Kappell, after the story had received 48 hours of national attention.
— Al Roker (@alroker) January 9, 2019
So, what’s the answer here?
It’s not entirely clear. Calls for education appear to be falling flat, as no discussion or plans for any events to ‘connect’ the community, or address the divide have been announced. Mayor Warren has come under fire since her statement, and subsequent conversations with media.