The Perils of Live Performance And Why Jeremy Kappell Should Not Have Been Fired

Hey there. I’m sad. And a bit upset.

You may have seen that, during a live newscast last Friday, Rochester weatherman Jeremy Kappell, of NBC affiliate News10NBC WHEC, was describing the how it had looked outside at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, voicing over a live video shot of the park itself.

When he said the park’s name, Kappell made a mistake, transposing two sounds in the name, creating, unfortunately, another word that is an all-too-familiar racial slur. “It looks gray at “Martin Luther coon…King…Jr. Park,” Kappell said.

Three days later, it was announced that Kappell had been fired.

I believe that this is absolutely uncalled for, and that he is unfairly being made to pay for a simple, and easily explained human error in live performance. And I’m sad for Jeremy, a fellow on-air talent and 20 year broadcast veteran. He deserves so much better. Here’s why:

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Raw YouTube Captioning

hey there it’s David H Lawrence the 17th
today I want to talk about something
that I feel number one is gonna be very
controversial to some people I hope not
to you I hope that you understand where
I’m coming from on this and and to some
people is going to be a little offensive
so know that there’s going to be some
language used in this particular video
that I’m not using as pejorative but
just as fact you may have heard about
the weathercaster in Rochester New York
who was fired over the weekend for what
people keep saying is that he used a
racial slur now I don’t know if you’ve
seen the video I’m gonna play you a clip
in just a second of the actual thing
that happened and I’m going to tell you
that it is absolutely in my opinion not
true that he used any racial slur but
that he had a slip-up in his voiceover
work he had a slip-up in his
presentation in his performance and it
was an unfortunate one but it’s one they
also find out has happened time and time
again in the past and there’s a really
good reason for it that has to do with
the way our minds work the way language
works the way this particular man’s name
is structured the weatherman is a named
jeremy kapil he worked at whe C in
Rochester New York and what he said on
the weekend was he was giving a weather
forecasts cold there this time of year
he said here’s a look at what happened
or what it looks like at Martin it was
supposed to be Martin Luther King jr.
Park the ice skating rink and what he
said was Martin Luther Coon King jr.
Park now I’m gonna play it for you now I
want you to listen to the cadence of it
I want you to listen to what he was in
the middle of talking about
whether guy giving temperature and
conditions and I want you to listen to
it from the perspective of you’re
watching a weather cast go ahead no
great that’s the way look out Martin
Luther King jr. Park yeah I free but
they’ll only be female okay so that was
the video that went viral that’s what
caused the station to fire him that was
a kind of a shaky cellphone video by
somebody who was sort of shooting their
television but I’ve isolated the line
and I’ve actually gotten a copy of the
full screen full fidelity video and
audio of what he actually said listen to
it carefully Martin Luther King jr. Park
so that’s what he said now I’m gonna
play it in context one more time and I
want you to listen to what his intent is
his intent is to give you the weather
and he makes a mistake great that’s the
way look out Martin Luther King jr. Park
the ice rink but they’ll only be seen
out okay now there is a very easily
understood reason for this anybody who
understands how language is used how
performance works you have two words two
syllables in Martin Luther King Junior’s
name that he transposed the KN king and
the ooh in Luther
Martin Luther King jr. if he’d continued
what he was saying before he caught
himself he said he would have said
Martin Khun Ling or something like that
he had reversed the opening sound of one
of the words King with the vowel sound
of Luther ku right and King ends in an
so Khun is what came out you know I’ve
looked at this guy’s history’s been a
weather man for 20 years he’s not
working on the side as a white
supremacist he’s not he made a simple
mistake he hasn’t come out and talked
about his politics nor should he have to
he’s working at a radio at a television
station that you know he’s not working
for Fox News and this damage
you know they fired him over the weekend
the mayor of Rochester
chose to be extraordinarily livid about
this as did social media and the truth
of the matter is this is not the first
time this has happened Mike Golic on
Mike and Mike said exactly the same
thing I’m gonna play you a couple of
clips now one of them is of a mayor in
Alabama in the 50s who is a white
supremacist and he made the mistake and
sincerely like apologized immediately he
was upset he didn’t agree with Martin
Luther King’s stuff he called him an
outside rabble rouser and brought in but
when he said it he realized he made a
mistake and he stopped and said what he
said now Jeremy did not and if you know
anything about how newscasts are
constructed they have a certain amount
of time in which to get at all that
information out before they go on to
sports and business news and all that
sort of thing it was also said by
another white man in the South in South
Carolina and he too caught himself it’s
not like they were strut any of these
people were stridently trying to
demonize and vilify Martin Luther King
by calling him by that racial slur of
Coon we’ve had Martin Luther King Padma
so Martin Luther King said it Martin
Luther King Martin Luther King jr. it’s
because of the way those words are
constructed and when you say them
quickly when you’re in a hurry it can
pop out differently and I know this from
personal experience because when I
worked on the air at WMAL in DC I was
taking calls about a cancer treatment
that had been in the news
and right around that time was when
cellphones began to be used to call in
to radio shows I missed and misheard a
word that a caller said and I got called
on the carpet for it and I told them why
and my program director understood my
operations manager did not but what
happened was a caller said talking about
his wife’s cancer said and now at this
point it has metastasized
now what he said was metastasized which
is horrific
it means it’s spread throughout the body
what I heard in my headphones in the
studio was metabolized and what I said
to him when I heard that was oh that’s
listening back to the tape and I was
listening you know when you do a
talk-show you’re in seven second delay
you’re not really listening to what it
sounds like on the air you’re listening
to what’s called the program chain so
it’s before all of the high compression
where you could hear everything and I
simply didn’t hear him properly in no
way shape or form was I trying to
minimize his wife’s cancer issues that
never even crossed my mind I thought
what he was saying was she was in
remission that it had metabolized so
these things happen all the time both in
the hearing of things the saying of
things I’ve said things on the air there
was a woman here in Los Angeles who was
doing the news on can X and it was on a
Sunday night and she was trying to
rejoin they were running 60 minutes the
audio from 60 minutes on a Sunday night
and she was trying to rejoin the network
feed to 60 minutes and couldn’t make the
board operate or something and she
didn’t realize she still had her mic
open she had just done a live commercial
and she was trying to make it happen
there was silence and she said oh shit
and that came out over the air was that
on purpose
no it wasn’t and I truly truly believe
that this easily transposed set of
sounds the fact that it’s happened
before I I can’t imagine that anyone in
his position would risk his job risk
what was going on by saying it overtly
saying it on purpose
and I hope that you as performers can
understand this now I may get you know
comments below this video or it’s like
oh you don’t know what you’re talking
about you’re a white guy what would you
know I know performance I know pressure
I know the way the mouth works I know
the way language works
I know intent I know
construction and I know risk and I know
fear and I also am very very clear on
what has happened over the last 20 years
or so with social media and the web and
the immediacy of offense the idea that
someone would be offended by that that’s
choice that’s choice its choice of the
mayor in Rochester it’s choice for
everybody who posted on social media at
no point in time do they consider the
situation now if that means I’m going to
get lambasted for this if I’m gonna be
insulted for this so be it I couldn’t
care less the truth of the matter is
this guy made an honest simple fast
talking on the air live mistake it
wasn’t on purpose and every time I see a
headline that says weathermen fired for
using racial slur wasn’t using a racial
slur it was a mistake
when I see a headline that says
weatherman fired
because he said a racial slur on the air
you know we don’t have the right in this
country to not be offended and social
media gives us a wonderful way of
expressing what unfortunately ends up
being righteous indignation
and in this case I believe it’s really
unfounded I’d love to know what you
think if you want to sign up for the
subscribe to the channel go ahead click
on my head you want to see the latest
video I put out go ahead click on that
picture in the meantime I’d love to hear
what you think I’m David H Lawrence xvii
thank you so much for watching and I’ll
talk to you tomorrow

18 Responses to The Perils of Live Performance And Why Jeremy Kappell Should Not Have Been Fired

  1. getrich206 January 10, 2019 at 2:44 am #

    A few reasons why Martin Luther King Junior’s name may be particularly vulnerable to the kind of short circuiting that can produce the pronunciation mistake that led to Mr. Kappell’s firing:

    First, the short vowel in “King” is both preceded and followed by the long “U” vowel in the stressed syllables of both “Luther” and “Junior.” There’s a term in phonology for the force of a preceding or following sound to influence or even dominate an intermediate one. This relatively common phenomenon could account for the misplaced /oo/ sound. Also, “Junior” can be omitted from the name with no loss of understanding to whom the speaker is referring.

    In English, the “ng” consonant appears only in limited contexts. For example, it’s only found at the ends of our syllables, never at the beginning as in the Vietnamese name “Nguyen.” The “ng” consonant occurs frequently after the short “i” vowel in such English words as “sing” and “ring” and after the short “u” vowel, as in “sung” and “rung.” But I can’t think of an English word where that “ng” consonant occurs after the long “U” vowel. Can you think of rhyme for SOONG or ROONG?

    That being the case, if a speaker’s brain mistakenly slipped the /oo/ sound into “King,” it’s not unlikely that it could also change that final consonant from an “ng” to an “n”. The sound would then be /koon/, which no listener could distinguish from the more familiar racial slur. All this supports the conclusion that Mr. Kappell’s firing may well have been unjust.

    We all remember injustice. I remember walking home alone from a movie one night and being mugged and beaten by two black teenagers. But I want to add my view that the injustice that Mr. Kappell and I may have suffered in these cases, keenly as they may be felt, are relatively minor in comparison to the injustices that have been suffered, and indeed are still being suffered, by too many of our African American brothers and sisters.

    • David H. Lawrence XVII January 10, 2019 at 10:32 pm #

      Thank you for expanding on my explanation in the video of transposition – you got my point entirely.

  2. Kevin Clay January 10, 2019 at 6:32 am #

    I believe you are absolutely correct. The same thing happened to a friend of mine who was doing a local broadcast on MLK Day. He was rushing through the segment because time was running out and he ended up combining the sounds in King and Junior and was saying “Kunior” when he cut himself short leaving just the first part of the word before continuing on. There was a small stink but since he for years had spent a lot of his time and money helping inner city youth it was obvious to anyone who knew him that it was an honest mistake. Unfortunately, too many people want to prove they’re not witches by burning anyone accused of being one without listening to their side of the story.

  3. Fred North January 10, 2019 at 6:39 am #

    Well put, and I believe that anyone who has ever been on the air or speaks regularly in public should be able to understand…things happen.

  4. Craig Burnett January 10, 2019 at 7:26 am #

    Spot on, David. I spend a ton of my time every day editing out slipups and mistakes in my VO work. It happens. Thank God my mistakes don’t have to go out to the Internet for people to judge and choose to be offended.

    It’d be wonderful if the station would have had the balls to stand up for their talent, cite his decades of service and experience, and take the opportunity the educate their viewers that it’s okay not to be offended by every little thing in life.

    Sadly, this will likely continue, and will likely continue to ruin careers and lives. Thank you for stepping up to explain and enlighten. I’m proud to call you a friend.

  5. Guy Whitlock January 10, 2019 at 7:41 am #

    We are all entitled to our opinions. As a 63 year old African American who has lived through and experienced racism my entire life, that “mistake” was dealt with promptly and appropriately. We are living in an extremely ugly, bigoted tme in our country. Allowing an on-air personality to call Dr. King, Dr. Martin COON, the very racist slur he was assailed with up until the time of his assignation is unfathomable. Privilege is a wonderful insulation, however even it has limitations. We are not mind readers or distillers of the heart content of others. That historically heinous slur has a life/death of its own, and “mistake” or not; just consequence was meted out.

    • David H. Lawrence XVII January 10, 2019 at 10:30 pm #

      You apparently missed my point. I analyzed his performance, and it is clear to me that this was anything but premeditated. If you think he’s ugly, bigoted and racist, and the consequence was just, then you’re choosing to ignore the performance, and the clear fact that he’s guilty only of not being able to, momentarily, speak clearly. I’m sure if I went looking for examples of African American broadcasters who have had similar incidents, I could find many of them, but they too are guilty of nothing more than being human and making a performance error – I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they are racist either. Here’s hoping you never make such a simple mistake, and are blamed for something you didn’t do.

  6. ed waldorph January 10, 2019 at 8:11 am #

    Wow, David! This is the first I have heard of this. Let me say i am sorry for your friend and sorry that he and you have to go through this.

    At the beginning you alluded to what I think is the real problem here and made it pretty clear at the end. The problem is that we no longer appreciate what it means to live in a free society.

    In order to have a right to true freedom of expression, we have a duty to not be offended. As professional users of language we, more than most, should be intimately familiar with it. The way we generally use the word offense I find particularly pertinent here. We “give” and “take” offense.

    Moralists will freely, and often, tell you that it is better to give than to receive. I believe a corollary would be: it is wrong to take what you have not been given—in fact, that is often a crime. But in this day and age it appears many have become greedy and take offense where none has been offered. Some folks spend an inordinate part of their lives rooting around and searching for offense.

    To not belabor the point let me take this time to play Devil’s Advocate and point out what will surely be the justification in this case for the prominent umbrage. I’m sure that we will hear the pop psychology elite say that this was a mistake only in that he expressed out loud what he was actually thinking—that he was so used to saying this that it came naturally for him.

    Well, here we have it. PC Police have been upgraded to the Thought Police. “You are guilty because we know what you are thinking.” A poor man’s Minority Report.

    You have aptly explained why that is not the case.

    This is another example that the Internet has been corrupted from the intent and dreams many once held that it would become the Great Democratizer. It is also proof of the brilliance of our Founding Fathers adoption of a Democratic Republic, instead of a Democracy.

    • David H. Lawrence XVII January 10, 2019 at 10:25 pm #

      Thank you, Ed. To be clear, I’ve never met Jeremy, and although he’s not currently my friend, I’d love for that to be the case. He deserves support.

  7. Chris Ansoff January 10, 2019 at 9:41 am #

    Such a tragic set of events for Jeremy Kappell! I think all you said was dead on. As your videos showed, this is a mistake that has happened before. I hope that he is able to find a station that recognizes his great work, can understand the mistake and hires him.

  8. John Laing January 10, 2019 at 7:39 pm #

    Courageous post, David. The world needs more forgiveness.

    • David H. Lawrence XVII January 10, 2019 at 10:40 pm #

      I certainly appreciate your sentiment (and agree with you), but I would say in this case, forgiveness implies that Jeremy did something for which he needs to be forgiven. I hope I made clear in the video that I don’t believe anything of the sort. In simply being a performance consultant, and looking at the tape in context, I believe not that he was a closet racist whose underlying bigotry was somehow laid bare in his speech, but rather nothing beyond a bit tongue-tied for a moment, as all of us have been thousands of times in our lives, and had absolutely no ill intent. I submit that choosing to illustrate any racism during a local weathercast would not be his first choice if he really wanted to offend. And I further submit that no one here, African American or not, has gone through life with perfect elocution – some mistakes are pure nonsense, and some have the sound of something more dubious. Both are involuntary, and both are part of being human.

      • John Laing January 11, 2019 at 4:09 am #

        I meant that Jeremy needed to be forgiven for being a bit tongue-tied for a moment, rather than being fired for something that he didn’t do. I agree completely that it was a performance glitch and nothing more. Your video is crystal clear on this.

  9. Alexandra Harrington January 11, 2019 at 12:48 am #

    I absolutely agree with you David, thank you for the post, and for being brave and putting your opinion out there in the world of social media where people tend to blow things out of proportion or twist meanings and intentions!!

  10. Deborah Geffner January 12, 2019 at 12:44 am #

    Thank you for clearly pointing out that this was an obvious slip of the tongue, and should have been recognized as such. In this case righteous indignation is unrighteous indignation.
    I also appreciate and echo getrich206’s important statement: “the injustice that Mr. Kappell and I may have suffered in these cases, keenly as they may be felt, are relatively minor in comparison to the injustices that have been suffered, and indeed are still being suffered, by too many of our African American brothers and sisters.”
    When people are arrested and even shot and killed for nothing more than the color of their skin, it is important for us to recognize and deplore every instance of prejudice. Mr. Kappell’s mistake was certainly not one.

  11. Curt January 12, 2019 at 10:26 am #

    I hope this goes viral. And thank you for having the courage to put it out there, as no doubt, there will be backlash by those who are determined to attribute this simple mistake of speech to nefarious, premeditated intent.

  12. Morse Bicknell (aka Alan McCall on Facebook) January 14, 2019 at 6:58 pm #

    Appreciate your perspective, David, but would like to offer a different point of view.

    (I’m pasting here my response from Facebook, where a man named David Goodloe asked David, “Why are you justifying his mistakes, David? You came off as a sympathizer than [sic] an instructor providing a cautionary tale.”)

    …Have to say I’m more sympathetic to David Goodloe’s take on this than yours, David. It’s a rare occasion when I take issue with something you’ve posted, because I enjoy the intelligence and eloquence of your posts and am normally in complete agreement with you.

    I don’t doubt that you are coming from a good place in defending this weatherman, and that you empathize with him as a pro in a related field. Or that unfortunate and totally innocent slip-ups can and do happen on the air. Or that people can and do get righteously indignant on the internet on questionable grounds, for that matter. I think it’s very charitable of you to point out on the basis of your expertise that a simple linguistic slip is a definite possibility.

    But I’m a little surprised to hear you make this case with such certainty, and with such disdain for those who suggest different possible explanations. And I’m not sure it bolsters your position to include clips of white guys from decades past in the Deep South making the same slip.

    Your repeated assertion that none of these men were “stridently trying to demonize and vilify MLK” and so on strikes me as a real straw man argument. Of course they’re not consciously setting out to do this, and with a few exceptions, the people who “choose to be offended” in such cases are not making that case. Rather, those questioning the weatherman find it likely— or at least every bit as plausible as your argument— that in some such cases it’s an accidental slip of a very different sort. Namely, a slip by someone who is used to casually using the hateful “Martin Luther Coon,” who said it out of habit and quickly caught his mistake in a public forum and tried to minimize it and explain it away. (So those questioning the weatherman would argue that the slip was similar in this sense to Dick Armey saying “Barney Fag… um, Frank” in his on-air interview. I guess you could also argue that Armey made a completely innocent slip as well, though I think you’d be on increasingly thin ice.)

    The truth, of course, is that I can’t know for sure what accounted for the use of the word “coon” in this case, but neither can you, and I’m just surprised to hear you proclaim the complete blamelessness of the weatherman and the guys in the other clips with such assurance, and to so blithely dismiss those who raise the possibility that casual racism could just as easily lie behind such slips.

    As I write this, incidentally, the House Republican Steering Committee has just removed Representative Steve King from his committee assignments for racist comments, including his lamenting the fact that some people have a problem with the term “white supremacist.” I guess the Republicans on the committee chose to be offended.

  13. Joyanne Burrell January 30, 2019 at 8:39 pm #

    I agree with what you said here in your video 100%. I am a resident of Rochester, NY and feel so bad that Jeremy got fired in this way – totally uncalled for. It was truly “a mistake” and nothing was intentional to make a slur towards anyone. Our Mayor and the Station Manager made the wrong call and has left a 20 year career man out of work trying to bounce back from all this and take care of himself and his family. And … to save his many years of training and working in the Weather industry of which he truly loves and is part of him. You put it all so correctly in the video and I forwarded it to Jeremy on his Facebook site to show just how many people are on his side and want the best for him and his family. Not just local people from around here but people all over the nation – people like me who sit and listen to newscasters and people in the entertainment and news businesses and understand how these mistakes can and do happen all the time w/no vicious intent. Thanks for making this video – it says it all.

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