Stormy days for weatherman: New York TV presenter fired for using ‘racial slur’ on air
During a Friday evening broadcast on NBC-affiliate WHEC, chief weatherman Jeremy Kappell described a park in Rochester named after black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as “Martin Luther Coon Park.”
Kappell quickly corrected himself, but he was unable to weather the storm and two days later he was fired following social media uproar. In a statement, the channel said using the word was “beyond unacceptable” and that there needed to be “real consequences” for the weather reporter.
The meteorologist himself, however, published a four-minute-long video online in which he appeared with his wife and apologized, but claimed the incident was a “simple misunderstanding” and that he “spoke a little too fast” and “jumbled” a couple of words.
Kappell said he knew he had misspoken but had “no idea” how it had come across to people and insisted that there was “no malice” intended. "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 added emotionally.
As the weatherman must know, when it rains, it pours – and even the Rochester mayor Lovely Warren weighed in on the controversy with a statement reprimanding the channel for not acting to fire Kappell sooner and suggesting they only acted when they were “shamed” into doing so.
Not everyone is angry with Kappell, though. On Twitter, the fired meteorologist has been retweeting messages of support that he received from people who believe his firing was unjust.
Wendy, thank you. God will get us thru this mess. https://t.co/ko4rmBFSqY— Jeremy Kappell (@JeremyKappell) January 8, 2019
There is precedent, however, for the phrase “Martin Luther Coon” being used as a racial slur against the civil rights leader. In 2010, ESPN host Mike Greenberg referred to the “Martin Luther Coon Jr.” holiday and also blamed the fact that he was “talking too fast.”
It’s not just fast-talking TV personalities who have used the phrase, however. Last year, conservative candidate for the North Carolina state House of Representatives Russell Walker referred to "Martin Luther Coon" street while defending confederate statues.
In 1965, the mayor of Selma, Alabama Joseph Smitherman, who was in office during the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights marches, used the phrase in a way that could definitely not have been a slip of the tongue.
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