A New York meteorologist was fired this week after making an on-air verbal slip. If this seems ridiculous to you, you aren’t wrong. His unforgivable sin, you see, was getting tongue-tied over a name during a live broadcast. Unfortunately, this particular mistake resulted in him accidentally uttering what sounded to some like a racial slur.
In an attempt to say the phrase “Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park,” meteorologist Jeremy Kappell accidentally said “Martin Luther Coon (or possibly Koong)” in a broadcast on Friday. He immediately corrected his mistake.
When you listen to the recording, it’s very clear it wasn’t intentional. It was a blending of vowels, as he was saying “King” preceded by “Luther” and followed by “Junior.” But his flub apparently could not be tolerated. It had to be punished. His 20-year career in meteorology could not save him. He was fired in less than 48 hours.
The news of his firing spread quickly across the internet, and the media coverage has been egregious, in many instances portraying Kappell as a closet racist. Mainstream media outlets are reporting the story with misleading headlines, and some even feature warnings for graphic language along with dramatic music in their videos.
Here are just some headlines from popular mainstream outlets: “New York Meteorologist Fired After Using Racial Slur On Air.” CNN; “Weatherman Is Fired After Using Racial Slur in Naming Martin Luther King Jr.” The New York Times; “New York Weatherman Fired Over Racial Slur in Forecast.” Reuters.
Kappell has since taken to social media to defend himself, and rightly so: “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 had mispronounced, but there was no malice,” he said. “I had no idea the way it came across to many people.”
Now his reputation has been destroyed across the internet, with many accusing him of using a racist term colloquially, and then letting it slip on air.
An innocent mistake, even of this nature, is still innocent. But we are living in a culture where redemption from any mistake is becoming obsolete. Intent is irrelevant. Context is irrelevant. Apologies are irrelevant. If there is a sliver of perceived offence, the vocal minority will destroy you. If a person’s life is ruined because of it, so be it. We are all beholden to this extremely vocal minority.
A walk down very recent memory lane recalls the ridiculous backlash against Kevin Hart for years-old homophobic statements (for which he has apologized repeatedly) during a comedy routine, and then against Ellen for defending Hart. You may also remember the infamous Chipotle worker who was fired after being falsely accused of racism. Or the countless college professors who have been threatened or lost their jobs over baseless allegations, or accusations of “wrong think.” These cases, and thousands more illustrate a revolting trend: There is no redemption for anyone.
Yet strangely juxtaposed with our current culture of subjective moral perfection, is our rich history of redemptive themes in the arts. Many of the most beloved narratives of all time are centered on the beauty and necessity of redemption, including Crime and Punishment, and A Christmas Carol. Our favourite stories often feature this theme. It’s hard to think of a beloved story that doesn’t feature redemption as a key piece of the storyline.
Redemption resonates because mankind is in dire need of it. It’s something we all need. We long for it. We crave it. We obsess over it. We write novels and plays and songs about it, and we have forever. Yet, in 2019, there’s a new trend to deny it for others and ourselves.
Somehow—in the strange world of 2019 where nothing makes sense—we know that redemption stories are valuable. Yet when it comes to real life, it seems both corporate and popular culture are too scared to offer an ounce of grace.