Home > NewsRelease > Fairness Conundrum In Rochester: What Do You Do With The Racist-Sounding Gaffe?
Fairness Conundrum In Rochester: What Do You Do With The Racist-Sounding Gaffe?
Jack Marshall -- ProEthics, Ltd. Jack Marshall -- ProEthics, Ltd.
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Alexandria , VA
Tuesday, January 08, 2019


Keep smiling, Jeremy: you’re probably ruined, and may have done nothing wrong, but it’s all for the greater good…

Go to this link, and listen (the video won’t embed).


While reporting on the air  Friday about an ice rink at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, WHEC (in Rochester, New York) meteorologist Jeremy Kappell fumbled King’s name and uttered something that sounds like “coon” in the course of trying to get it out. Viewers, convinced that he had uttered a racial slur on the air, demanded that Kappell be fired, and, astoundingly,  the mayor of Rochester issued a demand of her own.

Mayor Lovely Warren issued press release  saying…

“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.."

Piling on, the Rochester Association of Black Journalists issued a statement condemning the “clearly racist language." and asking for a “complete explanation." from WHEC.

Although Kappell tweeted Monday that he has “never uttered those words,." he was indeed fired.

Is that fair?

Of course it isn’t fair. There was no investigation, for example. Those saying that the weatherman uttered a racist slur—and that is how the story is generally being reported—are assuming what cannot be assumed. Did President Trump intend to type “covfefe”? If one wanted to make that case, then an investigation would have to show that he had used the word before. Presumably associates of Kappell could be questioned regarding his use of slurs and attitudes toward race. This didn’t happen in a single day. The station fired him without due process of any kind to determine if he did anything wrong.

There is also a presumption of guilt standard being applied, which is the new fad on the Left. Police in shootings involving blacks are now presumed guilty, according to BLM hero and martyr NFL kneeler Colin Kaepernick. Brett Kavanaugh is a dangerous sexual predator because a single woman says he is, and that, apparently is enough to impugn his character forever. In addition, Kappell is the victim of racism himself. If he were black and said the exact same thing, would the black mayor be claiming that he was a racist and had to be fired?


What this really is, though, is the emergence of a standard that demands strict liability for uttering anything that sounds like a racial slur regardless of intent. This is exactly the unethical approach that spawned the Niggardly Principles, the first of which was inspired by an embarrassing incident in which  a white Washington D.C. government worker was fired for using the word “niggardly." in the work place. His language was found to be racially insensitive to those whose vocabulary was so limited they didn’t know that the word had nothing to do with race.  Eventually the worker was reinstated, and I composed the First Niggardly Principle:

“No one should be criticized or penalized because someone takes racial, ethnic, religious or other offense at their conduct or speech due to the ignorance, bias or misunderstanding by the offended party.."

That appears to be what is happening in Rochester, however.

Unfortunately for WHEC, it has little room to maneuver, or to be fair and just. If the community, which is substantially black,  decides, however wrongly and unfairly, that one of their on-air personalities is a racist, it can’t afford not to act in the best interests of the station. Firing Kappell is the course of least risk for the business. He’s being sacrificed, true, but businesses cannot responsibly endanger their entire organization, investors and employees to support a single individual no matter how unjust the result may be to him.

The station, however, is the only blameless party in this. Rochester’s brutal and cruel treatment of Jeremy Kappell signals an era of deliberate choice to assume the worst of people, especially people of a different color. It rejects the benefit of the doubt, due process, the acceptance of the principle that people make mistakes, and the presumption of innocence. Broadcaster sometimes fumble their words; indeed anyone who is in the profession will eventually utter nonsense, gibberish, or misplaced words. Anyone who speaks for a living, like me, understands this. Now we are on notice that if a slurred word or a bungled name strikes someone as offensive, intent doesn’t matter. Fairness doesn’t matter. The Golden Rule isn’t operative. A social justice lynch mob will form, career-destroying labels will be nailed to our foreheads, and we will be pariahs, everywhere, and forever. Those calling for the meteorologist’s firing, including the mayor and the black journalists, are ethics villains here.

This isn’t a trivial or minor episode, Our society would be wise to examine its implications, which are ugly and dangerous.


Pointer: A.M. Golden

ProEthics, Ltd.
Alexandria, VA