NBC affiliate WHEC-TV chief meteorologist Jeremy Kappell was fired for jumbling his words in a weathercast, describing a Rochester, New York park named after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as “Martin Luther Coon” Park on a Friday evening broadcast. Kappell has said that he spoke “too fast” and the word was said by mistake. This isn’t the first time a broadcaster has jumbled the phrase “Martin Luther King Jr.” and also isn’t the first time a weatherman has been fired for letting the word “coon” come out of their jumbled mouths.
In January 2005, KTNV-TV Las Vegas weather forecaster Rob Blair also suffered from the same word jumble while delivering a forecast for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend. Viewers called and emailed at the station to express outrage over Blair’s forecast. At that time, Blair apologized for the comment, saying some people may have thought he had said “Kong instead of King”. However, it was a slurring of the words “King” and “Junior” into “coon” that lead to his demise. At the time, KTNV-TV General Manager Jim Prather wrote, “Blair stumbled while attempting to provide a forecast for Martin Luther King Junior Day and uttered a phrase that viewers found offensive. This kind of incident is not acceptable under any circumstances. I am truly sorry that this event occurred.” Blair was fired.
In January 2010, ESPN reporter Mike Greenberg jumbled the same words on TV and radio. In that broadcast, Greenberg said, “Hi, I’m Mike in the morning on ESPN Radio and we’re talking football with you on this Martin Luther Coon King Junior holiday.” Due to that slip-up, ESPN did not punish Greenberg.
In a Facebook post, Kappel said what he jumbled Friday was a “simple misunderstanding.” “If you watch me regularly, you know that 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. 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.”
One person that reacted very strongly against the jumble was Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren who demanded that the meteorologist be fired. In a statement she had the City of Rochester release, Warren wrote, “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. 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.” She added, “While referring to African Americans in racially derogatory, insensitive and vulgar language needs to be addressed immediately, there are other issues at play as well that feed into this cultural ignorance. ”
WHEC-TV ’s Vice President and General Manager, Richard Reingold, apologized in a statement after firing his meteorologist. “This word has no place on News10NBC’s air, and the fact that we broadcast it disheartens and disgusts me; that it was not caught immediately is inexcusable,” Reingold said. “I regret that we did not immediately interrupt our broadcast and apologize on the spot.”